Cat Cafes, Asia

I am a big fan of cats.  So, you’d think cat cafes were pretty much my favorite thing in existence.  It’s literally a place you can go and just hang out with cats.  However, while I’m a fan of cat cafes, I hardly ever go to any.  But I have been to some in Korea, and I also visited one in Japan.  So I thought I’d talk a bit about my thoughts on the subject and then some of the differences between the experiences.

First off, the idea I had about cat cafes was vastly different from that the reality was.  In my dream cat cafe, you arrive with a book, order a drink and find a cozy table.  Then a cat comes up and jumps in your lap and snoozes.  And you spend a relaxing few hours reading while the cat snoozes and purrs.  Maybe it wakes up and you play some type of fun game involving a stuffed mouse.

In reality, you go into a room with tons of cats, and tons of people.  And the cats don’t seem like they really like people that much.  But they deal with it, because they have to.  Some of the cats were really active and playful.  Some of them were busy chasing each other around the whole time.

The cat cafe in Japan had some really exotic looking cats.  They were definitely the more beautiful than the cats in the cafe in Korea.

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This cat was actually quite a sweetie, but the haircut.  Oh, who did that to the cat.  I think he could feel the other cats judging him.


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Now, one big difference about the cafes was that in Japan it was $10 to get in, which got you a beverage of your choice and little plastic container of cat treats.  The cat treats looked like plain shredded chicken, but I wasn’t about to try and figure out if that’s really what it was.  This made the majority of the cats really excited to see you… but unless you were actively handing out treats, they would move on pretty quickly.  And they didn’t seem to really want to interact at all.  Treats or nothing.

Except this guy.

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This guy didn’t care about your treats, he just wanted to take a nap in his mixing bowl.  As any cat owner knows, when you have a cat, everything you own becomes a cat bed.  They were pushing the boundaries on this at the cafe.

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Wok, fishbowl, mixing bowl, colander… EVERYTHING’S A BED.

The other downside to the cat cafe in Japan (other than the greedy, treat hungry cats) was that there was a strict one hour time limit.  The upside of that was that they controlled the number of people that went in, so it wasn’t very crowded.  We actually had to wait for an hour before we were allowed in.  But once we were there, the hour passed by so quickly.

In Korea, there was no time limit. And it was only $8, but you didn’t get any treats.  The lack of treats made the cats less likely to come right up to you, but they seemed overall more interested in playing.

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Overall these cats seemed a little less exotic, and a little more housecat.  But there were still some beautiful stand outs.

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And the highlight of this cafe was the huge cat jungle gym that the cats mostly liked to sleep on, but some of them were having fun playing.

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I was a little worried about the sanitation of this cafe however.  As we walked in, we noticed a cat sitting by the espresso machine, head inside the container for foaming the milk for lattes.

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At least he wasn’t getting lots of hair in the milk?

One last note:  In the elevator to the cat cafe in Japan, we noticed there was a maid cafe just upstairs from it.  It’s basically a cafe for older men, where they go in and get served by young Japanese women in French maid’s costumes.  How wonderfully fetish-y.  ???

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Monkey Park, Japan

I spent three days in Kyoto while I was in Japan.  On one of those days I headed out to the Arashiyama District, which is on the northwest corner of the city.  There are many temples and shrines in this area.  There is also a monkey park, and a bamboo grove.

Now, I took the long way out to Arashiyama, and did a lot of sightseeing on the way.  I also chose the hottest day of my entire trip.  It was just about 40 degrees, with 95% humidity.  (104F)  So after a pretty full morning of walking around, I was pretty exhausted.  And found myself by a beautiful river, that really made it seem we were leaving the city.

 

 

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Now, the trick here was that if you turn right, you can go to the monkeys, and if you turn left- bamboo here you come.  I was about dead enough that I really considered just getting back on the bus.  Seriously.  I’m a winter kid.  This heat and humidity combination wasn’t fun AT ALL.  But I decided not to go back.  “You only have three days in Kyoto!”  I told myself.  “You definitely won’t be coming all the way out here tomorrow, so make the most of it!”  I convinced myself.

I decided to go to the monkey park, because I had already been to a bamboo forest in Korea, and bamboo’s really cool… but after the first 1,000 sticks of identical looking bamboo… it kind of loses it’s charm.  Also, because monkeys.

