Before and After

As I board the plane for DC (assuming I have timed the scheduled post right), here’s a picture of me from late March 2012, and mid-March 2013. It’s almost embarrassing to show the first part, I think I look better in the second. Funny that I ended up wearing nearly the same thing both times, though! Thanks to my boss for putting these two together.

Photo shows me in March 2012 and March 2013; I have lost a good bit of weight and am smiling more in the second picture.

One More Night

I haven’t been able to go out of my apartment today. I was going to go to a cat cafe one more time, but when I went out to go to 7-11, I wanted to cry. This may be the last time I ever see this corner of Tokyo, where I have lived for the past 13 months. So I decided to just stay home, and keep my ¥500 off loyalty card as a souvenir. Of course, this makes the day quite long – I woke up at 10am for the inspection guy, and now it’s just past 6pm and I still have forever until it’s time to go (tomorrow at noon). But doing anything outside tugs at my heartstrings too much, so I am staying home.

I’ve lived in Tokyo for 13 months now. Trying to reflect on that time jams up the cogs of my brain. My apartment is clean (although the inspection guy told me to throw away the hangers, but only the hangers, and barely looked at anything else…?), my bags are packed. I’m not sure what to do with my final trash and recycling, because neither of those get picked up on Mondays…I’ll have to figure that out. But you see, I’m talking about logistics…I don’t know how I feel.

Of course, I’ll come back to Japan, it’s become too much a part of my life to never return. My wife wants to see Kyoto and Nara, and I can’t wait to take her there someday. So I’ll be back…but not to live. At least, not that I can foresee now. But I think I got the expat bug out of my system. I always wanted to live somewhere other than Washington DC, and I have certainly had my fill. I’m ready to go home. I’m not sure I’m ready to leave.

I had to throw so many things away. Nobody took anything I put in a box marked ¥0, apparently there is just not much of a “donation culture” here. So I put it all out with the burnable trash, and fortunately they took it all, instead of leaving the non-burnables behind. I did sell my toaster to a recycle shop for ¥500, about 1/6th of what I paid for it.

I can’t even think about the friends I’m leaving behind. I hardly had any friends for the first six months or so, but once I made friends, I really enjoyed spending time with them. Some have promised to come visit in the US, but then again, some friends from home promised to visit me here, and only one actually did. I am genuinely glad for Facebook, which will help me keep connected with friends in Japan, as it has kept me connected back home for this past year.

Let’s do a rundown:

Will miss: Reliable trains, convenience stores, cat products everywhere, kawaii everything, Engrish, cherry blossoms, vending machines (that are everywhere and sell everything), the Sky Tree watching me everywhere I go, accurate timed redelivery of packages, seasonal flavors, city life and walking everywhere, small earthquakes.

Won’t miss: My tiny kitchen and inability to cook in it, my tiny bathroom and low-water toilet, getting run over by people riding bikes on sidewalks, holier-than-thou fellow foreigners, being asked my favorite Japanese food and if I can use chopsticks, boring bread, shared internet connection (frequently making video chat/streaming/calls impossible), worrying about the last train, my own illiteracy, paying for laundry, sleeping alone every night.

To be expanded…

All Hail Pipeman

Drain cleaner is an amazing thing. I have been dealing with an overflowing drain for weeks and weeks now, because I would forget whenever I was done with my shower, and it’s also hard to look up things like that sometimes. I have a Japanese “unit bath” which basically means the shower drains outside the tub itself, in what westerners think of as a dry area. Japanese people actually wash themselves in this area, hence the need for water to drain out of it; they then climb into the tub for a nice soak. I wash western-style, which is to say, standing in the tub; I bought a shower curtain to keep things outside the tub dry.

Anyway, the “dry” portion of the shower room kept flooding whenever I would shower. I have a hair trap there, and I kept it clean, and I would reach into the drain itself and pull stuff out, that had snuck past the hair trap, but still it kept getting worse and worse. What can I say, I have long hair…and the bathroom was nasty when I got here, so it probably wasn’t just mine, either. I didn’t particularly want to reach down there with tape on an unbent hanger, because loose hair is actually one of the things that grosses me out pretty badly. So I figured I would get drain cleaner eventually, but I kept putting it off.

