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Monday, July 16, 2018

Exploring Japan, Vol. 6 - Animal Cafes!

You can’t really talk about weird fun in Japan without talking about themed cafes.  For those that don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, there are three types.  One is called an Animal Café.  These are generally places where you can go to interact with animals that are so tame that you can hold and pet them.   What makes the place a ‘café’ is that there are drink machines on site and you are usually given a token or ticket that allows you one drink from the machine. 

The second type of café is a full on restaurant who has given themselves over to a specific theme.  Imagine a place where every inch of decoration and all of the service staff dedicate themselves to portraying a prison setting, or a 17th century gothic church.   The final type is very similar to the themed cafe only it also involves a crazy/outlandish show.  As you can see just by those descriptions, there’s a wide variety of places out there you should check out if you visit.
In fact, this topic is so big, that I have to split it into three posts, so let’s begin with Animal Cafes.   

Say that you’ve spent your whole life loving owls despite the fact that they're silently judging you as illustrated above.  That's one very judgmental owl.  But hey, you don't care!  You’ve bought shirts with owl designs on them.  You’ve had favorite mugs decorated with owls staring at you.  In fact, even though you had a bad experience owning a parrot, if it were possible to own an owl that would let you pet it, you’d probably give it some consideration.
The problem is that owning an owl is a hell of a commitment.  You’ve got to feed them mice.  You’ve got to groom them and care for them, plus they live a long time!  Wouldn’t it be so much easier if you just had a place to go where you could pay someone $5.00 and pet their owls instead?
You’re damn right it would be!  

That’s what makes Forest of Owl in Asakusa such a great place!  First of all, there’s no time limit on your visit.  Many places will charge you by increments (15 minutes, 30 minutes, etc.).  Forest of Owl also doesn’t limit themselves to just owls.  They have meerkats, snakes, lizards and even parrots, almost all of which you can pet.  The owls are scattered around on various branches and rails throughout the café.  There’s a path you follow that makes its way completely through the room so you’ll see everything on display.  The owls also have convenient signs telling you if they don’t like to be touched or if they love being interacted with.

Karen got to experience something she never thought she would when she walked up and got to pet a gigantic horned owl as well as barn owls and others. 
The thing is, themed animal cafes are in almost every part of Tokyo and they run the gamut from cafes full of rescue dogs to cafes of cats and rabbits.  I’m highly, highly allergic to cats.  If I even pet our neighbors' cat while outside, my hands immediately start to itch.  This really stinks because I grew up around cats and actually like them.  

It’s worse for my wife and daughter though, because they never get to experience being around cats due to my allergy.  In Japan, the problem is solved easily.  I sit outside and play on my phone while they spend a little time in a cat café. 

The cats here are treated like royalty and the majority of them absolutely love the attention.

Ever wanted to actually hold and pet a hedgehog or a fennec fox?  Of course you do!  Visit the HARRY hedgehog café in Roppongi and you can hang out with this guy.  

They have a rabbit café next door also and if you think for a moment that all of this is just a giant waste of money, think again.  Animal cafes are typically the cheapest to get into and usually there’s no reservation needed although you may have to wait a little while if it’s a peak time.   The standard admission is usually between $5.00 and $8.00 U.S., but in some cases like the cat café in Hirajuku, it’s only a few bucks for ten minutes.  That will get you ten minutes of petting cats plus a drink.  Not bad at all!

Animal cafes are also excellent because they are stress relievers.  There is no way you can spend 30 minutes in a café where a Fennec Fox is running around and not walk out with a huge smile on your face.  It’s physically impossible.
Other focus on a specific area instead of a specific animal.  For instance, the Subtropical Teahouse in Yokohama houses iguanas, bearded lizards, turtles and snakes.  It’s like going to an indoor petting zoo in the Amazon.  Seriously, if there's a smallish non-venomous animal that you're a fan of, there is probably an animal cafe that will get you close to it.
So if you are in Tokyo for even a few days, make a tiny window of time and visit one of these places.  They’re a lot of fun and an experience you generally won’t find anywhere else.
Next week, we’ll talk about themed restaurants and visit some with maids, butlers, mad hatters and train conductors. 
See you then!

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