Cat cafes are still as popular as ever with travelers and locals alike. However, there has been more and more debate about how humane or ethical these places are, and concerns about how the animals are being treated. In the past, I have definitely visited cat cafes where they are caged or seemed really afraid/overstimulated by humans.
Last time, I talked about Cat Apartment in Kyoto, but today I want to introduce another cat cafe with a unique twist - and a place I fully endorse as being safe and ethical for those worried about the animals themselves.
Neco Republic is a nationwide organization that has multiple cat cafes for rescue cats, and working to re-home the cats using the cat cafe concept. One, so their future humans can be introduced to the cats in a safe environment. And two, for cats to learn to socialize with humans so there is a higher chance for them to be re-homed.
Their branch in Osaka is called “Cat Spa and Cat Ryokan”.
The “Cat Spa” part is their cafe, where they believe in the healing properties by simply being surrounded by cats. And the “Cat Ryokan” part is the capsule hotel for humans!
I sure you probably have a lot of questions about that, but I assure you that the cats are completely separated from the human capsule beds by glass. So you can still see the cats during your stay, but not overwhelm them. You can check out their prices on their website for a night’s stay.
I opted to visit the “cat spa” during the day, as I couldn’t get a booking to stay overnight.
Enter through the left door into the cat cafe area. There will be a tiny gift shop area attached to the reception. At the reception, they will explain the rules of the cafe to you and explain payment (paid at the end of your visit). Your entry includes drinks, which is an all-you-can-drink system.
Before entering, the employee will explain two important things.
First is that you must wear socks into the cafe. Stockings (even thick kinds) are not allowed. You can either buy socks from their shop area if you don’t have some, or exit and grab some socks elsewhere (like Daiso) before returning. But please remember you cannot enter if you don’t wear socks!
Second, rules about how to interact with the cats. You can allowed to pet the cats there, but you can only touch the ones with a collar on. Remember that some of these cats may have been strays or abandoned at some point, and the ones without collars on are the ones that the staff deem have not been socialized enough yet for other humans to touch and interact yet. They do this to protect you, and really, the cats. The staff also discourages picking up the cats and having them on your lap, but sometimes cats just do cat things, and they understand that things happen where you may have to erm... manhandle them a little bit (to get them away from your drink, for example).
Once you’re clear, the staff will give you a bath bucket (just like an onsen!) to store your drink, and other items like your locker key and camera/phone. And you can head inside the cafe!
My experience during my visit was rather quiet. It was a weekday afternoon. The only other customers were a Japanese couple who were looking to adopt, and two businessmen just looking to chill and relax. The shop had just reopened with the new addition of the “cat ryokan”, so there were a few customers checking into their capsules as well - but not in the cafe area.
I was immediately approached by this overly curious ginger cat when I placed my bucket on a table where my drink was. The cat stuck around for awhile and was not shy for pets either.
This surprised me a little as many cats in cat cafes don’t proactively seek out human attention. They’re usually overstimulated and overwhelmed, and would try to stay up in perches away from the humans. There are plenty of perches and hiding spots for the cats, but many of them seem comfortable just being in plain sight. It was just really nice to see that the cats seem to be rather content and ok with the situation.
There were three staff members working that day. When they were not busy checking in customers, they would interact with the cats and customers as much as they could. The owner especially was very engaging. She spent a good chunk of time chatting with the couple who wanted to adopt, explaining the process, introducing the cats to them. But she was also extremely attentive to regular customers and the cats. She encouraged me to play with the cats with the cat toys they had (free to use), and also encouraged me to go into a little room in the back where they separated the cats with diseases away from the other cats.
The staff knew their cats well. They know well who likes the butt pats, who dislikes what toy and how their personalities are like. And I think that goes to show just how well the cats are being taken care of and why they don’t seem to mind the humans too much. Granted, I think on a busier day with more customers, the cats might get more overwhelmed... but I think their body language really says that they are being well-socialized. I can tell that even though this is a business, it’s a business for the sake of the cats and absolutely not for profit.
After seeing this cafe, I fully support what they do. At least the part where they are trying to socialize their cats so they can find them a good home. You can form your own judgment about the “Cat Ryokan” part, but I think if it helps with the cost of operation and does not stress out the cats, it’s for a good cause.
Youtuber Erica Lion did a video on them recently as well, which I recommend checking out. She stayed overnight and even volunteered with opening and closing the “Cat Spa” part of the shop. Have a look below: