I have a confession to make: I really, really miss my dog. For me, homesickness in general hasn`t kicked in quite yet – Though, I am sure that in the winter the floodgates will open. Living abroad alone, especially when you are based in a rural and isolated area, can get lonely. I think about my goofy, hyper Australian Shepherd puppy often. I reminisce about her excited seal-like wriggling that occurs whenever one of her favorite humans enters the house. I fondly recollect her still-too-big-for-her-body paws that are, as of late, tinged with green from chlorine due to her impulse to combat the excessive Florida heat by jumping in the pool. I even miss her pile of ripped open, wounded toys that require nightly repairs by a handy sewing kit.
I pass by many innocent civilians in my village and the surrounding towns who are simply minding their own business trying to take their dogs on walks (there are an excessive amount of shiba inus and corgis in Japan! The cute is too real) and I can hardly contain my squeals as I resist the urge to lunge towards their pups to assail them with pent-up love. I worry that this pattern of behavior is a tad socially unacceptable and aggressive – I mean, I would be a bit taken aback to see some whimpering foreigner swiftly bee-lining towards me and my pet
These awkward street encounters were becoming too much and I needed to be stopped. I decided to find an appropriate venue to play with some cuddly animals. I didn`t have to look any further than Tokyo. A few friends and I recently planned a weekend itinerary in the big city and my requests were simple: Cat Café and Owl Café, onegaishimasu.
Cat Cafés have been a booming business in urban Japan since the first one opened in Osaka in 2004. Cat Cafés are basically supervised pet rental services that were originally meant to attract the many sad and lonely apartment-dwellers who were forbidden from owning pets in their homes. Now, they attract locals and tourists alike who are looking for a bit of feline companionship in the big metropolis. There are dozens of different Cat Cafés in Tokyo and some come complete with their own niche – black cats, rare breeds, stray cats, chubby cats etc. All cat cafes in Japan must obtain licenses and comply by strict regulations set by the Animal Treatment and Protection Law. This basically ensures that these kitties are well taken care of – The café that I visited had very strict hygiene rules and several attendants monitoring the playtime.
It also had a dozen or so felines. It wasn`t a café in a strict sense of the word – instead of serving just coffee or tea they had an unlimited vending machine for guests to use. While we were waiting outside for our timeslot to open up (the employees limit the amount of patrons permitted entry at one time to avoid total mayhem) we were able to leaf through picture catalogues describing the cats` personalities and relationships with one another. There was allegedly a great deal of inter-cat drama happening!
I was anticipating a kingdom of playful cats frolicking about energetically, pouncing on toys. When we first entered, I was shocked to see some of the most enormous long haired cats I had ever laid eyes on lounging about in a lazy stupor. The cats seemed aware of their celebrity status and acted accordingly. They were 120% ready to be adored by some fawning humans. For the first thirty minutes the majority of the cats laid dormant, sleeping through the bleating of “awww” and “kawaaaaiii” coming from the large, uncoordinated humans who insisted on stroking them during their slumber.
Finally, the employees handed out baggies of kibble treats and the power dynamic shifted drastically. The cats suddenly noticed that we existed! They strutted about, swinging their tails and sidled up to anything with a pulse… and a treat bag. As patrons clamored and craned on their hands and knees to snap photographs of the particularly grumpy face of a dark grey cat with their iphones, it occurred to me how truly bizarre this situation would look to an outsider who didn`t think that cats were the bee`s knees.
I had so much fun at the Cat Café but the aloof celebrity kitties just made me miss my big furball of Aussie love even more. I was hoping to strike gold with novelty – an owl café in the geek paradise of a neighborhood, Akihabara. We thought that google maps was losing it as it led us away from the maid cafes, arcades, and tech stores that lined the main avenue towards a shady, narrow tree-lined residential nook. Turns out, we were in the right place. The inside of the Owl Café was ridiculously pristine – it was a dimly lit white and light pink series of rooms that could have moonlighted as a fancy spa. The dozen or so owls were all quietly perched, watching us enter with mild curiosity. I was shocked at how calm and people-friendly they were. These owls are bred for domestication, so at the very least I was pleased to think that they were not plucked out of the wild at random. I had some qualms about the owls being happy and healthy in captivity before I went but I was too curious to pass up the opportunity to interact so closely with animals I had only ever adored from afar. There were owls ranging from the size of the palm of my hand to the size of a small chair. Having an owl perch on my forearm contentedly while I stroked its head made me feel as if I was in a scene ripped out of the pages of Harry Potter.
It turns out, I still miss my pup. I don`t think I am going to lose that feeling anytime soon but all of the fluff, fur, and sass that I encountered at the Cat and Owl Cafes went a long way towards filling my cute animal quota for a bit.
What do you do when you miss your pet(s) while traveling?