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Sunday, Oct. 17, 2004

WEEK 3

CATS LIVIN

A purrfect day out


Special to The Japan Times

You're kitted out with Kitty. You have your Hello Kitty toothbrush and pencil sharpener, your little lunchbox and tissue-holder, but still you have this odd impulse to spend some quality time with a real furry, warmblooded feline.

News photo
A boy on a visit to Cats Livin carries a new furry friend he has found there.

You head for Cats Livin.

Ever since the 17th-century "Dog Shogun," Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, made cruelty to animals a criminal offense and had 100,000 stray dogs kenneled in Edo (present-day Tokyo) at public expense, the Japanese have had an odd relationship with their pets.

Nowhere is such oddity more evident than at Cats Livin, a facility in Tokyo's waterfront Odaiba district that is a kind of indoor theme park devoted to felines.

At Cats Livin, for a mere 800 yen admission charge, you can pet a puss and mess with moggies to your heart's content. Toys made from string and wool are also available to help you win their affection. And the staff are constantly on hand, ready to dispense Band Aids and disinfectant when one of the cute furry ones prefers to sink its claws into human flesh instead of the proffered toy.

Kitschy Americana

Cats Livin is divided into various zones. One area consists of fake stone walls, plastic plants, fake greenery and a motley assortment of bird cages, some containing models of birds. Another section is for the retro-cat, featuring 1960s kitschy Americana. You'll also find a cat-shaped TV and a giant cat's paw-shaped chair.

However, for cats with a technical bent, there is a zone that consists of broken bits of computers, as well as fake books stuck together in piles. If cats ever take over the planet, I do hope they let us handle our own interior decorating.

The felines at Cats Livin are not -- of course -- the street scruffs with stumpy tails and chewed ears you see hanging around in packs on garbage day, but a better class of pussy altogether. In fact, some of the finer breeds don't get pulled into active service with visitors, but sit regally ensconced in glass showcases, simply to be admired from afar.

The two dozen regular cats that are out there working the floor with the punters, though, serve four-hour shifts. After that, the stress of being chased, grabbed and fondled by all those people becomes too much, so they get spirited away into the back for a bit of peace and quiet.

If, after spending several hours in Cats Livin, you emerge still craving feline companionship, then it's not cats you really need -- it's therapy.

I am very much a cat person: The image of a cat half-dozing on a couch is, for me, the physical embodiment of serenity (that and the image of me doing the same). But after an hour of being bitten and scratched by peevish felines at Cats Livin, I found myself contemplating a little Cats Throttlin.

For those who feel that they haven't already spent enough money on cats, there is a shop at Cats Livin, where you can stock up on just about anything imaginable bearing some catty image or device. If you feel you really could do with a new set of cat saucepans or that your old cat tea service is no longer quite the cat's whiskers, then here you will not be disappointed.

Cats Livin opens daily, 11 a.m.-8 p.m., at Decks Tokyo Beach, 1F; admission is 800 yen (adults), 600 yen (schoolchildren), 400 yen (preschool children over 3). The nearest station is Odaiba Kaihin Koen on the Yurikamome Line. For more information, call (03) 3599-2828 or visit www.mksuematsu.com/livin/


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