Have an Iguana with Your Coffee

You’d probably heard about animal cafes. These unusual cafes have sprouted up in cities all over the world but are commonly found in Asia. They offer customers a chance to snuggle up to common house pets like dogs and cats over a cup of tea.Due to the high population density in most of Asia’s cities and the cramped apartments that people live in, keeping pets is usually not a viable option. To fill this need for animal companionship, animal cafes have become a thing. This is especially so in Japan which seems to have a high number of animal cafes. You will find several such cafes in each major Japanese city, where people can go to de-stress themselves by petting and playing with cute animals. In case you are wondering, animal assisted therapy is a way to deal with a person’s social and emotional needs.

So on a recent trip to Japan, we decided to explore the various animal cafes there, ranging from the kawaii to the downright creepy. I decided to leave dog and cat cafes out of this blog post since they are commonplace in Singapore. Instead I’ve decided to show the unusual ones which we won’t find here


Hedgehog Cafes

We chanced upon this hedgehog café in Kyoto near Nishiki Market. Like most animal cafes, it was located in a small apartment on the second floor of a row of shops.

Holding a ball of cuteness in your hand.
The hedgehogs are kept in clear plastic cages and the shop assistant will bring out a hedgehog for you to handle.
Look at those spines. We had to wear thick leather gloves to handle them.

Depending on their temperament, the hedgehog could sit calmly in your hand or jump out it. Most of the time they’d rather you not handle them.


Owl Cafes

We found an owl cafe located in the basement of a commercial building in Osaka. The inside of the cafe was dimly lit since owls are affected by bright lights.

The cafe had the owls in a separate room so that they won’t be disturbed by people.
Like most animal cafes in Japan, this one was small and cramped and hidden in a basement.
Some of the resident owls including a snowy owl (remember Harry Potter and his owl?)
We were not allowed to handle the owls except to stroke them on the beaks.
Look at those eyes.

The owls were mostly sleeping since they are nocturnal animals. Depending on which owl cafe you go to, you may get to have an owl perched on your shoulder, but this one that we visited was pretty strict and we just sat there having our drinks while taking selfies with the owls.


Rabbit Cafe

If you like rabbits then there are such cafes for you to cuddle with bunnies. We found one such cafe in the over crowded district of Ikebukuro in Tokyo. As usual, this cafe was located in a small basement shop.

There were all kinds of rabbits but only the tamer ones were allowed to be handled.
We were given some food pellets to feed the rabbits. The rabbits seem to be well fed from previous customers and they mostly ignored our efforts to feed them.
As a bonus, this rabbit cafe had a clutch of baby otters for us to play with. Who can resist such cuteness?
I have eyes only for you… or rather that bottle of food.
Spin to win. The baby otters were really hyperactive and playful.


Reptile Cafe

Ok, so we visited the notorious reptile cafe because one of my friends asked me to. Anyway, I saved it for last since most people don’t want to have anything to do with creepy crawlies.

Located in Osaka, this quite well known reptile cafe has all manner of exotic creatures that will make your skin crawl.
It’s much more spacious than the other animal cafes we have visited and looks like any other cafe except for the tanks and cages filled with snakes, lizards, turtles, tarantulas, scorpions, giant centipedes and millipedes.
Ugh… Besides the usual drinks you can order some exotic snacks.
Remember to watch where you step or you may trip over the resident iguanas. Thankfully, the snakes and other critters are kept in their enclosures.
Part of my friend’s dare was to hold an iguana. I thought reptiles were cold blooded but it felt warm to the touch. And it smelled like a farm.
This snake was pretty tame. You can request to handle any of the critters there, but again I think the poisonous ones are off limits.
They also have a couple of owls in their care which you can ask to let it perch on you shoulder. Although this one decided to fly onto someone’s head.


Besides these animal cafes, there a slew of other cafes featuring hawks, llamas and goats which we didn’t visit.


Before You Go

Most of the animal cafes are located in small apartments or basements in Japan. So the seating capacity is usually limited. You may have to wait a while if there are a lot of people there already.

You normally have to pay an entry fee which allows you to play with the animals for a certain time period. The time period ranges from 15 minutes to 1 hour and usually comes with a complimentary drink.

Remember that animals do poop and pee. Usually the café will give you an apron to wear to prevent any soiling of your clothes. They also have hand sanitizers ready for you to disinfect your hands.

The cafes have strict instructions on how to handle the animals especially those with more exotic animals. All animals can bite you if they are handled roughly.


Ethics of Animal Cafes

There is a thing with humans and cute animals. The tons of online videos featuring cute animals can attest to that. In our quest for cuteness and that Instagram moment we often forget that some of these cute exotic animals fuel the illegal trade in endangered species.

I’m not familiar with the wildlife and animal laws in Japan, but here in Singapore it’s pretty strict and probably explains why we don’t have exotic animal cafes here. For the cafes that we visited in Japan, the animals were treated pretty well but some of them like the rabbits were kept in densely packed cages. The small spaces that most of these cafes operate from doesn’t help too, as humans and animals are stuffed into a small confined space. 

When exotic animal cafes first came up, they were a novelty at most. But as they are growing more popular, conservationists and animal activists are concerned. Owls and hedgehogs are nocturnal animals and are not used to being exposed to bright lights all the time. Animals are also not used to being handled by humans the whole day and I could see that sometimes they would rather sleep instead of being taken out of their cages and played with.

So if you feel strongly about such issues, you should avoid these cafes, or choose those cafes that offer ethical treatment of their animals.

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