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Whisker by whisker, cats have begun to replace coffee as the top draw in cafés across Japan.

In a country where many citizens do not have the time or space to care for creatures, “cat cafés” provide the experience of having a pet without the responsibility or hassle of ownership (not to mention the logistics of getting a cat into a carry-on).

Though the first cat café, named Cat Flower Garden, opened in Taipei, Taiwan in 1998, the concept blossomed in Japan, where nearly 150 such spots have opened in the past decade, mostly in the country’s capital of Tokyo. Visiting with kitties does not come cheap, however. At Calico, one of Tokyo’s most popular cat cafes, one hour of cuddling costs 900 yen, with 200 yen for each additional 15 minutes. Drinks cost an extra 200 yen each, but are slightly cheaper than the 400 yen grande lattes available at the feline-free Starbucks.

Cat Café Nekorobi, also in Tokyo, charges by the hour as well (up to 1,200 yen on weekends or holidays), but throws in free vending machine drinks and snacks, as well as cat-free forms of entertainment like a Wii and board games. Cat Magic, in Nagoya in south central Japan, offers an extensive set menu (complete with beer and sake) priced to include some built-in playtime. Since Japan treats cat cafés as exhibition facilities like zoos and aquariums, there are fewer regulations regarding the serving of food and drink as there might be at traditional restaurants.

The establishments, which house anywhere from 12 to 24 mixed breed or purebred cats, do have strict rules regarding how the animals are handled. Guests are not allowed to wake any sleeping cats, hold any clearly unhappy cat or take photos of the cats with a flash camera (many who visit spend their time taking pictures or drawing the cats).

A recently passed animal protection law has also forbidden the display of pets after 8 pm, though many café owners disagree with the restriction since their busiest times were between 8 pm and 10 pm, when the after-work crowd shuffled in. Still, the cats manage to drag in their fair share of felinophiles the rest of the day, keeping business purring along.

 

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