Today I finally got off my butt and looked up what drain cleaner is called here, and went to the drugstore to get some. The “double the hair removing power” kind I found online was not available, but regular Pipeman (パイプマン) was, so I got that. I brought it home and dumped about a third of the bottle down the drain, then went out for a few hours. When I came back, I put a kettle on, and when it was hot I poured it down…instant draining!

That’s probably years and years of nasty hair buildup gone. I couldn’t be happier, I just wish I hadn’t waited so long!

Recent Exploits

So I have about 8 million pictures to post, and I need to get on that! But meanwhile, here’s what I’ve been up to:

  • Saw kabuki twice and loved it. Unlike western theater, where you are supposed to suspend your disbelief and live in the world of the play for a couple of hours, kabuki acknowledges that this a fake world that’s been created, and it’s inhabited by actors. You’re meant to notice the actor and his performance, not the character he plays and what that character does. I liked it a lot.
  • Went to Kamakura and saw three temples, including the one with the giant outdoor Buddha. You can go inside, so of course I did! We took the green car back to make sure we had comfy seating, that was quite fun.
  • Went shopping in Ginza and Nihombashi, in all the fancy expensive stores. All I bought was a cute bottle of sake with fish and fireworks on it. I did see kimono for about $20,000 though!
  • Went to Tokyo Rainbow Pride but did not stay long. Very small and very little information in English. I did get to visit the table for the Crystal Community JSL club though! Unfortunately they were out of shirts in my size.
  • Bought a 2″ memory foam mattress topper. I had a cold for a few days and my bed was just SO uncomfortable. We have a 4″ topper at home, and I love it, so I thought I’d get one here too. I’m mostly over the cold and my normal bed feels okay now, but it’s still not comfortable. The topper came this morning and I’ve got it expanding on the floor, I think I’ll sleep better with it!
  • Went to the giant yard sale at the American Embassy Residence Compound with co-workers and friends. I actually made out like a bandit, scoring five books for ¥400 (including two I had been planning to buy new, and two travel guides, something else I was going to buy new), a wifi router for ¥500, a Marie doll for ¥200, and a new American Embassy Tokyo shirt (from the souvenirs table) for ¥2000. The shirt was expensive, but I had wanted one, and it’s in my size and is a well-made Champion long-sleeve t-shirt so I think it was worth it.

I have also been dealing with homesickness. My wife left almost a week ago and I miss her very much. We decided that instead of emailing every day and video calling once a week, we would call every day. It’s been helping a lot the past few days, I feel much better, so I hope we keep it up the rest of my time here! She will come back and we’ll see Kyoto and Nara and other parts of the country, but that won’t be for a while, so I’m really happy to be talking on the phone with her. I do still miss her greatly though…I don’t think I can even put into words how much! I’m not leaving, I love it here, but I sure do miss her.

I am thinking of taking a little day trip tomorrow, maybe. Of course there’s so many places I haven’t seen yet right here in Tokyo, but I want to go somewhere else! Discovering new places is a good way to beat homesickness, too – I am so busy seeing new things that I forget to be homesick. (On Friday I used a break at work to go to Ochiai Station and walk from there to Takadanobaba, and today I went to Naka-Meguro for Mexican food but it was closed and I ended up eating at a vegan place instead.) I want to go see Bus the cat at Ashinomaki-Onsen station, but I can’t seem to make the trip last less than three hours each way or cost less than $50 each way. (Note that those are not the same thing…the $50 trip is almost six hours, and the three hour trip is $115!) So perhaps that is a weekend trip rather than a day trip. I have been eyeing Nikko (might need to be an overnight too), Japanican tours (too expensive), and now I am looking at Fuji-Q Highland. I don’t want to do nothing tomorrow!

Getting Wifi Access

Because my phone’s internet is ridiculously slow (because I was too cheap to pay for faster internet from B-Mobile), I have been trying to get wifi access for it.

