Cat yoga will be on the menu when a cat cafe finally opens in Lower Hutt.
Ken and Richelle Okada fight to fulfill their dream of opening a purpose-built cat café and, despite many setbacks, they are confident that the project will eventually be completed.
In Japan, cafes for cats are very popular and the Okadas hope that their business will enjoy the same success.
Previously based in Petone, they closed the Neko Ngeru Cat Cafe last June and purchased a two-story building in the center of Lower Hutt.
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A tenant, Cafe Soleil, operates on the ground floor and they are crowdfunding to raise funds to convert the top floor into a home for cats seeking adoption.
Eventually, there will be cat climbing furniture and hiding places in the walls and ceiling, an exercise wheel, a “catio” (a covered and screened terrace), a magnetic locking system on the doors and cozy places to relax and play with the cats.
Richelle said the project turned out to be more difficult than expected and a number of financial issues held back progress, including their home in Korokoro which proved difficult to sell.
Resource consent was still needed, and the unexpected strengthening of the earthquake caused further delays.
Once completed, Neko Ngeru will take in cats to rehouse them. By living upstairs with the felines, the Okadas can care for them full time and make sure the cats are always safe.
The delays had been frustrating but Richelle remains fully committed to the project.
Petone Cafe has relocated 152 cats and she said the new site would be a big improvement. They would take cats from rescue organizations and help socialize them so they would be ready for adoption.
Neko Ngeru will also offer cat yoga, cat quizzes, cat bingo, cat-themed games, cat toy making, film screenings and talks from experts in cat behavior and training. . Cat lovers will be able to order food downstairs and take it with them when interacting with the cats upstairs.
Their interest in cats came from a time spent in China, where they worked with cat rescue groups in Shanghai.
They hope to raise $50,000 through crowdfunding.
Cat cafes, a perfect option for Japan
Although cat cafes are new to New Zealand, Ken Okada says it’s a different story in Japan where he first met Richelle.
Cat cafes originated in Taiwan in the late 1990s and were a big hit with Japanese tourists, who brought the idea home.
Early cafes often had purebred cats, but over time that changed and they’re now mostly rescue cats, he says.
The Japanese love cats but possession is difficult. In big cities, people often live in small apartments and are not allowed to keep pets.
However, they have a strong desire to interact with cats and some cafes are even in apartment buildings.
Cat cafes have sprung up in China, Korea, Vietnam and Thailand, and Okada says one of the best he’s seen was in Mexico.
A quick internet search reveals plenty of information about Japanese cafes, including lists of the best in Tokyo.
According to a list, the best is Cat Cafe Calico.
“This two-story cat cafe is home to 50 different breeds of cats and is easy to find due to its convenient location. With the large number of cats in the café, it’s almost impossible for a cat not to notice you,” according to Catherine Flores who created the list.
Travel sites also list cat cafes as attractions tourists should visit. A “wacky” to-do list by Michael Turtle noted that the Japanese live in “small” apartments and interacting with cats is a way to keep people sane.
He spent an hour in a cafe in Tokyo, paying US$12, and received a menu with information about all 25 cats.
“There is their photo, their name, their birthday and some information about their personality. I like the sound of Marl who is a short haired Scottish fold who “seems confident to be so cool and blogging on our website”…apparently.
Okada says Japanese cafes are all about interacting with cats and the food available is usually limited.
Neko means cat in Japanese and ngeru means cat in Maori meaning their name is Cat Cat Cat Cafe.