Sunday, May 9, 2010

Kitty cafes I have known

Cat cafes are a rapidly growing phenomenon in Japan these days, and I am pleased to discover that they are also expanding to Seoul. I visited my first cat cafe, in Osaka, last August, not long before moving to Korea. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing; on a visit to the Korean consulate in Nanba, I noticed a sign right around the corner advertising the "Guru Gurudou Cat Cafe" and decided to check it out. I was immediately enchanted.

There was a fenced-off foyer area in which to remove shoes and wash hands, then a second, inner door for preventing kitty escapes. Once inside, a lady explained the rules (no pestering sleeping kitties, no holding kitties who don't want to be held, etc). Guru Gurudou charged 1000 yen ($10) for one drink and an hour with the kitties. The interior was decorated in an eclectic Southeast Asian motif, with soothing zen music playing, and 10 kitties lazing around on the various plush cushions and kitty furniture. None of the kitties were over two years old, and two were still small kittens. All were expensive breeds: a Maine Coon, a Somali, an American Shorthair, a Ragdoll, a Norwegian Forest Cat, 2 Munchkins, a Russian Blue, 2 Scottish Folds. A cute flow chart on the wall introduced each of the kitties and described their relationships to each other. The litter boxes and food dishes were cleverly hidden away somewhere.

The scene at Guru Gurudou

That day there were about 3 or 4 other people inside, and the atmosphere was very friendly; unlike a normal cafe, it was easy to strike up conversations with the other guests while playing with the kitties. There was a variety of cat toys available for teasing kitties, and while a few were inevitably sleeping, there was always one or two who wanted to play. Some of the other customers were almost as fun to watch as the cats.

It was such a relaxing atmosphere and amusing way to spend an hour with fellow cat-enthusiasts. A few weeks later, I found another cat cafe, this one on Oike-Doori in Kyoto. "Neko Kaigi" (Kitty Conference) was quite different from Guru Gurudou in that all the cats were former strays that had been picked up off the streets of Kyoto as kittens. I highly approved of its mission to "reduce the number of unhappy stray kitties in Kyoto," as I own a Kyoto kitty myself.

Also unlike Guru Gurudou, the interior was sunny and decorated like a nice living room, with a large cat tower in the middle and a sun-baked shelf by the window for kitties to nap on. I must say I could appreciate the difference between the fancy breed cats of Guru Gurudou and stray mixed-breeds of Neko Kaigi. Both sets were appealing in their own way. The fancy breeds seemed more delicate, fluffier, and more whimsical in their play. The strays felt more substantial, muscular, and played mainly with the purpose of hunting and killing their toys. Most of the strays were short-haired tabby mixes not unlike my own cat, though I couldn't help but wonder if it was just mother's pride that made me feel that my own was far prettier than these.

A Neko Kaigi board member

A special feature of Neko Kaigi is that someone on staff there apparently has a very high-shutter-speed camera, and they have several albums lying around with beautiful pictures of cats jumping, legs splayed in all directions. They have posted the best pictures online in a slideshow at - a must-see!

A few weeks after that, of course, I moved to Korea. Koreans supposedly have a cultural aversion to cats and prefer dogs, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn recently that a few cat cafes have opened in Seoul. One such place just opened right down the hill from my university, calling itself "Sonamu Kil Koyangine" (Pine Street Cat Spot).

This place is fairly small and just opened about a month ago. They have 6 cats, all kittens, the oldest a 6-month-old Maine Coon. Unlike the Japanese cafes, this one seems to have very few restrictions on how to handle the kitties, and they even encourage guests to bring their own cats in. I wonder if this free-wheeling attitude will change as they get more experience.

The kittens at "Koyangine" are adorable and require a lot of sleep. I've been there twice now, both times in early afternoon; both times there was only one other customer, and the kittens were mostly sleeping. If there was none awake to play with, the proprietor would pick up a sleeping kitten and place it in my lap. There is no entrance charge or time limit, but they charge about $7 for a cup of coffee or tea, which is effectively the cost of admission. Other than a cat tower and a few cushions and toys lying around, there are few props for the kitties, but they are adept at finding toys among the customers' bags and other belongings. As there are few other customers, the atmosphere is very free and relaxing.

I had so much fun at Koyangine that I told my cat-loving friend about it, and she told me another cat cafe had opened recently in Myongdong, Seoul's shopping mecca for Japanese tourists. The name of this place is "Koyangi Darakbang" (Cat's Attic). We went there together on a weekday afternoon, yet surprisingly the place was packed with customers. In stark contrast to Koyangine, the atmosphere is busy and the interior spacious, with over a dozen cats of all varieties, most full-grown and clearly accustomed to ignoring the constant stream of customers trying to pet, play with, and take pictures of them.

The most impressive thing about this place, to my now-experienced eye, was the effort they had put into constructing elaborate cat towers, platforms, and climbing shelves all along the walls. There were even running platforms overhead where cats flitted back and forth, out of reach of the patrons. The customers were very obedient about following the rule not to disturb a cat sleeping inside one of the cat beds, and the cats clearly understood that that was their refuge when they needed a break from being groped and patted.
The mood in this place was a little too hectic for my taste, and the cats clearly had all the attention they needed (and then some). Nevertheless it is reassuring that this wonderful new trend is gaining popularity here in Seoul, as well as Japan.

No comments:

Post a Comment