On a rainy Tokyo day, you might find yourself looking for unique indoor activities to fill the day, as I was many times. When faced with this predicament, consider stopping by one of the thousands of animal cafes in the greater Tokyo area. Walking past any of the bustling streets of Tokyo you may find yourself face-to-face with large-eyed puppies looking for playmates. Animal cafes, also known as pet cafes, are very common in Japan and feature dozens of domesticated animals like pigs, owls, hedgehogs, snakes, kittens, and puppies, too!
On one particularly lazy afternoon, I grabbed a friend and we headed to Harajuku to check out the area, and see the vibrant colors and attractions the region has to offer. After some time, we stumbled upon a highly rated animal cafe, and decided to give it a try. We figured that we could sit, drink some tea, and pass the time while we waited for the rain to subside. Upon entering, we saw dozens of glass cages holding snakes of various shapes and sizes. A thin barrier being the only thing separating us and these menacing serpents. We ordered our drinks and picked out one snake we established a connection with to keep us company while we ate our treats. Groups were called over one at a time to have the chance to hold one the snake of our choice and learn a little about its care, diet, and unique personality. Although I was terrified out of my mind, I was excited to hold an animal in my hands that I knew held so much power. The snake’s handler was nearby, and made sure that not only I was comfortable, but the 10 year old Jungle Corn snake named Salt was relaxed as well.
After my first animal cafe interaction, I just couldn’t get enough. I was especially interested in the establishments that offered exotic animals that I never had the opportunity to connect with in the past. That’s why when a friend of mine suggested that we visit a hedgehog animal cafe for our next feat, I could not say yes fast enough. We ended up at the top floor in the corner of Shinjuku, and walked into a small room with hedgehogs and sugar gliders lining the walls of the cafe. We took our seats, and an employee explained to us the proper handling instructions and suggested we wear thick gloves to protect our hands from the hedgehog’s naturally spiky self defense. The hedgehogs took a while to warm up to our unfamiliar faces, but soon enough we made new friends with these adorable creatures. Some even felt comfortable enough to take a little nap in the palm of my hands.
I was not only able to enjoy a relaxing evening at a cafe, but I was so able to learn about the animal itself as well. I felt at ease that these animals were in such great care, and the handlers were polite and friendly, answering my dozens of questions without hesitation. The animals were properly rotated to ensure that each bundle of joy got an appropriate amount of attention, rest, and nutrition.
The one thing I was looking forward to the most when studying abroad was trying new things, and pushing myself out of my comfort zone. If I was traveling across the world, I might as well do something I’ve never tried before! I wanted to make the most out of my adventure in Japan by fully immersing myself in the culture and taking advantage of all the unique experiences the country had to offer. Whether it’s holding a limbless reptile or taking a plunge in a natural hot spring, keep an open mind to any and everything!
(written by Olivia Newsome, Peer Advisor)