Listen up, y’all. I’m about to tell you guys about the #1 cat lady destination in Japan: Yanaka.
Yanaka is a neighborhood in
Taitō Ward, Tokyo. It’s a super traditional part of town filled with winding alleys, shrines and meticulously maintained temples. It’s a lovely place, but today we’re here to focus on the thing that makes Yanaka a magnet for nerds like me: good good kitties.
You see, Yanaka is a neighborhood with a butt-ton of stray cats. This makes sense, since it’s basically cat heaven. The streets and alleys of Yanaka are essentially just a series of hidey holes and ideal sunning spots that happen to have humans running around. Thankfully these humans are quite appreciative of their feline overlords, which is why part of Yanaka has essentially just become cat themed. It’s honestly like the neighborhood has just agreed that this is their thing now.
The first cat-themed establishment we visited in Yanaka was Nekoemon, a
café with a scant 13 seats that’s covered in cat decor. The special thing about this place is that they offer a set (for roughly $15USD) that includes a cat-shaped cookie, a coffee drink of your choice and a little unfinished maneki neko figurine. Why the figurine? ‘Cause you’re about to customize yourself a neko, my friend.
The owner asked customers to choose between figurines to attract either luck or money. We picked luck and got our maneki neko along with a full assortment of markers. The owner even set out a few already painted figurines to provide inspiration.
Aside from the novel figurine offer, the café also had genuinely delicious lunch sets. They weren’t cat themed (though they had plenty of dessert options that were), but it was healthy and extremely tasty. I honestly recommend Nekoemon on all fronts.
Here’s my finished maneki neko. Followers of the blog may recognize him.
Nekoemon is great, but it isn’t even at the center of the cat madness. No, for that we’re headed to the shopping area: Yanaka Ginza.
Even if you don’t care about cats (in which case I’ve got to ask… why did you read this far?) this street is lovely. There are shops for handcrafted items, souveniers, sweets, savory foods and a lot more.
If you aren’t all sugared up from Nekoemon, you can always stop by Yanaka Shippoya, a shop that sells cat tail donuts. The donuts are named as cats would be rather than for their flavors, and they’re honestly very nice. We had a sesame camembert one that was lovely and not too sweet.
Donuts not your bag? You can always satisfy your sweet tooth with some maneki neko shaped taiyaki from Maneki-ya. Fluffy outside, rich and creamy inside. We got the matcha custard and red bean flavor and it did not disappoint.
Okay, so you’ve had enough sugar to last you a lifetime. Know what has no calories? Cat accessories. Yanaka Ginza has a bunch of shops that specialize in just… cat stuff. Cat jewelry? Check. Cat kitchenware? Check. Cat bento? Check. Cat bags? Dear heavenly lord, check. There’s even a store that specializes in making custom cat stamps. Seriously.
That’s just one tiny corner of just one shop. We visited 3, but saw more. Most of the shops had signs asking visitors to refrain from taking photos, so we kept the camera packed away. Honestly, I get it. These are shops best explored in person. It’s fun to see how the owner of each shop has a unique aesthetic and stocks totally different items (though there is certainly some overlap). You can tell these stores are curated by cat lovers.
Oh, and of course we can’t forget the feline residents themselves. When we first hit the area we saw zero cats. None. I was honestly really disappointed, but it turns out they were all hiding from the rain that started shortly after. Those kitty instincts served them well and kept them dry, and once the rain passed we suddenly saw little cat faces poking out all over.
This sweet girl roamed the cemetery and was the first kitty we met.
Shortly after we met a pair of housecats that chirped at us quite enthusiastically.
This orange boy said goodbye to us just before we left the area.
In conclusion: if you love fluffbutts and toe beans and are near Tokyo, get thee to Yanaka. It’s a fantastic weekend day trip that isn’t crowded to the brim with tourists, the whole neighborhood has a relaxed and peaceful vibe, and you can come home decked out in cat stuff and filled with sugar. What more could you even want?
Shiro frequents the local cat cafe whenever he’s feeling stressed or depressed because like, it’s Shiro. He’s got stuff going on in his life that often gets him Down and being in the presence of cats for an hour is always therapeutic.
Meanwhile, Keith swings by the cat cafe for the therapeutic effect as well. He feels at one with them (especially the lone black one that hides out in the mini cat bed extension high up near the ceiling).
The first few times, Shiro simply just goes to be with the cats. It’s soothing and relaxing and he feels a huge sense of calm afterwards. Eventually he notices that guy with messy black hair comes a lot too, and he’s kinda cute???
Keith can’t explain why he feels kinda flustered whenever that tall, broad-shouldered man comes by the cat cafe, but he does.
Keith, upon seeing Shiro for the first time: Hot. Shiro: Sorry? Keith: THE TEA IS EXTREMELY HOT. Shiro: Oh haha yeah.
Shiro, upon seeing Keith for the first time: Cute. Keith: What? Shiro: The… cats are really cute. Keith: Oh haha yeah. Keith, internally: Omg the hot guy is talking to me.
Keith: Do you need help with the lint roller there? Shiro: Oh, yeah, sure, that’d be great! Keith, internally: These abs are rock solid, omg.
Keith, reaching out for a cat: I think he likes me. Shiro: Me too. Keith: What. Shiro: What.
Sometimes, Shiro sees Keith simply sit with the cats as they look out the window together in deep thought. It’s endearing. Shiro even snaps a photo because something about the image warms his heart.
Shiro: I like cats because they’re shy at first, but when you gain their trust it’s all the more sweet /he is looking at keith
They talk in between cat cafe sessions and bond over the therapeutic effects of being there, learning little pieces about each other’s lives.
Until one day, Shiro finally decides to bite the bullet and asks Keith if he wants to stay after their cat session for a nice, long lunch date.
The volunteers at the cat cafe all collectively sigh in relief when Keith, smiling, says yes.