A sister shop of the popular Temari no Ouchi cat cafe (located just around the corner), this second branch sports a similarly fanciful Ghibli-esque decor, and is a relaxing spot to spend some time with cats. Unlike most cat cafes there's no time limit, so you don't have to keep checking your watch, and there's a full menu of food as well as coffee, tea and alcoholic beverages if you want to extend your stay.

The two-story cafe houses twenty resident cats, although during a recent visit we didn't see quite that many - presumably the others were either on a break or napping in some of the cafe's many cubbyholes. Residents include Norwegian Forest Cats, Maine Coon Cats, Scottish Folds, Munchkins, a Bengal and other photogenic breeds.

In addition to the main playrooms there are a lot of small, oddly shaped rooms where you can sit and drink tea. One unusual architectural feature is a climbing tree that extends through the ceiling of the first floor, so cats can move between levels without using the stairs. Although the cats are mostly left to their own devices, there are some enrichment activities - we were there during a mid-afternoon snack time when the cats were fed treats from a maze-like dispenser.

Unlike many other cafes, children are allowed, from the age of ten. The cafe is part of the aggressively whimsical Petit Mura complex, which also features a teahouse, a crepe shop, a cat goods shop, a jewelry store and an art gallery. [Continue]

One of a chain of multi-species animal cafes, this branch of Moff is the smallest, and the only one without a cat room. It's also probably the least interesting in terms of animal interactions - the parakeets in the small-bird room will perch on your head and shoulders for a few minutes and the giant parrots will squawk loudly at you, but otherwise the animals are fairly indifferent to human visitors. Even the resident meerkat, usually a rather friendly animal, here seems more interested in inspecting visitors' shoelaces than in playing with people.

During our visit we did get to observe one of the parrots swooping around the room on command, and most visitors took advantage of this unexpected photo opportunity. In addition to numerous birds and one meerkat, other resident animals include hedgehogs, several types of owl, a giant tortoise, a few lizards, guinea pigs and rabbits.

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It isn't every day that we get invited to a cat's birthday party, so when the staff told us that one of the residents was having a celebration, we knew we had to check it out. It was a surprisingly elaborate affair, with special decorations, birthday music (a J-pop version of a Stevie Wonder song played on endless repeat), and a birthday cake with candles.

After the two dozen visitors were encouraged to sing a birthday song, and after the obligatory photo sessions, everyone received a dish of cake to feed to the cats. That was all very festive, but the high point of the celebration was probably at the very beginning, when staff members were putting up streamers and other decorations while the cats were making their best efforts to tear them down. Now that's a party!

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This is the first Tokyo branch of an Osaka-based group of rescue-dog cafes, located a few minutes north of Nishi-Hachioji Station on the JR line. The second-floor cafe area is a very lively place, with happy dogs in constant motion, running in circles around the tables and chairs and greeting new visitors when they arrive.

In spite of the frenetic activity it somehow feels relaxed here, and for some reason it's much less noisy than other dog cafes we've been to, with only minimal bouts of barking. During a recent weekday afternoon visit the cafe was full of visitors, with nearly every table occupied, and weekends are even more popular. There were fifteen frisky pups and two laid-back cats in residence, all of them available for adoption.

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This local rescue-cat cafe has a roomful of friendly cats and a very proactive staff who spend a lot of energy keeping them entertained. We were lucky enough to be there when the staff gave out cat treats for the visitors to dispense. Rather than ordinary kibble, these were a lobster-flavored paste that proved to be extremely popular, and even previously aloof cats managed to overcome their shyness.

The medium-size playroom has mostly floor seating for visitors, although there are four or five small stools as well. Bouncy, idol-focused J-pop plays nonstop in the background. There were twenty cats and three staff members present when we visited, although the number can vary.

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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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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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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 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.)