A guide to cat cafes in Tokyo
Sip a latte, flip through a manga, surf the Internet -- or have a cuddle with a feline friend at one of Tokyo's many cat cafés.
At first glance, these places appear to be normal, cozy cafés, with sofas and coffee cups and shelves of magazines.
Upon closer inspection, however, cats of all stripes can be found reclining on top of drink machines, in corner baskets or in the laps of lucky patrons.
Humans can't get enough of the catmosphere.
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The cat ("neko," in Japanese) cafe trend is relatively new.
Machida's Neko no Mise (tel. +81 (0) 42 722 0544), which claims to be the oldest cat café in the Kanto area, just turned five.
About 100 neko cafes can be found in Japan, according to the nekocafe map (with a few outliers in South Korea and Taiwan). More than 50 of the cafes are in Tokyo proper, with almost 70 in the greater Tokyo area.
Paying money to hang out with cats (the average cost is about ¥1,000 an hour) may seem like a strange concept, and the realm of batty old ladies with frizzy hair and multiple scarves, but the customers patronizing the cafés tell a different story.
On a recent Sunday, Neko no Mise's clientele was made up mostly of couples in their 20s and 30s, with a few singles mixed in. There wasn't a bedazzled pair of spectacles or hand-knit sweater in sight.
The popularity of these cafés as date spots is further corroborated by a visit to Shimokitazawa's Cateriam (tel +81 (0) 3 3468 8114), where lace-skirted ladies and their mohawked men ooh and ahh over the kitty antics.
At Nekobukuro (tel +81 (0) 3 3980 6111) on the top floor of Ikebukuro's Tokyu Hands, a couples' discount is offered in the form of a "pair ticket."
However, "it depends on the time," says a Neko no Mise staffer. "We have more couples on weekends, and more singles during the week. All kinds of people come to the café."
A gaggle of girlfriends squeal and shoot pictures with their mobile phones nearby. Several people sport hefty digital SLRs with big lenses.
The cat café boom has in turn spawned countless blogs documenting the furry friends. Some cats even have their own mixi profiles.
One such blogger, a Japanese amateur photographer who calls himself Jack, says he goes to cat cafés because he likes watching his favorite cats grow up.
"Cat cafés make me feel nostalgic, because I had cats in my childhood," he says. "My hobby is photography -- I think the cat is one of the best subjects."
Neko cafes aren't for everyone.
One reluctant visitor named Yuko says, "My sister wanted to go so badly, she took me to one. It was ... well, weird I thought. People just hanging out there with the cats, but you're not allowed to wake them up or pick them up, they were just watching the cats and smiling and stuff ... it was a little scary."
With cat cafes proliferating all over Japan, you can decide for yourself. Get your kitty fix, down some caffeine and maybe meet another cat-crazy single to snuggle up to.