Saturday, February 5, 2011

An Afternoon at the NekoCafe Leon

Leon of the eponymous NekoCafe in Yokohama

At the request of a regular reader here, I have betaken myself and the kids (intrepid reporter that I am) to the Neko Cafe Leon in Yokohama.  Yes, there really is such a thing--a coffee shop with a separate room filled with kitties to play with...for a sizable chunk of change ($6 each for 30 minutes, and an additional $2/10min each after that--and you have to buy at least a drink).

click any photo to enlarge!
 The main attraction of this particular cafe is a Munchkin Cat named Leon (right and above).  He was asleep when we were there, but I could see that his legs really are that short.  I had no idea that there was such a thing as a Wiener Cat...  Leon appears to be a Scottish Fold Munchkin, given his short, folded-back ears.  (The short legs are the result of a naturally occurring mutation similar to the one giving dachshunds and corgis their short legs.)

...this poster of Leon was hilarious.  It says "I turn into a Prairie Dog when I stand up!",  and the white cat is thinking "Now you're the same size as me!"

Leon, in fact, is more than an attraction--the cafe website lists him as Ten Cho--Store Manager, whereas all the other kittehs are Staff...

Here's some video footage of Leon awake and walking around and playing with one of the Abyssinians:

(that's not my video--Leon was asleep while we were there...but it's a cute video, and it gives an idea of how munchkin kittehs move around.)

The NekoCafe was crowded the Saturday we went--we had to leave our name and take a walk while waiting to get in (about a 25 minute wait, though the waiter had said the wait could be up to an hour).  Fortunately Cafe Leon is just around the corner from Ishikawacho Station in the heart of Yokohama--and Yokohama's Chinatown is just on the other side of the station.

One of the Chinatown gates is pictured at right...

Fortunately (or unfortunately), we didn't have to walk around too long before the NekoCafe called me to say the wait would just be a few more minutes and would we please wait just outside the door.  The Chinatown Nikuman would have to be another time...

This was the first time we'd ever gone to a cat cafe, although I'd heard of them.  The first one opened apparently in Taiwan about a decade ago and quickly became a hot tourist attraction, especially among Japanese tourists.  A coffee shop full of cho kawaii kittehs?  It didn't take too long before similar cafes began opening in Japan--Tokyo now boasts almost 40 such cafes, Yokohama has maybe a dozen...and they can be found elsewhere, from Hokkaido to Kyoto to Kyuushuu to Okinawa.  According to Yokohama Walker magazine, February 22 is "Kitty Day"--2/22, the number two in Japanese being "ni" and the word for meow being "ni-yao" or "ni-yan", hence "ni-yan, ni-yan, ni-yan" (meow, meow, meow) Day... get it?

Cat cafes have become very popular on the weekends for couples and friends to go to.  Families with very young children, though, need to check before going, as some cafes have posted age restrictions (such as no children under 6, or that they must be accompanied by and held on the lap of an adult).

Most cafes charge a base rate for an hour (of kitty-time plus cafe-time), usually around Y1000 ($10).

Sometimes a drink is included, sometimes you have to purchase drinks separately.  Weekends seem to be particularly crowded, with waits of up to a hour and correspondingly higher prices.   And, like most places, be prepared to take your shoes off and leave them in the kutsu bako (shoe box) by the genkan.

Some Neko Cafes stay open fairly late (Cafe Leon is open 11am-11pm), maybe catering to business people on their way home from work.  Cat cafes have become a popular way for tired Salary-men and -women to relax after work, especially for those living in apartments where no pets are allowed.

NekoCafe Leon has become so popular that they've opened a separate Rabbit Cafe next door (the coffee shop part is the same, though).  Tell the waiter you want to visit both, and it's noted on your bill.  Customers can then play with the cats and walk through to the other room featuring Bunnies (petting zoos are also very popular here--my kids *love* the petting zoo at Nogeyama Zoo).  We didn't get in there this time-- mata kondo, ne! (next time)

Some Cafes ask customers to sit while staff bring a cat to you, or not to pet sleeping cats.  Cafe Leon is a free-type cafe, where cats roam freely around the room (which is separate from the coffee shop area--probably due to health regulations) and customers may pet or play with any cat they like (asleep or awake).
The main rule (the staff goes over the rules when they bring you the menu) is "Do not do to the cats what they do not like"...  a sensible extension of the Golden Rule.  All the cats at Cafe Leon were friendly and unafraid (most likely chosen for their personalities).  None of the cats seemed nervous of children, either--that's Cici and Teddy there on the left petting one of the "staff".  

At any one time, there are sleeping kitties...

...playing kitties...
...there are plenty of toys on the floor to pick up and play with any kitty who wants to play...
...taking-a-break kitties...
Ceiling Cat is watching you...
 ...kitties hanging from the rafters...
"...Neko wa kotatsu de maruku naru!"
"....Kitty is all curled-up under the kotatsu!"              (a favorite Japanese children's song about snow ends with the dog playing happily outside, and the cat curled up warm under the kotatsu, a low table covered with a blanket and an attached electric heater underneath--clearly the best place in the world for a Kitteh to be;-)
While we were playing, the waiter was fixing our order-- a Leon pancake (dusted with cocoa powder to look like that), and drinks...
...even the bill was appropriately cute, with a Kitty-mark in one corner and a Bunny-mark in the other...
...the kitty I spent most of the time petting--a silky calico kitty...

You wanted to see some video, too--right?  I thought so, so I did my best to walk around with the video camera without stepping on any tails or catching any of the other customers on camera (much)...oh, and no flash photography (so's not to startle the kitties).

 If you're ever in Yokohama--let's play at the Neko Cafe!   Mata asobou, ne!

   Alert reader Jerry found an additional, not-to-be-missed, video of Leon getting a the sink where the customers wash their hands!  He also notes that Munchkin Cats come in four sizes--Standart, Super-Short, VW Microbus, and Rug-Hugger.  The smart money is on "Rug-Hugger" for Leon...




  1. Awesome post! Thanks for doing this. I note that Munchkin cats come in three official sizes (according to Wikipedia):

    There are four sizes: Standard, Super Short, VW Microbus and rug-hugger.[12]

    I wonder which one Leon is!

  2. Is the kotatsu just for cats or is there actually some other purpose, and it just happens to be a kitty-ideal snoozing place?

  3. SERIOUSLY cool post. A kitteh room as a place to relax after work...what a sweet idea.

  4. This is the best post ever! :) I'm smitten with Store Manager Leon. And I just realized that he has a BLOG! OMG: !!

  5. Hi, followed the link from Jerry Coyne's blog. What a great write-up. And why is it Japan has all the cool ideas? I'm smitten with the idea of a bunny cafe.

  6. Awww, I've watched both videos now. How nicely Leon plays with others. How politely quiet the humans are in the cats' space.

  7. One more reason to visit if I needed one ^_^

  8. What a great idea! I guess it would work anywhere people live in apartments and aren't allowed to have pets.

  9. grumblekitty--yokoso! Kotatsu are for people, actually. Kotatsu with blanket draped over the top, a small electric heater attached to the underside and some people use an electric carpet, too. Very nice and warm when you don't have central heating (like Europe, homes in Japan don't have central heating). Kittehs have just figured out that they're a good thing;-))

  10. Jerry--no problem! The kids had a really good time, as did I:-)) I' say Leon is...rug-hugger, wouldn't you?

  11. Ophelia--Yokoso! Thanks for stopping by--glad you enjoyed the kitteh post! I think cat cafes are a great idea, too. Surely a much healthier way to relax after work than going to a bar... All the kitties played nicely, sometimes with each other, sometimes with the humans in their space. As I was sitting on the floor, a little black-and-white kitty came right up and crawled into my lap. Awww......MELTING! One of the rules (which they go over with you when you sit down with the menu) is no loud voices or running, so's not to startle the kitties. Everybody seems to respect that. Japanese tend to be as gentle with animals as they are with children:-))

  12. Anonymous--yokoso! Sometimes I think all the good ideas come from here, too:-)) O-bento are another good idea...and *really* deep bathtubs with a button to push to re-heat the water so you can sit for an hour in hot water up to your neck if you want to....that's a seriously good idea! (and I've already posted about the automatic/heated toilet seats...)

  13. Tualha--yokoso! Come on over--we can play at the NekoCafe together!!

  14. Marella--yokoso! That's what I think! I don't see why the idea doesn't catch on in big cities with large apartment-dwelling populations... and I really don't get why the Cafe Leon version with the kitties in a separate room (from both cafe area and food prep area) couldn't work in America as long as they put small sinks near the door. Right? Actually, I don't see why they don't put a Kitteh Room in nursing homes and assisted living facilities--surely that would be good for the residents...

  15. YM, yes, I figured there must be rules about being quiet and gentle. It's so sweet that everyone complies so well.

    1. Hello from Elliot Lake, Canada where we live with our three cats!

      I'm not too computer literate and not sure how these postings work.

      We went to Japan in October 2008 for a couple of weeks and again in 2010, staying for most of October, departing just before APEC 2010 closed our hotel in Minato Mirai.

      We just can't wait for our next visit; Japan is so wonderful!

      This Cafe Leon was wonderful when we visited it in 2010.

      It would be a terrible disaster if the government in Japan enacted an 8.00pm closure.

      The cats are all extremely well cared for and show no signs of stress. In fact cats in Japan seem to be better of than anywhere else in the world.

      Regarding the charge Cafe Leon, please do remember that the clock starts when you arrive, even though you may sit in the restaurant area first, but all in a good cause!

      Can anyone please tell us how to post our photos from Cafe Leon here?

      Thank you.

      Rory & Victoria