I finally decided on Wi2 for access out and about, because they seem to have a pretty high number of hotspots for only ¥380 a month. For some reason I have been unable to use it yet, though…I have only tried at one place, but I was unable to actually make the connection. Maybe too many people were using it, I don’t know. At any rate, I will keep trying. Its speed is limited too, but my 3G service maxes out at 300kbps and Wi2 maxes out at 300Mbps, so…it was worth it to sign up! (If I can get it working, of course.)

For around the house – well, apartment – I was considering a wifi router. But I had already spent about ¥500 on a long ethernet cable for my laptop, and I didn’t want to have wasted that. (Derp, right? Whatever.) So while a wifi router could have serviced both my phone and my laptop, I decided to go with a different solution. Because my laptop’s wifi card is too dumb to act as an access point for Connectify, I needed a wifi dongle that could play the role of access point. I picked up the Planex GW-USnano2-G today at Yodobashi Camera for ¥980; there were a few other models for ¥1280 but I figured this would do. I got it home and got the drivers installed, then it installed the client manager. I thought about using that, but it seemed a bit clunky…probably just a result of poor translation, but I was scared off. It took a while to get the client manager to stop managing, but I finally got Connectify working and my phone connected to it!

So I’m now updating the apps on my phone for only the second time since I came to Japan; doing it over a 300kbps connection would have been ridiculous, so I just turned off automatic updates and waited until now. It’s merrily chugging away, and I’ve got it in airplane mode too so the battery doesn’t drain quite as fast – the radio bands used in Japan are available on my phone, but they seem to deplete the battery much faster than the bands used in the US.

I’m sure a wifi router would have been easier, but the end result is the same for only about ¥1500, and a router would probably have been ¥2500 or more, so…it is what it is!

Overdue for an Update

So I’m very overdue for an update! I haven’t posted in forever, even though I have done fun things like go to Kanamara Matsuri, go to DisneySea, and start work!

Kanamara Matsuri was the first Sunday in April. I happened to mention it to Sam and Lulu the night before, and they said “thank goodness you told us about it, we want to come too!” So the three of us took the train to Kawasaki the next day, and stepped off the train at Kawasaki-Daishi station and right into the middle of the festival! The parade was passing the station just as we got there, so we hurried over to see the three penises. I would say the crowd was at least 40% foreigners, which is an extremely high percentage of foreigners to see anywhere – I’m not sure it’s even that much at Tokyo’s hottest tourist sights, like Senso-ji Temple near where I live. Unfortunately, a lot of them were drinking and being boorish assholes, taunting the performing monkey, shouting obscenities…drinking is perfectly fine, but being a boorish asshole is not. I was kind of embarrassed, honestly – we decided I could be French for the day, rather than American. The festival was uncomfortably crowded, though, and I was unable to get any penis-shaped popsicles or anything like that – it was just too damn crowded. I did buy a couple of penis-shaped souvenirs, though, so I have something fun to remember the day by!

A couple of days after the Kanamara Matsuri, I started work. Since then I have been really busy! I did have time to go to DisneySea on Monday, though, again with Sam and Lulu. I had been before, but that was by myself, and honestly there’s no comparison – going alone is not only kind of pathetic, it’s not nearly as fun. You don’t scream on the rides, you don’t get to laugh with anyone…it’s much better with friends! We had a great time, and even though the weather was perfect, it wasn’t too crowded. We had good seats for Legend of Mythica and Fantasmic! (which isn’t quite the same as the California version), we went on fun rides, and we bought a few souvenirs. But the best part of the day was just enjoying the fun of a Disney park with really good friends. I am so lucky Sam and Lulu are right here in my building, they are truly one of the best things about Tokyo, and I will miss them greatly when they return to France!

I have decorated my “apartment” (room) a little more now – a poster from Etsy, some Sky Tree postcards, and cards from loved ones at home. It’s still small, but it looks better now. And I have seen them testing the Sky Tree lighting schemes from my window, so that’s totally awesome! I really like my apartment.

Alive and Loving It

Hey everyone! Just wanted to let you know that I am indeed still alive and I’m having a great time in Tokyo! I am now in my second week of work, so I’m busy, and I haven’t been writing anything. I am working on a blog post about the Kanamara Matsuri, as promised, but it isn’t finished yet. Meanwhile you can go visit my Flickr to see what I’ve been taking pictures of here!

