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Novelty Cafes

Creative Ideas & Fun

Cafes are known the world over as somewhere to enjoy a good coffee or tea while reading or having a chat with friends. In Japan, novelty cafes are popular because of the diverse nature of consumer demand. There are cafes where you can watch cats and rabbits, or places where you can enjoy rakugo storytelling or model railways. Creative new cafes are constantly opening up.

Cafes for Animal Lovers


In a circle for feeding time © Nekonoiru Kyukeijyo 299

It can be difficult to keep a pet at home. And it's not possible for animal lovers to go to the zoo every day after work. But now animal lovers can go to cafes with animals on the premises. Customers can have a coffee while watching and even playing with cats and rabbits in the cafe.


A cute cat at a cat cafe © Nekonoiru Kyukeijyo 299

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The well-known cat cafe in Ikebukuro, a shopping and entertainment district of Tokyo to rival Shinjuku or Shibuya, is popular with young women who like cats. It is a large establishment scattered with sofas and generally has 17 cats, including chinchilla cats and American longhairs. Customers pay to stay in the cafe for as long as they like and are charged in 10-minute intervals.


Customers are free to pet the cats.
© Nekonoiru Kyukeijyo 299

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The cats in the cafe are free to come and go as they please, playing with other cats or taking a nap. Customers, surrounded by the cats, can play with the animals or spend their time however they wish, just reading for example.

Even the more wary cats can be friendly, allowing customers to rub their cheeks or licking their fingers. But it is in the nature of cats to not always play as expected. The cafe sells special snacks for customers to win the cats around. Even cats that prefer to be left alone will come over to play if you offer them a snack or start using one of cat toys lying around in the cafe.


Rabbit cafes are popular with women at an Usagi Cafe Ohisama in Shimokitazawa

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You can also find rabbit cafes in Japan. One such cafe in the Tokyo suburb of Shimokitazawa has 20 or more rabbits that customers can play with. Cats can be quite wary, but rabbits show affection to people. Rabbits will come when customers hold out a hand and enjoy a simple stroke on the head or a cuddle.

Some people drop into these cafes on their way home from work. Contact with animals is said to be therapeutic and many customers feel refreshed by the interaction with these animals after a hard day's work or study.

Cafes Offering Classical Theater

One form of classical theater in Japan is rakugo or traditional Japanese comic storytelling. The skill with rakugo lies in telling an interesting story to make the audience laugh. This art form has a 300-year history in Japan. Even today there are numerous rakugo storytellers making a living from their comic stories, performing at yose vaudeville venues.

Rakugo cafes provide customers with an easy way to enjoy rakugo. In one such cafe in the famous antique book district of Kanda in Tokyo, the walls are lined with rakugo books and notebooks signed by famous rakugo storytellers. The cafe is also full of rakugo information including where to find local rakugo clubs. Customers can get into rakugo in many ways. Some customers like to find new rakugo stories by reading the books. Visits by real rakugo storytellers are also popular as they allow customers to talk with the artists.

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Rakugo Cafe, where customers can enjoy the traditional theater art of rakugo; laughing at a rakugo story can relieve daily stress. © Rakugo Cafe

At night, the tables are rearranged and the cafe becomes a live rakugo venue with seating for 50 customers. Rakugo artists sit and tell their stories right in front of the customers, so close that you can see their funny facial expressions and even hear their breathing.

One of the most famous traditional stories in rakugo is called Manju Kowai (Manju Are Scary) and involves steamed manju buns, a typical sweet confection in Japan. In the story, a young man says he is afraid of manju. His friends hand him lots of manju buns to give him a fright. However, the young man eats them all up because "they are so scary." The friends get mad when they realize that the young man actually likes manju buns. They interrogate him about what he is really afraid of, to which he replies, "I'm really afraid of green tea."

At rakugo cafes, the storytellers give amazing performances, using skillful language, facial expressions, and gestures throughout. Businessmen on their way home from the office and other customers come to these cafes as an easy way to enjoy such classical theater.

Working Model Railways


Enormous diorama on display at Tetsudoya railway cafe.

There is another type of cafe that appeals to one’s interest: railway cafes, which have sprung up in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, and elsewhere.

At a railway cafe in Nagoya, there is an N-gauge model railway diorama on display. The diorama is built to a 1:150 scale and covers an area of around 112 square meters. The rails running through the diorama add up to 500 meters of track. The cafe has around 160 trains that pass each other and travel through railway crossings in a totally realistic scene. Customers can enjoy a coffee while taking in the diorama. They can even run their own model trains on the track.

Japan has an extensive train network including the Shinkansen bullet train system. Many Japanese railway enthusiasts are young in age and more and more women are becoming interested. Railway cafes are full of young people at weekends.

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Left: The entrance to a planetarium cafe with its universe designs. © TITA
Right: Customers can eat while enjoying a show about the stars. © TITA

At the international passenger terminal at Haneda Airport, which provides a gateway to the capital city, there is a planetarium cafe. Customers can eat while watching images of the Milky Way or constellations projected onto the dome. This cafe attracts not only astronomy fans, but also customers waiting on a departing flight or even couples on a date.

Japan also boasts stationery cafes that display stationery or knitwear cafes that feature knitted garments. Original and imaginative cafes can be found everywhere. This is yet another example of the Japanese passion for creating something new.

(January 2013)

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