Keeping pets in the city has always been a different challenge than a more suburban home. The dogs my family has had have been used to large yards, large houses, short walks, and the freedom to do as they please. I’ve also had large dogs, mainly golden retrievers, and as mellow a breed as they are, they do need a lot of space, which to many people in the city who live in apartments or dorms is a luxury they can’t afford. Many apartments have pet restrictions. I see plenty of dogs on a daily basis since I’m staying in a more residential area rather then the center of the city, but in somewhere like Shibuya or Ikebukuro it’s rare to see someone’s canine friend following at their heels.
The only animals I’ve seen are dogs and cats, the dogs being pets and the cats being strays. The felines don’t really pay people too much mind, though some are skittish or somehow offended by your presence. The dogs on the other hand are all well behaved. I haven’t heard a single dog bark in the couple of weeks I’ve been here, even though a good majority of canines here include Chihuahuas, which are rather talkative breeds. Another popular breed are Corgis, which I find strange seeing since they are a member of the herding group and I would think they’d need more space, but the owners seem to compensate for that by long walks or simply taking their dog with them everywhere. Since many people in Tokyo also own bikes, the smaller breeds get a front row seat from the bike basket! Try and put my dog there and she’d hop right out.
Another popular trend is clothes! Yes, even the dogs are fashion conscious in the city! It’s rare to see a naked Chihuahua walking down the street and even all the Bichon Frises have their designer sweaters and the Dachshunds are sporting a glamorous outer coat. Considering the heat this time of year, the clothes don’t really seem to serve a purpose other then fashion or for the sake of achieving ‘kawaii’ which the Japanese are quite fond of.
But what about those that can’t keep a pet? Maybe their apartment complex has laws, they’re too elderly, or they have children and other obligations and don’t have the time. Well, Tokyo has a clever solution to that! It’s called animal cafes! There are many different kinds all around the city, the most popular and numerous being cat cafes. There are also dog cafes, rabbit cafes, and even bird and goat cafes. At an animal café you pay a certain amount to spend time there surrounded by the animals, and unlike most cafes it isn’t about food or drinks, it’s about the experience. Usually the only things getting fed are the animals themselves.
I took a trip myself to the Rabbit café in Harajuku called R.A.A.G.F., which is an acronym for ‘Rabbit and Grow Fat’. The sign outside is a comical depiction of a white rabbit taking a dump and hopefully you know what it looks like in advance since the café is a little difficult to find. When I tried to go with a friend we ended up getting lost so I backtracked another day to find it myself. I stayed there for an hour, paying the fee of 1000 yen, and was given unlimited drinks (though I just had water), though you are allowed to bring your own food and drink in.
The benches are against a wall of cages where your fluffy companions sit waiting. You’re allowed to open the cages and pet the rabbits but you have to ask a staff member to be able to hold them. A pair of rabbits were already loose and hopping around the establishment when I got there and I almost didn’t see one of them hiding under my table. I ended up next to a very friendly brown rabbit that kept nose-butting the cage like he wanted attention. He certainly scarfed down the veggies I fed him (you can buy a bowl for 100 yen for the purpose of rabbit consumption)! All the animals here are well trained and accustomed to humans so the only accidents that might happen are a few rabbit droppings on your clothes, unless you pull on their ears, of course. The instructions outside of the café even give you a friendly little warning: ‘we won’t compensate for injuries and stains inflicted on your clothes by our rabbits’. People can even bring their own rabbits in and they only have to pay the fee the first time. After that get in free with a bunny!
These animal cafes serve a great purpose: they’re a place for people without pets of their own to still be able to experience them. A lot of the people I noticed in the rabbit café were elderly, and they seemed to enjoy the calm, relaxing presence of the animals themselves. Animals are wonderful for therapy and in the vibrant, fast-paced and often hectic city life they are a great presence to retreat to. Dogs especially, for their unconditional love is sure to put a smile on your face no matter how hard your day was. The cafes are comfortable, if a little expensive at times, but the perfect chance to experience being a pet owner without all the hassle, time, and money! It’s a great experience, and I plan to try out one of the cat and dogs cafes while I’m here as well!