Cat cafe soothes Tokyo's busy feline lovers

TOKYO Tue Dec 4, 2007 12:45am EST

1 of 3. 'Ichigo', one of the cats customers can play with at the Cat Cafe Calico, enjoys a scratch from a visitor in western Tokyo December 3, 2007. Calico is one of at least three cafes that have opened up in Tokyo this year where visitors can mingle with cats as they enjoy a cup of tea. Picture taken December 3, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Michael Caronna

TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - The 14 felines-in-residence at Tokyo's Cat Cafe Calico excel at their job of making customers purr with delight.

"This place isn't on my way from work, but even if I'm pretty tired, I'd still stop by," said 32-year-old system engineer and a Calico regular Kazunori Hamanaka, as he tried to take a photo of a white and brown Bengal cat curling up in a box.

"Stray cats run away when I try to stroke them. Here, it's great that I can do that," said Hamanaka, who is unable to keep pets at home.

He takes about 200 photos on each visit for his blog.

Calico is one of at least three cafes that have opened up in Tokyo this year where visitors can mingle with cats as they enjoy a cup of tea.

Takafumi Fukui, the 34-year-old owner and a long-time cat lover, quit his job at a television game company and started the cafe in March.

"In Tokyo, it's not that easy to have cats," he said, explaining that tight housing regulations often forbid pets.

Visitors to Calico pay 800 yen ($7) an hour or 2,000 yen for three hours in a big room where 14 well-brushed and shampooed cats hang out. After a thorough handwash, the visitor can play with the cats, read comics or just relax.

The clean, odorless cafe -- Calico has six air fresheners and the litter trays are out of sight -- gets about 70 visitors a day during the week and 150 a day at weekends.

"I want everyone to forget about their jobs and relax," Fukui said, adding that the majority of visitors to Calico are working women and children, and about 70 percent overall don't own cats due to allergies or housing regulations.

None of Calico's cats are strays, but the cafe puts up posters for abandoned cats seeking homes. Pet dumping is a problem in Japan, where about 240,000 cats and 160,000 dogs without owners are gassed each year, government data showed.

The Calico cats are fortunate to have their admirers.

"It is really soothing," Hamanaka said about his frequent visits. "Even three hours is not enough."

(Editing by Miral Fahmy)

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