Hedgehogs and degus (a fluffy chinchilla-like rodent native to Chile) are the star attractions at this rather specialized animal cafe on the outskirts of Kabukicho. You can choose your favorite hedgehog to play with and feed, and exchange hedgehogs upon request if you want some more variety. Gloves are available but not mandatory, and there are also special-purpose hedgehog cushions you can use to hold the animals.

When you arrive you'll be instructed in the rules of the shop and given tips on how to handle hedgehogs safely. You're then assigned a seat in front of a miniature house-shaped box where your hedgehog will be comfortable. You can purchase a portion of live, wiggly mealworms to feed to your hedgehog, although a snack-size portion of six mealworms costs Y500, which seems to be a bit of a markup. Tweezers are provided to handle the mealworms.

After you've fed and taken photos of your hedgehog there's not a lot to do - hedgehogs really aren't the most affectionate of pets. The degus would seem more promising, but unfortunately degu interaction is somewhat restricted. If the staff have time they will take them out of their cages for you to pet, but they have a tendency to get loose and run around (the degus, that is), so they're under close supervision.

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Exotic-looking, leopard-patterned Bengal cats have been some of the more outgoing and feisty felines we've run across in our research, and this cafe devoted entirely to Bengals is noticeably more lively than your average cat cafe. The medium-size playroom is decorated with a forest theme, with (artificial) vine-covered walls and a network of (artifical) tree branches overhead for the fifteen resident cats to prowl.

Other than the artificial forest, the cafe is a bit more basic than average, with just a few stools to sit on and a drinks machine where you can help yourself to the one drink that's included with your admission. The cafe is especially popular with foreign tourists, and children of all ages are allowed, with free admission for children under the age of four.

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When we visited in Autumn 2017 the playroom here was full of tiny kittens play-fighting and chasing each other around, making for a very energetic cat-cafe experience. The seventeen resident cats also include some beautiful and exotic breeds to admire and photograph. Some of these are rather massive in size, for interesting visual contrasts.

The playroom is quite spacious, with both floor seating and stools at cafe-style tables as well as plenty of climbing trees, shelves and perches for the residents. There's a free vending machine for coffee and other soft drinks - just help yourself - and bouncy bebop jazz plays in the background. The staff seem to be more proactive than average.

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Mimi has some of the friendliest and most relaxed rabbits we've encountered in Tokyo - we were impressed with how well they get along with each other, and how easy-going they are with human visitors. Unlike other cafes that allow only one or two rabbits out of their cages at one time, the playroom at Mimi is a non-stop rabbit party, with rabbits chasing each other around and snuggling up to visitors.

Since our last visit, Mimi has added a new room devoted to otters, and if anything, the otters are even more outgoing and social than the rabbits. The dozen or so otters seem to enjoy meeting people and cuddling in their laps, as well as playing with their toys and socializing with their otter friends. They also seem to like napping quite a bit, so don't be surprised to find a sleepy otter dozing off in your lap while you pet it.

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One of the most food-focused cat cafes in Tokyo, Calaugh serves light dishes like galettes and curries, with beer, wine and cocktails supplementing the usual coffee and tea. Before 6pm there's a one-beverage minimum order in lieu of a cover charge, and coffee and soft drinks start at Y800. On weekends during the day you can pay for a three-hour session, which includes drinks.

The atmosphere is more subdued than average - the cats seem to enjoy chlling out in the cardboard boxes at each table rather than chasing each other around. The staff is quite attentive though, and will introduce you to a cat or two if your table is temporarily catless. In addition to cafe tables there are also a couple of comfortable sofa areas where you can stretch out.

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Neighborhood cat cafes like this one have a different feel from establishments in bustling shopping zones like Ikebukuro or Harajuku. The cats here seem friendlier and less jaded, and visitors include more regular customers who have gotten to know the residents. Cats might jump in your lap even if you don't have cat treats to offer, and they're more interested in playing with their toys.

One nice feature here is the availability of brushes. Many of the dozen or so cats here enjoy a gentle brushing session, and it's a relaxing alternative to constantly playing with "fishing-pole" toys. Unlike many other cafes, there are no cat treats available for purchase, but we happened to be here during snack time, when visitors were each given a small bag of dry kibble to feed to the cats, which incited a flurry of activity.

The setup here is a single medium-size playroom, with a full-size bunk bed by the front window where cats can nap undisturbed. There are plenty of chairs for visitors, so you don't have to sit on the floor, and a big collection of manga to browse. There was a relaxing soundtrack of dub reggae in the background when we visited. Help yourself to coffee, tea and soda from the free vending machine. [Continue reading and see more cats]

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]

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]

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.)