4 Ways You Can Pet Animals in Japan (without going to a pet cafe)

The verdict on pet cafes is splitare they ethical or not? Perhaps some are, more than others anyway, but there’s no ‘real’ way to verify this. We won’t open that can of worms, but if you’re an animal lover who just doesn’t feel entirely comfortable with the idea of ‘working’ animals at cafes, consider these alternatives! The animals are all free-roaming and accept cuddles out of their own free will, so you can get your furry fix with a clear conscience.

4 Humane Pet Cafe Alternatives in Japan

Disclaimer: There is always risk when approaching ‘wild’ animals. To protect you and your family, always practise caution when interacting with the stray animals. Look out for guidelines on the signboards if you intend to pet or feed them. 

#1 The Cat Islands (Ainoshima, Aoshima, and Tashirojima)

Many people know that there is a cat island in Japan, but few know that there are actually three such feline wonderlands! Ainoshima is located in Kyushu, and you can get there via train or ferry from Hakata. Aoshima is in the Ehime Prefecture of Southern Japan, and is connected to Miyazaki City via a walking bridge. The bridge is right at Aoshima Station (JR Pass accessible!). The most well-known of the three is Tashirojima island in Miyagi Prefecture. People from all over the world travel there for some cat cuddlesthere’s even a dedicated cat shrine there!

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At all three islands, the cats outnumber the local residents and are friendly with visitors, and you are allowed to feed them.

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#2 Higashi-Ikebukuro Central Park

If you’re a crazy cat lady and three islands are not enough for you, head over to Higashi-Ikebukuro Central Park in Tokyo. A mere 3-minute walk away from Higashi Ikebukuro station, the public park is inhabited by kitties of mixed origins: Some are street cats, other were abandoned by former (heartless) owners.

Because these are street cats, after all, you’ll find a fair share of old and sickly cats. There are local volunteers who feed the cats, but it’s safe to say most of these furries don’t have access to veterinary care. If you’re hoping to pet the cats, we suggest you bring along hand sanitisers and wet wipes to clean up. Also, be careful with open woundsyou don’t want to catch anything nasty.

#3 Okunoshima Bunny Island

Next up is the famous rabbit island of Okunoshima, located just off Hiroshima. The island is home to some 300 bunnies which descended from 40 rabbits that were left on the island decades ago. The fluffy bunnies are eager to meet visitors, and bound up to you as soon as you disembark from the ferry. You may feed them, either with your own rabbit food, or those purchased at the visitor center.

Fun fact: To protect these little furballs, other pets like dogs and cats are actually banned on this island.

#4 Nara Park & Miyajima Island

Last but not least, you can get up close with the famous Japanese deer of Nara Park and Miyajima Island. At both locations, the deer are free-roaming, and are likely to approach you. You can purchase deer biscuits to feed them, but you are not advised to pet them as they are still considered ‘wild’.

Nara Park very recently released a warning to educate visitors on safety guidelines when interacting with the deer. Visitors are advised to avoid taunting the animals with the deer biscuits, because doing so may trigger an attack. You can also show them the empty wrappers when you’re out of food so they will not continue to beg for treats. Follow the guidelines and you should be able to get that deer selfie without any injuries.

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