I am trying to stay current on news from back home, everything from a hit and run steps from my front door (the search helicopters kept my wife awake that night) to the presidential primary races (looks like Romney’s the frontrunner). I depend on The Daily Show for a lot of my basic news, but I also check in with Google News now and then.

I am still studying Japanese using Textfugu, and I am starting to recognize kanji here and there. Although most signs in train stations here are bilingual, the other day I found myself looking at a sign in Tokyo station that was only in Japanese. I was looking for the name of the station where I work, but I haven’t memorized those characters yet, so I was a bit lost! I quickly realized that 御茶ノ水 was Ochanomizu…because ノ is no and 水 is mizu – and I know where Ochanomizu station is! So even without knowing the first two, I was able to read that station name. It didn’t get me where I was going, but fortunately someone saw me staring in confusion at the sign, and helped me out. I am also learning some kun’yomi pronunciations by observing transit signs. Kun’yomi is the pronunciation used for a kanji character when it is used in combination with other characters, as opposed to by itself (the on’yomi reading). By noticing that 中野 (Nakano) shares characters with 中目黒 (Nakameguro) and 上野 (Ueno), I have figured out that one of the kun’yomi for 中 is naka and one of the kun’yomi for 野 is no. (Yes, that’s different from ノ up above…welcome to Japanese!) I also pick up other kanji here and there, and I’m trying to understand grammar too!

That’s all for now…I am getting sleepy! That’s what happens when you try to write after climbing into bed. Time to put the laptop down and say goodnight! I’ll write more soon!

Giants vs. Athletics

I have not written about the baseball game like I meant to! I went to a baseball game at Tokyo Dome about a week and a half ago. I have only been to two other professional baseball games in my life – Orioles vs. A’s at Memorial Stadium when I was in elementary school, and the Red Sox vs. somebody at Fenway Park on my senior trip in high school. So going to Tokyo Dome was my third pro game ever, and my first at an indoor stadium. I think baseball is better outside during the day – it just feels more like the “American pastime” that way. Sun on your face, wind in your hair…is it just me?

The reason I went to see this game was because my friend Liane mentioned it to me a few days beforehand. She’s an A’s fan, being from Oakland, and she said that the A’s and the Seattle Mariners were in town to play their opening games for the 2012 MLB season. I looked around a little bit, and I thought I’d like to go – I had wanted to experience a Japanese baseball game sometime while I was here, so why not go ahead right away? I definitely wanted to see a Japanese team too, though, so I picked the Oakland Athletics vs. the Yomiuri Giants. I picked the Giants over the Tigers because I was reading Jake Adelstein’s book Tokyo Vice, and he worked for the Yomiuri newspaper, so I figured that was as good a reason as any to pick a team. Of course, the Tigers are the underdogs in their rivalry with the Giants, and one likes to root for the underdog, but I went with the Giants because the word Yomiuri was in my brain from the book anyway.

I originally tried to get tickets at JapanBallTickets.com, but the site was confusing and the service charge was three times the cost of the tickets, so I jettisoned that idea quickly. With Liane’s help I was able to track down how to buy tickets at 7-11, so I did exactly that! I ended up needing some help from the cashier to work the ticketing machine (which also does tickets for museums, concerts, etc), but it was nice to be able to pay cash and receive my tickets on the spot. My ticket was in the center outfield on the first base side, and cost about $25.

I went to Tokyo Dome a few hours before the game would start, so I could look around a bit. The complex includes Tokyo Dome City (amusement park and more) and LaQua (shopping and restaurants) in addition to the stadium itself, and I wanted to have time to check them out. The only ride I was interested in was Thunder Dolphin, but it hasn’t been run since 2011, so who knows if I’ll ever get to ride it. I was kind of interested in the hubless ferris wheel, but it was 800 yen, so I changed my mind! Riding a ferris wheel alone is kind of silly, especially one that isn’t much taller than the surrounding buildings, so I would rather go to the government building in Shinjuku that is much taller and has a free observation deck. (Sunshine 60 also has a good observation deck, but it’s not free!) So I just wandered around a bit, enjoyed a Studio Ghibli store but didn’t buy anything, got overrun by people leaving the Tigers-Mariners game, and had a nice lunch of soba and tempura. It was probably the fanciest lunch I have had so far, and it was very expensive for what it was…a few days later I had a similar meal for about half the cost! But that’s what happens when you eat at a tourist place.

So after wandering around and eating, I headed over to check out the gate where I would enter the stadium. It was about an hour before it was supposed to start, but people were already lining up – only a few for the gate that leads to the cheap seats, but rather a lot for the gate that leads to better seats! I decided to sit down on the ground in line and read, the weather was nice and I was done walking around anyway. I was surprised to see that people had left things to mark their position in line and then gone away for a long while – I don’t think that sort of place-saving would be tolerated in the US. But it was respected here, and when a guy behind me taped down a sign saying he was going to the bathroom, the next people to arrive read it and dutifully stood behind it. There was a group of five young boys in line in front of me with an adult chaperone – they appeared to be a Little League team and coach – and the boys seemed to delight in trying to annoy me without actually interacting with me. I sat on the ground, and there were ropes marking the path of the line; the boys would pull on the rope at their end so it would whack me repeatedly in the head at my end, and when I looked over they would turn away and giggle. It didn’t hurt, and it was slightly amusing, but it was more annoying. Ah well, boys!

When the gates opened and we went inside, I noticed a sign saying you can’t bring bottles, cans, or anything like that into the stadium. I had brought some cans of chūhai, but I didn’t know what to do with them, so I entered with them anyway and figured I would just have to leave them in my backpack. I spotted a souvenir stand and bought a keychain souvenir for Liane, looked at the snack bar’s all-Japanese offerings, and then found my seat. I still had about an hour before the game started, so I just looked around and took it all in, and while looking at the scoreboard, I saw a notice saying any cans or bottles had to be poured into paper cups at the entrance. I quickly realized that the “free water” stand I had seen at the entrance was actually a collection of stadium employees who will pour your drinks into cups for you, and I brought my cans back to be repackaged. I think this rule has to do with ecology – making sure that all the cans and bottles get recycled instead of being thrown out. I’m not sure though, but I made sure to follow the rules once I figured them out! After bringing my new cups back to my seat, I left them there to get some food. It’s perfectly safe to leave things at your seat at the Tokyo Dome…theft is a very minimal problem in Japan, so I just left my backpack and drinks and went back to the snack bar. I had wanted a hot dog, because of course you get a hot dog at the ballpark, right? But they didn’t seem to have them, so I ended up with a katsu sando (messy) and a melon soda (tasty) which cost 1000 yen! Ah well, ballpark food is even more expensive than the food around the ballpark. It certainly explained why people had brought food, though.

During batting practice, people gathered along the edge of the stands in the hopes of catching a ball. I went down there and watched too, intending to duck any balls that players tossed my way. I noticed that a couple of kids were yelling “ボールください” (ball please) over and over at the A’s players, so I said to them “アメリカ人です、ボールください <X crossed arms> ball please!” (They’re Americans, “ball please” [in Japanese] <doesn’t work> [say] “ball please” [in English].) They picked up on it right away and started yelling “ball please! ball please!” instead, and sure enough one of the A’s players tossed a ball right at them and they walked away quite proud of themselves.

As the game was getting ready to begin, I noticed that the 1st base side outfield was the “cheering section” for the Yomiuri Giants. I figured this out by spotting the giant flags being waved saying YOMIURI GIANTS CHEERING SECTION in English…I’m a quick study, huh? There was a band playing too, and people were getting really noisy, so I took off my hearing aids which made it much better. As the game began, it was still pandemonium every time the Giants did something good, and the chants of players’ names were still nonstop, but at least I could hear myself think! (My hearing aids don’t do well with cacophony, and I have great difficulty processing multiple sources of auditory input – can’t have any noise, radio, etc. if somebody is talking to me – so a noisy baseball stadium is not a good place to have a conversation with me!)

