Although it's not as large as sister shop Moff Animal World in Chiba, this laid-back multi-species animal cafe may be worth dropping in on if you're in Tsukuba. You can spend some quality time with around a dozen cats in the small cat playroom, and sip coffee in the aviary accompanied by owls of various sizes, a kokkabura and other birds of prey.

The small-animal room at the front of the cafe is the most diverse, and probably the most interactive. When we were there a friendly meerkat was eager to play, and an inquisitive parrot was happy to sit on a shoulder while we explored the room. We encountered rabbits and guinea pigs, a couple of big tortoises and a stately iguana, a tub full of baby chicks, a chinchilla and several other animals.

You can buy chow to feed some of the animals, and staff members are on hand if you have questions, or if you need help removing a parrot from your shoulder. There's a "free drink" system included with your admission fee, so you can help yourself to unlimited coffee and other soft drinks while you're here. There's ample seating, with magazines and animal books to browse through. [Continue]

Neko Colle (short for "Cat Collection") is a relaxed, laid-back cafe located near central Yamagata's tourist attractions. It's currently Yamagata's only cat cafe, and many of the twenty residents here are rescue cats from local shelters. All in all they seem to be a bit livelier and more playful than average cafe cats, and the friendly staff make efforts to keep them entertained.

The spacious playroom is furnished with several comfortable sofas, although you may need to clear a space for yourself. There's also a good supply of cat toys, and the usual coffee and tea available for visitors. [Continue]

Open since 2009, when the first wave of cat cafes swept Japan, this popular spot has accumulated a whopping 35 resident cats, along with a devoted cadre of regular customers who seem to know them by name. We arrived just before 5pm on a weekday and encountered a maelstrom of frenetic activity in the playroom - it turns out that everyone here is very aware of approaching dinnertime, so this is a good time to see lots of wide-awake cats.

Things settled down soon after dinner, with some cats looking for napping spots while others chased each other around the playroom or hung out with visitors.... [Continue]

Open since April 2016, this multi-species animal cafe specializes in owls but offers a number of other friendly small animals to interact with. When we visited there were two rabbits, five hedgehogs, one baby duck, one grown duck and several parrots in addition to more than a dozen owls of all sizes. The setup is very relaxed - there's no need to take your shoes off and you can help yourself to coffee and soft drinks for no extra charge. When we visited there was no time limit, although this may depend on the day.

The staff are friendly and proactive, introducing visitors to the animals under their care and explaining how to handle and pet them. The hedgehogs were cute but only minimally interactive, so we were happy to have them as a side attraction, while the talkative green-thighed parrot was quite entertaining. The older duck faithfully followed the staff members around the room, and added a comical touch to the general atmosphere.

If you happen to be around during "flight time" you can watch as the staff try to coax one of the barn owls to fly the length of the room to grab a bit of meat, although things don't always go exactly as planned. As with other owl cafes, you can pet the on-duty owls gently on their heads and shoulders, and pose for photos with the smaller owls. [Continue]

Located in the hot-springs resort area of Nasu in Tochigi Prefecture, this well-run animal park is a fun place to spend a day in the countryside. You can feed and pet most of the resident animals, you can rent a dog by the hour, and you can even soak in in an onsen-style bath alongside a pool full of cavorting capybaras.

The capybaras are one of the main draws here, and the fairly sizeable herd seem to be happy and well cared for. Capybaras are aquatic, social animals, and here they have ample opportunities to swim and hang out together. Capybara chow is available from a vending machine, and you can feed them (using a small pan rather than by hand) and of course pet them.

Some of the park's other star animals include red pandas, binturongs (aka bearcats), coatis, meerkats, lemurs, a Pallas's Cat and several other exotic mammals, none of which you're allowed to pet. Less exotic but more approachable animals include penguins, puffins, lots of rabbits, kangaroos, alpacas, Patagonian maras, horses, sheep, pigs and a Bactrian camel.

Despite all the exotic animals on call, one of the most popular attractions is the open-air dog zone, where more than a dozen friendly Samoyeds, Huntaways (a New Zealand sheep-herding dog) and other big dogs are on duty at any given time. (There's also a cat and small-dog area, but the animals there are more aloof.)

A few dogs are also available for rental (Y800 for twenty minutes), which means you can take them out for a walk or a run in the dog-friendly areas of the park. There's also a daily dog show, where trained dogs perform tricks like jumping through hoops and catching frisbees. [Continue]

It isn't the biggest or the most populous cat cafe in town, but the vivacious and outgoing proprietor helps make Nekoen (Cat Park) a comfortable spot to hang out for an hour. And it doesn't hurt that they serve alcohol, so you can treat the place as a cat bar as well as a cat cafe. Beers and canned cocktails are Y400, while soft drinks are Y150 each.

Fifteen lively cats were in residence when we visited, including one very playful two-month-old kitten. Since this is a rescue-cat cafe though, the population varies as new cats come in and other cats are adopted. The playroom itself is relatively small, with seating for around six or seven visitors at a time. Cats and visitors can enjoy a view of Tokyo Skytree, which is about fifteen minutes away on foot.

With English-speaking staff and a website translated into nine different languages, Nekoen is well prepared for the tourists who frequent this sightseer-popular neighborhood. Note that tourists who arrive in sandals with no socks will be required to purchase a pair of embarrassing cat-themed socks to wear during their visit - don't say you haven't been warned. [Continue]

The Animal Cafes guidebook is now available in stores throughout Japan, and worldwide through Kinokuniya and other online booksellers!

It's a bilingual (English/Japanese), expertly curated guide to the very best pet cafes located around Japan, with unbiased reviews and plenty of candid photos of the resident cats, dogs, rabbits, parakeets and owls that you'll encounter there.

Prepare for a very interactive experience at Bird Zoo - a good number of the more than 100 resident parrots and other tropical birds in the aviary here will attempt to perch on your head and shoulders at some point. They're just being friendly, although a parrot's idea of friendship often involves a bit of pecking, squawking and gentle biting. Attentive human staff are on hand to introduce you to various birds, or take them off your hands (and shoulders and head) if you're feeling overwhelmed.

Our African Grey Parrot was happy to have his neck rubbed gently, while Sun Parakeets, Rainbow Lorikeets and other smaller birds were content just to sit on shoulders and make a lot of noise. You can also gently bounce the small birds up and down while they're sitting on your finger. Bird snacks can be purchased for Y100, but they're really unnecessary, as you'll get plenty of attention even without dispensing food. [Continue]

Located on the second floor of a church in suburban Hachioji, this is the first Tokyo branch of the Osaka-based group of rescue-dog cafes. There were eight enthusiastic dogs and one very patient Persian cat in residence during a recent visit, all of them available for adoption.

The small pack of friendly dogs here are enough to keep things lively here without getting too chaotic, and we noticed the playroom was much less noisy than some more heavily populated dog cafes that we've been to. The dogs represented a variety of breeds and ages, including a frisky three-month-old Japanese Spitz puppy and a rather docile four-month-old Shiba that we were encouraged to pick up and hold.

While the shop can get crowded on weekends, on a weekday afternoon there was only one other customer, along with two staff members who spend most of their time playing with (and cleaning up after) the dogs and chatting with customers. Children are welcome, and if you like, you can bring along your own dog to socialize with the residents.

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Cute cat-themed bento lunchbox from Japan

It's the perfect gift for any cat lover who eats lunch. Direct from Japan, sold worldwide in the Animal Cafes shop. (US$11.)