Why pet cafes are so popular in Tokyo

By Junji Yamaguchi, Kyodo

Posted at Aug 17 2014 03:21 PM | Updated as of Aug 18 2014 06:36 PM

TOKYO -- Following on from the popularity of "cat cafes," where customers can play with resident felines while having a cup of coffee, similar venues offering the chance to mingle with rabbits, goats and even owls have opened for business in the Tokyo area.

Among them, the Kiba branch of "Tori no Iru Cafe" (Cafe with Birds) in eastern Tokyo features some 20 birds, mainly owls. Roughly 90 percent of its customers are female, and long queues often form outside the shop on weekends.

"I am really fond of the contrast between the owl's large bright eyes and its sharp beak," said a female customer in her 20s who visits the cafe about three times a week. "I enjoy it here as I can actually touch (the owls)."

In addition to a Rufous-legged owl, an Indian eagle-owl and other owl species, the cafe is also home to true parrots and a hawk.

Patrons can enjoy coffee and light meals while watching the birds kept in another room separated by a glass window. With assistance from shop attendants, they can also put on a special falconry glove and have an owl perch on their hand or pat it in a designated corner of the cafe.

When the Tori no Iru Cafe first opened in late 2012, there was hardly any other cafes featuring owls, but now there are at least around 10 in the Tokyo area.

"Some women are afraid of (the owls') talons and beaks, but the owls are actually quite affectionate and many customers keep coming back," said the cafe's manager, Mika Toriyama.

Similarly, cafes where customers can play with rabbits have also been on the rise in recent years.

"Usagi Cafe Ohisama" (Rabbit Cafe Sun) in a residential district of Tokyo's Setagaya Ward is especially popular among women in their 20s to 30s, as well as families with young children. It is often fully booked on weekends.

Customers are free to move between two zones in the cafe: one where they can spend time with freely roaming rabbits, and another where they can relax and enjoy food and drinks.

The hourly fee, which includes one drink, is 1,400 yen per adult and 700 yen for children in elementary school or younger. Customers come not only from the Kanto area around Tokyo, but also from as far as Tohoku in northeastern Japan and Kyushu in the southwest.

While most pet cafes cater mainly to female customers, Sakuragaoka Cafe in Tokyo's bustling Shibuya Ward is particularly popular among young men taking a break at work or on their way home after a long day at the office. The main attraction is two goats kept in a small hut next to the entrance of the cafe, where customers can also feed the animals.

Having opened in 2009 as an ordinary cafe, it introduced the two goats the following year, with the number of customers subsequently doubling. Most customers are male company employees who work in the area.

Twice a week, customers can even take the goats on a 15-minute walk around the neighborhood surrounded by office buildings. The goats are put on a leash and accompanied by cafe staffers.

"People today are under a lot of stress," said Masayuki Takamatsu, board chairman at the Nihon Animal Therapy Association. "It has been proven in neuroscience that humans feel better after spending time with animals they like, so it would be preferable to have more places where people can easily do so."