The game was fun at first, and I enjoyed pretending to pick on the umpire’s decisions or the pitcher’s throws or whatever, though of course I had no idea what was going on. I know what Balls, Strikes, Outs, and Walks are, but that is about the limit of my baseball knowledge. I would get all excited over a strong hit by an A’s player, only to realize it was a foul. Oh well, it was amusing! At least until about the 5th inning, and then I started getting bored. Even if I couldn’t understand anything people were chanting (due to both auditory issues and language barrier), there was still the constant drone of their cheers, and I was getting a little headache. So I walked out to the restroom and then took a little tour…where I came upon the hot dog stand! They were 500 yen, though, and I had already spent $12 on the sandwich and soda, so I wasn’t going to spend another $6 on a hot dog. They seemed to be standard ballpark hot dog fare, whatever that is…nothing particularly unusual or “Japanese-y” about them. I was disappointed that I didn’t get one, because I would rather have had a hot dog than the katsu sando, but I have to be frugal, so I didn’t get it. Ah well.

I returned to my seat and the game wrapped up with the A’s beating the Giants 5-1. Leaving was fairly organized, there was no pushing or anything like that, I just walked back to the train station and went home. I’m really glad I chose to see a Japanese team, because although the official cheering section was a bit crazy, I don’t think it would have been nearly as wild if it was two MLB teams playing. Then again, the Mariners have Ichiro, and according to the “MLB in Japan” blogs, the stadium exploded whenever he scratched his nose, so perhaps it would have been that crazy even for the A’s vs. the Mariners! But I can catch MLB games back in the US, so I’d rather have at least one Japanese (NPB) team.

I don’t think I will be seeing a baseball game again while I’m here, as I’m not really a big fan of baseball. But Japan has truly adopted America’s pastime and they love baseball here, so I am glad I got to see at least one game, and affordably, too! I did come to appreciate that you don’t need to speak the same language to play baseball – the rules are the same and everybody can have some fun competition.

After seeing the game, at the recommendation of a friend, I watched Mr. Baseball on Netflix. It features Tom Selleck as a Yankees player who gets “traded” to the Chunichi Dragons. Of course he is angry about leaving the US, hates everything Japanese, and refuses to follow the manager’s instructions. But in the end he falls in love with the manager’s daughter and everything turns out fine, he stays in Japan and they all live happily ever after. It was entirely predictable, but cute. I liked the actor (Ken Takakura) who played the manager – I will have to see if I can find some of his films subtitled in English.

So that’s my “Baseball in Japan” post. Stay tuned for a post soon (tomorrow morning) about the Kanamara Matsuri!

Nekobukuro Review

I have meant to make posts several times during the past 10 days, but I just kept doing other things instead! Here is one of the posts I’ve been meaning to write.

I went with Sam and Lulu to Ikebukuro last Tuesday, and we stopped in at Nekobukuro, a cat cafe on the top floor of Tokyu Hands. It was a holiday, Vernal Equinox Day (春分の日, しゅんぶんのひ), so Ikebukuro was quite crowded and the cat cafe was no different. This was troubling, though, because there were far too many people in there or the cats’ well-being. In fact, I noticed a number of things at Nekobukuro that differentiate it from every other cat cafe I’ve seen, usually in ways detrimental to the cats.

