Cat cafés. Big in Japan. Coming to Britain

Will £7-an-hour cuddles and soft drinks catch on as life makes it less practical to keep pets?

Tokyo

Airu is a slinky minx with perky features and big green eyes. Normally, for the price of a good sandwich, she will come padding over and wait to be stroked, but today she’s being standoffish. Frankly – according to her profile – she’s more popular with people than cats, but at least she’s not drinking water from the sink, which is one of her favourite pastimes.

Every day dozens of people pay about £7-per-hour to sip soft drinks and cuddle Airu, one of 11 cats at the Caterium café in West Tokyo. Each has its own profile and photograph on a board which lists their personalities and hobbies. Some even have twitter accounts and DVDs. A shrine with photos and messages from well-wishing fans has been constructed for a moggie that passed away last year. “She was very popular,” laments owner Yuki Shigemuri.

Once considered a mainly Japanese phenomenon, cat cafes are spreading to Europe, with one each in Austria and St Petersburg and more planned elsewhere. In London, an entrepreneur is trying to raise £108,000 via crowd-funding to set up Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium. “I think Brits will take to it,” founder Lauren Pears told The Independent. “Lots of people live in small flats or their working lives make it impractical to keep pets.”

Residents of Tokyo, home to about 40 cat-themed cafes, have lived with those restrictions for years, points out Shigeru Onozaki, a real estate agent who dropped by the Caterium on his day off. “Our image of the UK is that people have big homes and always keep pets,” he says as a cat stretches out into a shoebox near his head. “In Tokyo, about half of all real-estate agents ban pets.” Many people are, in any case, too busy to keep them, he adds. “I rarely get home till after 8pm. A cat would starve.”

Cat-themed cafes began in Taiwan and took off a decade ago in Japan’s crowded cities, where apartments are often too cramped for pets, even when landlords allow them. Today, there are about 160 throughout Japan, along with hundreds of shops that rent dogs and other pets out for hourly rates.

Sociologists believe the cats fill a void in an ageing country with too few children - Japan’s population fell last year by 264,000, its largest drop in decades. But Mr Shigemuri says his customers come in all shapes and sizes.

“We do get quite a few lonely-looking women, but we are also popular with children and dating couples. Sometimes salary-men drop in on the way home from work for a cuddle.” A former counsellor for bereaved pet-owners, Mr Shigemuri says stroking cats is a stress-reliever for many people. “Cats are quiet, pliant and clean – a lot easier to maintain than dogs, which you have to walk and look after. They calm you down.”

The cats themselves, stuck indoors and pampered by a string of adoring customers, can be sensitive; after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, Mr Shigemuri says they stayed cowering in a corner for days.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Extras
indybest
Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Saunders stars as Miss Windsor, Dennis's hysterical French teacher
filmJennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: National Sales Account Executive

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company leads the market i...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Manager - Cyber Security

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Manager for Cyber Secur...

Ashdown Group: Service Desk Analyst - Application Support - Central London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Service Desk Analyst (App...

Ampersand Consulting LLP: 3rd Line Support Engineer (Windows Server, Exchange Server)

£35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: 3rd Line Support Engine...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum