If I was going to set up a business I’m not sure that a cat cafe would be one I would expect a healthy return from. But in a country where a lot of people live in flats with limited space, pet cafes are a booming industry. To be perfectly honest I thought the whole idea sounded a bit manky, but when we arrived at our tucked away filming venue this morning I realised that I should never have doubted the Japanese devotion to cleanliness. Over 20 pedigree cats roamed a large high ceilinged room with a spotless lino floor, with coffee tables and cushions dotted about. It’s decorated a bit like a cartoon forest, with a bulbous wendy house in the middle and some alcoves built into the wall, one big enough for humans to sit in and get snuggly with the cats, and a couple just for felines. The walls also have ledges jutting out of them so that the cats have space to climb around and get up to all the stuff that cats like to do.
We had the place to ourselves for the first hour, and I wasn’t expecting there to be a rush for a place like this on a Monday, but at opening time there were a surprising amount of people queuing up to pay the entrance fee. It’s a zen like space and there is usually calming music playing, but we kind of spoilt it for everyone by nipping around the place and playing ‘Copy Cats’, where Vic and I had to do our best to impersonate various cats. One old lady scowled at us the whole time, looking like she’d quite happily set a lion on us.
Quickly scoffed some sandwiches on the bus to our next location, and soon found myself climbing into a giant panda costume at Tokyo’s mascot school. The Japanese LOVE cuddly cartoon characters and believe that having your own mascot brings an organisation or company good luck. So this place makes costumes to order and teaches people how to perform inside them. Training takes one whole year!
It’s all about exaggerating your gestures and movement as much as you can, to make up for the fact that the suit hinders your ability to communicate somewhat, especially since talking inside one is a big no no. Vic and I worked our way through a few costumes, with help from the staff to fit all the various layers. In the end I settled on a wolf one and Vic was a sheep, then our instructor Chocko came along with us on our bus to a kindergarten where Vic and I went head to head to see who could get the best reactions from the kids. Vic had to get as many high fives as she could and I had to try and encourage them to dance. We both did reasonably well, although I was so vigorous in my attempts to get the kids copying my dance moves that I started to overheat in my costume, couldn’t breathe enough air in, and had something resembling a panic attack once I’d left the creche room and couldn’t get the head off. If I ever go back to Disney World in Florida I’m going to have a new found respect for those poor guys standing in the sun in their Mickey Mouse costumes!