Looks like after-dinner kitty coffee is here to stay.
Japanese restaurant-goers have a well-deserved reputation as sticklers for quality, but that doesn’t mean the country’s increasing number of cat cafes owe their success to their fine cuisine. Sure, the food and drinks can’t taste bad, but as long as the real draw, the cats, are cute enough, cat cafe customers will be pretty accepting of unspectacular fare.
But cat cafes operate straddling a sort of blurred line. Sure, the cats are definitely the main attractions, but as living beings, they’re also sort of like employees, and as such require legal protection to ensure their welfare. The situation is similar to pet shops, which in Japan often reel in customers with large display windows specifically positioned allow crowds to gather and watch the animals inside.
A few years back, the Japanese government enacted limitations on how late pet shops could operate, which was largely a response to a number of such stores which were located in entertainment districts and stayed open until the early hours of the morning. Being gawked at for such long periods of time by drinkers, partiers, and other denizens of the night between stops on bar or club-hopping circuits was judged to have a negative impact on the animals’ psychological health, and a regulation was put in place stipulating that pet shops close up by 8 p.m.
So when cat cafes started to really catch on, the question arose of whether they should be treated like pet shops or restaurants, the latter of which are allowed to stay around the clock. In 2012, Japan’s Ministry of the Environment decided to, temporarily, take a median course and allow cat cafes to stay open until 10 p.m., two hours later than pet shops. The allowance was extended again in 2014, and ahead of the extension’s expiration in May of this year, the Animal Welfare Division of the ministry’s Central Environment Council has been studying the mental health of felines in some of Japan’s 300 registered cat cafes.
Specifically, the ministry examined the level stress hormones present in animals at cat cafes that stay open until 10 o’clock versus those in cafes that voluntarily close at 8. After compiling its data, the ministry has found no difference between the two groups, and thus is expected to formally grant cat cafes permanent permission to operate until 10 p.m.
However, this permission is predicted to be coupled with extra regulations during the 8 to 10 p.m. time block. Juvenile cats under one year in age will still have to turn in at 8, and the mature cats in the cafe must have a space in which they’re allowed to move about freely.
The ministry will be formally announcing its judgement by the end of the month.