While cat cafes are gaining popularity across the globe, I had never been to one before coming to Japan. You’re sure to find one in almost every major city in the country, and here in Kumamoto, there are at least two cafes based in the city center. The Kagonyan company has two branches – the large one near the Kamitori Shopping Arcade, and a smaller one down at the end of the Shimotori Shopping Arcade, which is the one I usually visit.
Cats are popular pets in Japan, but with many landlords forbidding animals on their property, animal lovers are keen to visit cat cafes to make up for not having a furry friend at home. Aside from purchasing food and drinks, visitors to the cat cafe get to cuddle and play with the cats and kittens who live there. For people who are lucky enough to be allowed pets in their house or apartment, a cat cafe is a great place to find a cute kitty to adopt.
The Kagonyan Cafe near Shimotori opened in 2009, with the larger branch following in 2011. Staff member Asuka has worked at the cat cafe for 6 years, but prior to that, she was also a customer and adopted her cat from the cafe where she now works. It is always great news when a cat can be adopted, but it is something that customers should consider carefully – Asuka says that occasionally, customers who adopt a kitten or cat are not prepared for the responsibility involved, and so a cat which has been adopted from the cafe is later returned and has to be put up for adoption once again.
However, most of the visitors to the cat cafe just come for the enjoyment of the experience. While most customers come sporadically, there are regulars that come time and time again, perhaps several times a month, to check in with their favorite kitties. Families with young children are particularly prone to becoming regular customers since children love to be surrounded by animals and have the unusual experience of being in a room full of cats.
While the cat cafe is popular with families, it is also a hot spot for customers who visit on their own – perhaps students or young professionals who live alone and crave a bit of company. “We have many foreign visitors, too,” Asuka tells me. “From China, Taiwan, Indonesia…” Aside from foreign customers, many of the volunteers who help out at the shop (like I do) are foreigners living in Kumamoto.
To ensure the safety and comfort of the animals at Kagonyan, there are a few rules which guests must abide by. Photography is allowed in the cafe but the flash should be turned off. You can cuddle and hold the cats which come near to you but please do not hold the cats by force if they do not want to be held, and it is forbidden to pick up the kittens. Guests are asked to refrain from imitating the noise of the cats in case of confusing them, and to not feed them anything other than the food provided for them by the cafe. Adhering to these rules protects both the cats and customers, and full details can be found on the back of the menu in the cafe.
Guests are also asked to put their belongings into the cupboards provided – cats are very aware of new smells in the cafe and may be tempted to pee on your handbag or coat – it has happened before! If you have breakable items such as an iPad or iPhone, please take care to store these carefully away – the cafe will not be held responsible for damage or breakages caused by carelessness.
Guests are asked to buy one drink during their visit, as well as paying the entry fee which helps maintain the costs of running the cafe and caring for the cats. The flat rate is 400 yen for 30 minutes, and an extra 100 yen every 10 minutes after that. There are package deals if you wish to stay for a longer time, so do inquire about those if you plan to be there for a longer period of time.
Drinks are priced at 300 yen to 400 yen each, with choices including juices (orange, grapefruit, apple), various types of tea, coffee, cappuccino, chai, etc. – with hot or cold choices available. Alcohol is priced at 600 yen with beer, shochu, and various cocktails on offer. There are also set courses with timed drinking offers if you want to stay longer.
For food, there are some simple choices available for a light lunch or dinner, including pizza, pasta, rice, and various cakes and sweets. Guests are reminded to refrain from sharing human food with the cats, regardless of how persuasive they are! If you are planning on eating at the cafe and are coming with a large group it might be a good idea to call ahead – most customers just buy drinks so if there are lots of you wanting hot food, it might take a little while to serve everyone, so please be patient.
If you just can’t get enough and want to spend even more time at the cat cafe, consider joining one of the yoga classes that are held there monthly. For more than a year, Heart and Sol Yoga has been hosting multi-level yoga classes (in English) at the Kagonyan Cat Cafe. Classes cost 1,000 yen (with 100% of the profits going to the cat cafe) and have a limited availability to ensure enough room for both the cats and the yogis. Classes are typically held on the first Sunday of each month, from 11:00 to 11:45 (with an additional early morning class if there is a lot of interest that month). You can ask for details at the cafe or look up Heart and Sol on Facebook.
The yoga teacher is brilliant so don’t worry if you’re a newbie yogi – you can take the class at your pace and have a break whenever you want to. If you can’t understand the popular attraction of having yoga classes in a cat cafe, just wait until that hilarious moment when you find yourself in a compromising position, straining some knotted up part of your body and trying to remain zen, when a feisty feline jumps up on top of you and sits there like a parrot on a pirate – priceless.
Cat Cafes are one of those things that visitors to Japan are often keen to try – it can be a mixed experience depending on the cafe you go to, but at Kagonyan in Kumamoto, I have always had a good time. The staff is friendly and helpful (some, like Asuka, can speak English and they have a translated menu available) and it always seems to me that the cats are well taken care of. Usually, the cat cafe opens from 12:00 until the evening, but since the Kumamoto Earthquake, the opening hours sometimes change because there have been so many new arrivals. At one point, more than 100 cats in total were spread between the two cafes! You can check their website (*Japanese only) or Facebook page for up-to-date information on opening times and special circumstances.
There are 2 branches, but we will introduce one of them here.