Nagasaki Biopark is a massive outdoor animal park - sort of a cross between a petting zoo with tame animals that you can feed and a regular zoo with less domesticated animals. There are around 2000 animals from 200 species spread out over 30 hectares, so there's plenty of animal interaction to fill a two- or three-hour visit. While you're here you can also drop in to the PAW animal cafe at the park entrance, where you can enjoy the company of dogs and cats, rabbits and guinea pigs.

If you don't want to go by car, there are three shuttle buses a day in each direction from the entrance to Huis Ten Bosch amusement park (next to JR Huis Ten Bosch station). The trip takes 45 minutes each way and runs along a very scenic route. Online bus reservations are required, and three hours is probably a good amount of time to plan for your visit, factoring in time for lunch-eating, dog-petting and gift-store shopping. Note that some of the animals go off duty about thirty minutes before the park's official closing time.

A herd of friendly capybaras is one of the main attractions here, and there are instructions on the website explaining how to pet them.... [Continue]

Established in 1954, Kurume Bird Center is essentially a zoo for birds, housing more than 400 birds representing more than 80 different species. At the heart of the zoo is a large walk-in aviary with a central pond, home to a big flock of flamingos, pelicans, geese, ducks and other waterbirds that you can get up close to and feed. Another highlight is the colorful pride of several dozen peafowl, which have been designated a Special National Treasure.
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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.
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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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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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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.)