  1. It has tile floor throughout, so visitors wear their street shoes; this would make it very painful if someone’s tail was stepped on. Every other cat cafe has had carpeting, and visitors wear soft slippers.
  2. Although the cats have “off space” where they rest when they’re not working, they cannot go there by choice, it is blocked off and they must wait for a human to let them in – I assume they are usually made to finish their “shift” first. When they are in the “off space” they are still on display, as this space is basically just giant glass-enclosed cages. They are well-appointed with beds, food, water, and a litterbox, but they are still just cages and the cats can’t ever really hide. While I was there, I noticed people knocking on the glass to wake up cats who were sleeping. Every other cat cafe has genuine hiding spots for the cats, who are free to mix with visitors or hide in the back, as they choose. I have seen staff bring cats out from the back, but the cats usually seem perfectly happy to mingle after this, and they don’t run back to the back – I assume the staff are just trying to make sure they aren’t sleeping the day away out of reach.
  3. The cats at Nekobukuro shrank from human contact, quite literally. Although every cat has times it doesn’t want to be petted, and will duck under your hand when you’re trying to pet it, this was the norm for the cats at Nekobukuro. Many of them preferred to stay well out of the reach of humans, and would pull back if someone tried to touch them when they wanted to be out of reach. This never happens at other cat cafes – sometimes they’re not in the mood for a pet, but they never seem afraid of humans.
  4. Although Nekobukuro has rules about not picking up cats, they are not enforced. The paper in English you receive when entering clearly says not to pick up the cats, and when you walk in there’s rules in Japanese on the wall with drawings, one of which is clearly about not picking up the cats. And yet I saw a guy pursue and pick up a beautiful cat, Azuki, and hold her as she squirmed and cried to be put down. A staff member was actually looking on, and I was so stunned that even without speaking much Japanese I had to say something. I gestured at the still-struggling Azuki and said 大丈夫ですか, is this okay?! She said something in Japanese and then tried English, “some cats…okay, some cats…no.” I sputtered, 本当ですか, are you serious?! When she said yes, I left on the spot. I just couldn’t take it anymore, and Sam and Lulu were right behind me. Even if other cat cafes had a policy that cats could be picked up – which they never do, it is always very specifically prohibited – I am sure that if a cat were crying and squirming like Azuki was, they would rescue her and then throw the person right out!
  5. There must have been 40 people in there, at certain times, while we were there. There were also children who couldn’t have been more than a couple of years old. Both of these are stressful to the cats, especially children who – through no fault of their own – don’t know how to pet them. Although given the behavior of some adults, these kids are never going to learn, either. I have been to other cat cafes where you have to wait for a slot, because they are full – they have a maximum capacity, and someone will leave soon, so you wait. They also don’t usually allow elementary age children or younger, even with adults; most require a parent to come with older children. Both of these policies make for a much more quiet, relaxed environment for the cats.
  6. Although I have no firm evidence of this, I suspect that some of the cats at Nekobukuro were given tranquilizers that day. Because it was a holiday, the staff knew many people would be coming. Many of the cats who were asleep at places they could be easily touched did not move a single muscle when petted. I even saw young children petting cats rather forcefully, and the cats still did not move. What cats don’t wake with a start when being mauled by a five-year-old? Drugged cats. We petted a sleeping cat, the almost-one-year-old Mikan, and you would have sworn he was a statue if he weren’t warm and breathing. Later, while we were sitting and watching the goings-on, somebody picked him up and carried him around – of course he woke up for that. He didn’t like it though, and he jumped down. We remained seated, and he climbed on Lulu’s and my laps – which is how you’re supposed to “hold” a cat, at cat cafes. I didn’t even pet him while he was on my lap, I just let him stand there and look around, and sure enough he stayed. The five-year-old boy came along and wanted to mess with him, but I actually said だめ, don’t do it, and he stopped. Mikan stayed on me until somebody opened a can of cat food they had bought, and of course then all bets were off. But prior to becoming a bright cheerful kitten, he had been a statue. No other cat cafe has ever made me think the cats were doped up to deal with the people.
  7. Nekobukuro is cheap, admission for adults is ¥600, while most places are about ¥1000 for the first hour. But Nekobukuro doesn’t have a time limit at all – pay once, stay all day if you like. Which is great for cat lovers like me, but not for ¥600…something about that just feels off to me, somehow. I mean, run your business however you like, yeah…but it does lead to the overcrowding and other issues I’ve noted above. I have seen multi-hour packages at other cat cafes, but they usually cost ¥2500 or more.

Pretty much the only nice thing I can say about Nekobukuro is that it has cool ramps and holes high in the walls for kitties to walk around on. It’s a lot like The Cats’ House, and indeed that is the nickname of Nekobukuro. But I will not be patronizing this place ever again. I had been there once before in 2010, and I do remember the cats were lethargic, but we didn’t stay long and we were practically the only ones there, so I didn’t really notice much else. After this visit, I’m not going back to Nekobukuro – I just can’t support that place when there are darling kitties at dozens of other cat cafes in Tokyo.