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Why You Shouldn’t Go to an Animal Cafe in Japan

Visiting a cat cafe in Japan is a bucket list item for many tourists, but the animal cruelty that goes on behind closed doors should give you pause.

By 5 min read

It’s hard to understand why anyone would visit an animal cafe in Japan. There are countless reasons why you shouldn’t—horrible conditions, neglect, disease, stress, and even connections with organized crime just scratch the surface. We can only assume those who go are either ignorant to the suffering and plight of the animals or simply don’t care.

If you fall into the latter, it’s hard to sympathize with you. However, if you really didn’t know just how awful animal cafes are and are planning a visit during a trip to Japan, here’s a look at what actually goes on behind the scenes.

A lot of dead owls

Owls are badass wizards of the forest. They have super hearing, silent flight, and eyes that look right through your soul. Seeing them chained to a box, under fluorescent lights, desperately trying to fly away while hundreds of tourists poke at them is maddening.

Animal cafes claim that they give their animals time for rest, essentially a break as if they are working on the clock. In reality, that “rest time” appears to be nothing more than going into a small box in a back room. According to this former owl cafe employee, even owls “resting” were exposed to people.

That’s only the beginning of the whistleblower’s leaks on the shop’s inhumane practices, which left the owls dying in droves.

“At the beginning, the owner of the shop just sat back and let them die without veterinary treatment,” he says. “During business hours, they prioritized business, saying they could not take the sick owls to a veterinarian because they needed to manage the shop. After so many owls died, they finally took a sick bird to a veterinarian.”

It gets worse.

When owls died, the owner simply supplemented the stock by buying new ones.

“The owner buried the dead owls in the clear space at the back of the shop and didn’t try to find out what the cause of death was of these birds… When owls died, the owner simply supplemented the stock by buying new ones.”

He goes on to mention how the sink where quails and mice were prepped for the owls to eat was also used to prepare customers’ drinks. Enjoy your latte!

Why are animal cafes so popular in the first place?

They look super happy.

The first cat cafe in Japan opened in 2004. Since then, the industry has boomed. Hundreds of animal cafes exploiting rabbits, penguins, otters, pigs, reptiles, and more are spread all over the country. The theory as to why animal cafes grew to be so popular is that owning a pet in Japan is not only expensive, there’s simply no room for them.

Homes, especially in cities like Tokyo, are extremely compact. It’s hard enough to invite your friends over let alone raise a pet. People flock to animal cafes to experience what they can’t at home.

More than 80% of Japan’s animals in shelters are killed.

Today, there are close to 18 million cats and dogs living amongst nearly 130 million people in Japan. However, between 40,000 and 100,000 are put down every year. More than 80% of Japan’s animals in shelters are killed. That is 40% more than the U.S., the UK, and China.

They don’t go out peacefully either. Shelters in Japan give the animals exactly seven days before they’re herded into a box by the dozen and slowly gassed to death (Warning. This video may be disturbing for some viewers).

Where do cafes get their animals?

Where do you think all the cute little puppies and kittens go when they get too old, too sick, or decide they don’t like being handled? If you answered “a farm upstate to live happily ever,” we’ve got some bad news for you. They are sold off as quickly as possible, sometimes back to the same inhumane mills and sellers from which they came. This isn’t just for animal cafes, but for pet stores too.

The conditions in which these sellers and breeders provide for animals should make your blood boil. Laws governing the breeding and selling of animals are a travesty in Asia, and Japan is no exception. Below is a video from an expo in Japan called Tokyo Reptiles World. The event boasts the display and selling of more than 10,000 animals from around the world.

The website displays ads that say “purchase your favorite animal as a pet” and “even animals you can’t find at the zoo.” Despite being called “Reptiles World,” there are owls, foxes, prairie dogs, and even sloth.

Cruelty-free alternatives to animal cafes

If you just cannot stop yourself from experiencing an animal cafe but have the decency not to support the cruelty, there are alternatives. For example, Cat Guardian in Otsuka and Neco Republic in Tokyo and Osaka act as a sort of cat cafe and shelter hybrid. Their cats are rescues and are available for adoption.

Rabbits run free on Okunoshima.

Honestly, though, it doesn’t get much better than seeing animals in the wild, roaming freely. And no, the fox village in Sendai where they shove hundreds of depressed and obese foxes in a pen doesn’t count. Check these out instead.

Or maybe we could just leave the animals alone.

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