I have never seen the musical Cats but I imagine that if the stars were real cats, the dressing room would be like the Calico Cat Cafe in Tokyo – full of pampered, coiffured cats nonchalantly lounging and lolling, with expressions of rebellious disdain on their faces, like bored rich teenagers cutting class, smoking and gossiping idly behind the school bike sheds.
The cats don”t half act like divas – you’re here to see them, and don’t they know it. Your cuddles and affection are two a penny and unless you have some cat snacks on you – purchased from the cafe itself of course – you aren’t worth the time of day, because, sure enough, they can just move on to the next stranger who has shelled out for the cat snacks if you haven’t. Most are pretty blatant about their ulterior motives. Some don’t even bother to wake from their naps to make your acquaintance, and there are signs everywhere instructing you not to wake a cat if it’s asleep. You are in their territory now, and here, the cats rule the roost. If you don’t like it, there’s the door (after you put your shoes back on, get your bag from the locker and wash your hands of course).
There almost seems like a cat hierarchy. There are the fresh, young newbies, who still think people are cool and want to check you out. There are the ones with hair so immensely styled that they know they will be in demand, and they simply choose a spot and let the visitors come to them – kind of like if Mariah Carey was a cat. They pretend not to like it, but secretly they are lapping it up. There are the ones who have simply been here too long, and climb their way up to the highest perch possible to get out of your way and get some peace and quiet. Then there are the ones who haven’t quite figured out that it’s ok to do that, and are forever cursing the humans that insist on playing with them and putting silly joke hats on them (see picture below).
The cats themselves are not on Facebook – who has the time, darling? – but you can flick through a folder of cat profiles to rival that of any social network, including nicknames, birthday, likes and dislikes. I’ve heard that there are locals who have their favourites and regularly visit the cafe to check in on their chosen cat. It’s certainly a popular Sunday afternoon activity, as the cafe is packed with all manner of people – friends catching up, couples on dates, groups of travellers and even people on their own.
The people watching is almost as good as the cat watching. One middle aged man spent the best part of half an hour dangling a toy in front of individual cats enticing them to play, hoping to play the part of cat charmer, but once the cat fell for it once they had little patience for it again – fool me once but not twice, and all that. Another, also middle aged, man, sat cross legged against wall, eyes closed, earphones in, stroking the cat next to him (that is not, despite how it sounds, a euphemism for anything at all, but make of this man what you will!).
I on the other hand was so fascinated by the individual personalities of the cats – some surly, some playful, some arrogant – that I rushed around snapping pictures of each one and even succeeded at my attempt to secure a cat selfie. It wasn’t easy, as the cat in question was not too impressed with the attire inflicted on him, so it seemed that out of spite for all of the evil human race, he was not willing to facilitate my selfie in any way, shape or form. Whatever – I like to think I got the last laugh. Even if his face isn’t showing.
What do they get up to at night, I wonder? Plot their revenge on the world, like Pinky and the Brain? Who knows!
If you’re ever in Tokyo, you can find the Calico Cat Cafe at 1-16-2 Shinjuku-ku – it’s on one of the main streets in the Kabuki-cho neighbourbood in Shinjuku. We had to book a time slot for the next day as they were booked out when we first arrived! You don’t want to cramp the cats’ style I guess!