I got to the gate of the monkey park at 4:55.  I didn’t realize the park closed at 5:30.  Last entrance was 5pm, so I had just made it.  The ticket person took the money, gave me the ticket, and explained that it was about a 25 minute walk to the actual monkeys.

What.

How can you sell me the ticket, and then tell me it’s a 25 minute hike up a mountain?  How am I supposed to get up and back down in 35 minutes?!  I gave it the old college try.  Because it was so close to closing, there were almost no people on the trail, which was actually really peaceful.  Were it not for the horrific weather, it would have been really pleasant.  I walked and walked, and got to the point where I was expecting to see monkeys just around the next bend in the trail or so.  And then in the distance, I saw a big sign with a map of the trail.

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Please note the ‘present location’ dot is as far away as you can get from the monkeys on this giant sign.  Definitely not what you want to see when you’re seriously considering just turning around.  Because really… how much do you like monkeys?  And why didn’t you take the nice lady’s suggestion and buy a bottle of water before heading up?

Onward!  (It’s a good idea to put the baby monkey picture next to the ‘stick it out!’ uplifting quote.  We’ll skip through this next part.  Just- walk walk grumble grumble walk walk.

And then finally- monkeys!

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These baby monkeys were having a lot of fun fighting with each other.  And responsible adult monkey (I assume mom) looked on with almost complete indifference, it seemed.

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This one just chilled on the roof.  Watched everyone.  I read a book by Dean Koontz when I was quite young.  Perhaps too young to read such a book… but it involved genetically altered Rhesus monkeys attacking a town.  And I know one thing has nothing to do with the other, but this monkey just watching everything started to freak me out.

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The little guy on the other hand was pretty funny.  He (she??) was leaning over the edge of the pond, trying to get a drink and accidentally fell in.  Let me tell you he was NOT happy.

So, I felt a little disappointed in the monkeys.  They were interesting, but after climbing all the way up there, I don’t know… maybe I just thought I liked monkeys more than I actually do, because yeah, turns out- not such a big fan.  Pretty awesome view of Kyoto though:

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Final verdict:  probably worth going to, but go earlier.  Right before closing time was not ideal.  Perhaps don’t go on the hottest day of your life.  And for the love of God, bring water.

 

 

 

Kaiyukan Aquarium, Japan

My first stop on my summer holiday in Japan was to Kaiyukan Aquarium in Osaka.  I was really excited to visit Kaiyukan for several reasons.  1) I really like aquariums.  I feel like the ocean is as close as we can get to space on earth, and I REALLY like space.  (does that make sense?)  But in a way, it is a completely different environment than what we experience on land, with a completely different life forms.  And in terms of what we know about it, the ocean is huge, and what we know is not that big.  2) Kaiyukan is famous for being one of the best aquariums in the world.  and 3) I actually taught a lesson about Kaiyukan to my students.  So I was filled with all sorts of strange facts about the aquarium.

Osaka is really well set up for foreign tourists.  A lot of information is available in English, and the people are really helpful if you’re looking particularly lost.  (Thanks lady who showed me how to use the subway ticket machine!!) So I was quickly on my way out to the aquarium.  Walking up to Kaiyukan, you first see the Tempozan Ferris Wheel.  The reason you see the Ferris wheel first is that it is HUGE.

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And is it just me, or does it look like it’s tilting, just a bit?  Needless to say, I didn’t spend the $7 to ride it.

Just next to it is KAIYUKAN!   One of the largest aquariums in the world!!

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It looks surprisingly small from the outside.  But I liked that you can tell it is an aquarium just looking at it.  It has fish on it, it’s painted blue.  I’m a fan already, and I haven’t even entered the building.  When I do go in, I buy my ticket, and despite everyone saying how expensive Japan is, the roughly $25 ticket is $10 cheaper than the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, and about the same as the SeaLife Aquarium in Busan.  (… I might spend too much time in aquariums… but for your international aquarium pricing questions… you know who to talk to!)

Now, let’s talk layout.  All too many times, when in museums or aquariums or castles I find myself slightly confused on whether or not I’ve actually seen all that was offered.  Especially art museums.  Why are there so many nook and cranny rooms in art museums?!  Even if you number them- it’s confusing!  Ahem.  Sorry.  Kaiyukan completely eliminates this confusion by structuring the entire aquarium roughly around the main tank.  You pretty much only need to walk straight and the aquarium will lead you around to every tank.  And no children will be running willy nilly from one tank to the next (always shouting NEMO!!!)

