Japanese cat culture, the purr-fect way to meet cats

Cat yoga will be on the menu when a cat cafe finally opens in Lower Hutt.

Ken and Richelle Okada are battling on with their dream of opening a purpose-built cat cafe and, despite facing numerous setbacks, they are confident the project will eventually be finished.

In Japan, cat cafes are very popular and the Okadas hope their venture will be similarly successful.

Previously based in Petone, they closed Neko Ngeru Cat Cafe last June and bought a two-storey building in central Lower Hutt

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A tenant, Cafe Soleil, is operating on the ground floor and they are crowdfunding to raise funds to convert the top storey into a home for cats looking to be adopted.

Eventually there will be cat climbing furniture and places hiding in the walls, and ceiling, an exercise wheel, a “catio” (a covered and screened-in deck), magnetic locking system on the doors, and comfortable places for people to lounge and play with cats.

Valentine was one of the cats rehomed at their Petone cafe


Valentine was one of the cats rehomed at their Petone cafe

Richelle said the project had proved more difficult than expected and a number of financial issues had delayed progress, including their home in Korokoro proving difficult to sell.

Erin Folster and Spot enjoy some cat yoga at their former Petone premises.


Erin Folster and Spot enjoy some cat yoga at their former Petone premises.

Resource consent was still needed and unexpected earthquake strengthening caused further delays.

When completed Neko Ngeru will take in cats for rehousing. By living upstairs with the felines, the Okadas can look after them fulltime and make sure the cats are always safe.

The delays had been frustrating but Richelle remains fully committed to the project.

Ken and Richelle Okada with their cat Ton in 2017, prior to opening a cat cafe in Petone.


Ken and Richelle Okada with their cat Ton in 2017, prior to opening a cat cafe in Petone.

The Petone cafe rehoused 152 cats and she said the new site would be a big improvement. They would take cats from rescue organizations and help socialize them so they are ready for adoption.

Neko Ngeru will also provide cat yoga, cat quizzes, cat bingo, cat-themed games, cat toy making, movie screenings, and talks from experts in cat behavior and cat training. Cat enthusiasts will be able to order food downstairs and take it with them, when they interact with the cats upstairs.

Their interest in cats came from a period spent in China, where they worked with cat-rescue groups in Shanghai.

They are hoping to raise $50,000 by crowdfunding.

Cat cafes, a purr-fect option for Japan

Although cat cafes are a novelty in New Zealand, Ken Okada says it is a different story in Japan where he first met Richelle.

Cat cafes started in Taiwan in the late 1990s and proved a big hit with Japanese tourists, who took the idea home with them.

The first cafes often had pedigree cats but over time that changed and they are now mostly rescue cats, he says.

Japanese love cats but ownership is difficult. In large cites people often live in small apartments and are not allowed to keep pets.

They, however, have a strong desire to interact with cats and some cafes are even in apartment blocks.

Cat cafes have sprung up in China, Korea, Vietnam and Thailand, and Okada says one of the best he has seen was in Mexico.

A quick internet search unearths a lot of information on the Japanese cafes, including lists of the best in Tokyo.

According to one list, the best is Cat Cafe Calico.

“This two-story cat cafe houses 50 different breeds of cats and is easily found because of its convenient location. With the large number of cats in the cafe, it’s almost impossible for a cat not to notice you,” according to Catherine Flores who created the list.

Travel sites, also list cat cafes as attractions tourist should visit. A list of “wacky” things to do by Michael Turtle noted that Japanese living in “tiny” apartments and interacting with cats is a way of keeping people sane.

He spent an hour at a Tokyo cafe, paying US$12, and was provided with a menu with information on the 25 cats.

“It has their photo, name, birthday and a bit of personality information. I like the sound of Marl who is a short-haired Scottish fold who ‘seems to be confident of being so cool and is in charge of the blog on our website’… apparently.”

Okada says Japanese cafes are all about interacting with cats and the food available is usually limited.

Neko means cat in Japanese and ngeru means cat in Māori, which means their name is Cat Cat Cat Cafe.

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