irst there were maid cafes. Then butler cafes. Now, another kind of sub-culture cafe trend has hit Tokyo- the cat cafes. The premise is alarmingly simple. Pay for a fixed amount of time at the reception desk, enter the cafe and lounge beside, play with or torment up to two dozen cats in comfortable surroundings with all manner of toys and lures free to use for the customers. The cats themselves are more often than not extremely well-bred, pedigree creatures the like of which the average person will rarely come across, let alone tease with a wind-up toy mouse. For around ¥1,000, you can frolic with a pet worth much, much more. Japan is very much a pet loving nation and cats are entrenched in both the high and low-brow ends of the cultural spectrum. In the early 1900s writer Natsume Soseki, who once graced the ¥1,000 bill on the flip side of Mt. Fuji, penned the literary classic ‘I am a Cat’ (Wagahai wa Neko), a dry, satirical indictment of Meiji society from the perspective of a thoroughly highfalutin cat. Today, cats dressed in sunglasses, stowed in handbags or held on a leash are not an uncommon sight as the scramble for unique accessories grows more and more rampant.
Inside, cat cafes vary enormously, from little more than the realization of a chronic cat lover’s obsession to stylish and gorgeously decorated little one room wonders. Point cards, bundle deals and English menus are freely available in many, just like a regular cafe, except here you can share your time with big, bushy Norwegian Forest cats or sleek and urbane Abyssinians. Like many of these Japanese crazes, the cat cafe phenomenon began in Akiba (the clipped, Tokyo pet-name for electronics mega-district, Akihabara), but it has since branched outwards. Punyan is hidden away on the 6th floor, 2 minutes walk from Takadanobaba Station (JR Yamanote and Tozai subway lines) but it is well worth hunting down.
Look for the Star Plaza Building, between exit number 7 for the Tozai Subway Line and a bus stop, and opposite a Tsutaya video rental store. Thick, stripy brown and cream carpet, drapes hung from high that billow with the flow of the air-con and a cat basket tree all greet the walk-in customer. Dodge the moggies flopped over the till register and pay just ¥500 for a ‘Short Time’ 30 minute slot. Nekorobi is another good bet for some quality time with a room full of fur and claws. Here, the going rate is ¥1,000 for an hour with 15 minute extensions available thereafter for an extra ¥300 each time.
As is standard practice in many cat cafes, you will be asked to wash and sanitize your hands and deposit your belongings in lockers before being allowed to join the cats. On the table you’ll find photo albums documenting the lives of the resident cats and the guest books also make for a fascinating read, now into an eighteenth volume and stuffed full of doodles and amorous ditties in Japanese and English. Internet and games consoles are also provided should the cats prove not up to scratch.
On that note, one last hint- try to time your visit to coincide with twilight hours. Contrary to popular belief, cats are not nocturnal but crepuscular creatures and they are therefore much more active around the early evening. To find Nekorobi, come out of the east side of Ikebukuro Station (JR Yamanote Line) and walk along the main Green Odori street that strikes away from the station complex until you hit a large fly-over. At that point, turn left and follow the fly-over until you pass a Y’s Road Bike shop and a Sunkus convenience store. Nekorobi is above the convenience store- find the elevator up in an adjacent alcove. Address: Punyan, Takadanobaba 1-17-16, Star Plaza 6F. Hours: Open 11:00-20:00 weekends or holidays and 12:00-20:00 on weekdays (reception closes at 19:00).