Another very cool thing that Kaiyukan does is post its feeding times at different tanks.  While I was there (and with a little help from my cell phone alarm) I was able to see the river otter, sea otter, dolphin, penguin, and squirrel monkey feedings.  As well as the touching pool feeding time (which is a whole other story.)

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The dolphin feeding time was really more like a mini dolphin show.  They had one handler/feeder per dolphin and they jumped in and brought the dolphins up close to the glass and did small tricks with them.  The main woman talked a lot, and explained a lot about the dolphins.  I think.  It was in Japanese.

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Now everyday I have will be, ‘well it was a good day, but it wasn’t a ‘high fiving a dolphin’ kind of day.”  You could also really tell when feeding time was about to happen, because the animals started freaking out.  Especially the dolphins.  They were all calm, just swimming swimming, and then the women came out and they were jumping all over the place.  They were like popcorn they were so excited.

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That’s how I look when someone brings out food too.  My favorite penguin just stood there the whole time, staring at the ceiling.  Looking back on it, I’m slightly afraid it may have been stuffed, or a dummy penguin.

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I called him Fred.

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I love that rays look like they have little happy faces.  The rays are in the main tank of the aquarium, which is huge.  As I said you walk around it, and it is about three stories tall, so you see a lot of fish.  This is where I would be writing about how @**)@*@^!% big the whale shark is, but alas, the whale shark was not out that day.  (Where do you keep a WHALE SHARK, when it’s not in the giant tank, I wonder.)  Instead there were spotted eagle rays, and sting rays, and hammerhead sharks… and lots of other fishy- things.  My favorite thing about the tank was how different it seemed just from looking at it from the top or bottom.  You notice totally different things.  On the bottom, it’s all about the sharks and some of the rays, but up at the top there are more fish, and a whole school of fish that seemed to spend all of its time just avoiding the sharks.

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There was a sea turtle that legitimately looked like it was flying.

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Also, behind Mr. Sea Turtle, you can see a diver.  Cleaning.  This was a common site at Kaiyukan.  The aquarium was very clean, both in and out of the tanks.  Several times I saw people cleaning.  It was nice to see.  I’ve been to a few aquariums… and I was definitely impressed by the habitats in Osaka.  They were all large and clean.  Most of them were modeled to look really realistic.  Which was all very nice to see.  I have been to aquariums and zoos where all the animals looked unhappy and the cages/tanks too small…  this wasn’t like that.  And I was also happy to see the interaction between the employees and the animals.  They seemed to genuinely enjoy and care for them.

Back to the fishes.

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Now, to be very clear, I think crabs are delicious.  But I really don’t like looking at them.  They seriously creep me out.  And I really want to meet the first guy that ate crab meat.  Because seriously.  Who looks at a crab and thinks… ‘ooo yummy.’  They’re all spindly looking… and shell-y.  I mean, it just doesn’t look appetizing.  The only thing in aquariums that I like less than a crab tank is a GIANT CRAB TANK HIDING BEHIND A CORNER, SO YOU CAN’T PREPARE YOURSELF FOR WHAT YOU ARE ABOUT TO SEE.

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Absolutely unnecessary.

At this point I was kind of bummed that there were no jellies.  Jellyfish are my favorite thing to see at the aquarium.  And I thought an aquarium of this stature would at least have a jelly or two.  And then joy of joy, I came to the jelly room!

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Important to note that the white part of that last one there is bigger than my head.  Also important to know, these giant jellyfish are eaten in some places.

So after the excitement of the Jellyfish room, I was not expecting even more excitement.  But more excitement there was.  A touch pool!!  With… sharks and sting rays?  Rad.  This is one of those times in my life that I have to remind myself that I’m an adult, and that it’s not appropriate to push small children out of the way.  No matter how excited I am.  But, I petted the shark and the ray, after waiting my turn like a responsible adult.  Extra points go to the mom next to me though.  Her daughter was really young and couldn’t really reach any of the fish.  So she held her by both of her braided pigtails and the little girl leaned way over the edge to touch a shark. And then Mom pulled her back up.

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It took me about 4 hours to walk around the aquarium.  Definitely a fun way to spend an afternoon.  Definitely worth going to if you find yourself in Osaka with nothing to do.  Or even if you find yourself in Osaka with lots of things to do, make sure Kaiyukan is on the list!