This multi-species pet cafe promises to be fun for the whole family, and indeed the visitors here range from young kids to senior citizens. The staff seem to enjoy their jobs, and they go out of their way to introduce the various resident animals in their care, encouraging visitors to interact with them. The animal population represents a good mix of familiar domestic pets (cats, guinea pigs, rabbits) and slightly more exotic specimens, including a very affectionate meerkat and a playful prairie dog.

There are also several cute hedgehogs on duty, and you can pick them up and hold them after putting on a pair of heavy gloves. Depending on the time of day you can buy treats and chow for the guinea pigs, tortoise, cats and some other animals, with most snacks priced at Y200 for a smallish portion. Other critters include lizards and salamanders, several types of owls, numerous parrots and parakeets.

The cafe is set up to handle weekend crowds comfortably, with a number of small cafe tables where you can have coffee and soft drinks, and lots of tiny stools where you can sit and watch the animals. There are separate screened-in areas for the dozen or so cats and the flock of small birds, with plenty of seating in both. The self-service drinks bar is in back, and you can help yourself to as many drinks as you like for a Y200 charge. [Continue]

Following the trend of diversifying the population of animal cafes, Forest of Owls features meerkats, snakes, parrots and other small animals in addition to owls. Because of the cafe's setup, though, with just one big room where some of the owls fly around freely, the smaller animals need to be kept in cages. As a result there's not as much chance to interact with them, compared to more spacious venues like Moff Animal Cafe.

When we visited, one of the owls seemed to be caught up in the movie that was being shown on the shop's video screen (it was an animated film about owls), while another owl spent the whole time staring intently at a white snake in its tank. We played with a friendly African Grey Parrot, but it would have been nice to offer it some toys to play with.

Despite the limited opportunities for interaction, though, this is a convenient location if you just want a quick cup of coffee and a peek at the owls, and unlike many other shops, there's no time limit on your visit here. [Continue]

This flagship branch of the Hogoken group of rescue-dog cafes is an engaging place, full of friendly, enthusiastic dogs that are happy to meet new visitors. Grab a spot on one of the sofas, order a drink, and make some new canine friends from among the twenty or so residents. There's no cover charge other than your drink order (coffee is around Y600), but you can optionally buy some doggy treats to give out.

You're also free to visit the cat room in back, although most of the cats here are in cages, so it's not so interactive. Besides offering adoption services, Hogoken has turned into a sort of community center for local dog lovers, and the cafe is generally pretty well populated by visitors. [Continue]

This is the second branch of Bird Zoo, a full-immersion parrot-interaction facility run by Kojima pet store. Like the original Chiba branch, it's a very invigorating - at times almost overwhelming - experience, especially if you're there on a weekday with no other visitors. Originally Bird Zoo charged admission for 30 or 60 minutes, but now it's priced in ten-minute increments, and frankly ten or fifteen minutes is probably sufficient time to spend here unless you're an absolute parrot fanatic.

As you carefully enter the parrot room, being careful not to step on any stray birds that might be on the floor, a flock of parrots will greet you and land on your head, shoulders, arms and whatever other surfaces may be available. Most are content to just perch, but inevitably some will try to inspect shoelaces, camera straps, exposed ears and so on with their beaks. [Continue]

One of the least fancy animal cafes we've ever been to, Hari du Ange is basically just a small pet shop run by hedgehog breeders. The main room is filled with cages and furnished with a few low tables, each of which comes with a blanket to put on your lap. As you sit at your table, the people who run the shop will bring over hedgehogs, chinchillas, mice and other small animals for you to pet or feed.

Some of the animals are more enthusiastic about this than others - for example our first hedgehog just wanted to burrow into the inside of a glove that was sitting on the table. The surprisingly soft chinchilla we met soon took off and started running around the shop, while the lemmings weren't allowed out of their tank. One big rabbit and one small mouse seemed to most enjoy being petted, and a tiny sugar glider was happy to be fed milk from a dropper. [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]

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. [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.

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.)