hel lo kitty

Dear Uma: Here's an image for you: Lari in a cat house in Tokyo.

Dear Uma:

Here’s an image for you: Lari in a cat house in Tokyo. He’s in Tokyo for a pottery exhibit, after not having been in that city since he was studying glazes there 20 years ago, and he called me last night to tell me of his experience with one of the

latest Japanese fads. Before you get to thinking this adventure means he is no longer gay you should know that these establishments are intended for both known genders, and make no mention of discriminatory practises against any gender shading or bending.

It’s all quite new to me, but then I am rather desperately out of the loop of fashionable places and things. Right off the bat it seems remarkable that the age cut off is Grade 5. That’s right: no one under Grade 5 is allowed inside these establishments. Aren’t Grade 5 students just 10 years old? Seems young to be visiting cat houses, but then there is the beef. Maybe Japanese beef has even more hormones injected into it when it is in the feedlot being cattle than ours does. Those hormones are said to be responsible for the early puberty evidenced in our culture, though I myself tend to lay the blame on our media. Regardless, we ought to prepare ourselves for such entertainment hitting our shores soon; Japanese crazes inevitably arrive in the West, and this one may cause some problems.

There has been a real effort made to make the cat houses affordable (that 10-year old-market) by charging an admission of just $9. This modest amount allows the customer an hour inside; pretty good deal, really, and should one intend to indulge in frequent visits, there is a ‘favoured customer’ card that allows for reduced rates.

Upon entrance, one must immediately remove one’s shoes and place them, and any bags or cases, into a locker which is provided with the cost of admission. Customers must sanitize their hands in the facilities provided, and there are supervisors to ensure this is thoroughly done.

Next is the supervised reading of the house rules, and these provide us with our first look into the workings of this new form of entertainment.

Firstly, the age cut off is reiterated; no one under Grade 5 is to be found on the premises.

But, in the next breath, customers are informed that of the 20 available living ‘toys,’ some are determined by management to be too young to participate in the house’s business and will be known by the wearing of scarves around their necks!

If the non-scarf wearers, the available, so to speak, are sleeping, they are not to be woken up. Now, that is indeed an enlightened policy, and one which any business ought to consider. The workplace would be more welcoming should employees be encouraged to take an undisturbed nap when needed.

There is hope for the corporate world after all, and that hope is strengthened by another rule of these houses which states those objects of desire cannot be forced to engage with a client; it must be an entirely consensual act. Any resistance on the part of the staff is totally allowable; no holding, not so much as a stroke, unless it has been clearly indicated to be welcomed, and there are supervisors patrolling the premises to ensure these rules are taken seriously.

Wow! Wouldn’t that be a most excellent work place policy to bring to the western world! If employers here could only be made to see the long-lasting value of not forcing their staff to engage with customers unless they felt like it, the world of work would change dramatically, and for the good. Customers would have to be polite and pleasant in order to get service, which would enhance our transactions and very likely carry on into all aspects of our daily lives. It could revolutionize our society, starting with the family unit.

Parents, ostensibly the ‘bosses’ in the domestic world of the home, would do nothing unless they felt like it. No purchasing or preparing of food, no transportation, no laundry service, no housekeeping, no allowances. The ramifications are endless.

Another rule does away with the possibility of making yet another business solely about the money: no bribing allowed. Customers are not only to refrain from waking a staff member with whom they wish to interact, they are not to bribe or coerce the ones that are awake!

The breaking of any rule means immediate banishment, and one’s name going on a blacklist. The threat works, Lari told me; customers behave extremely well and that, combined with the obvious happiness and well-being of the beauties they come to enjoy, makes for a thoroughly pleasant evening.

In answer to my flood of questions, Lari told me that the first one opened in March of last year and was so immediately successful that a second one was opened months later and there are plans afoot to open more in Tokyo and then branch out into other cities in Japan. After that, who knows? It seems the sky is the limit for this ultra-modern version of the old cat house. The popularity of these establishments is such that reservations are needed, and it is recommended that one makes one’s bookings at least a week in advance.

Who goes? I asked Lari when he began making sounds to indicate the call was about to be terminated. What sort of people avail themselves of this new entertainment?

Lari admitted he was so engrossed in his personal experience of the place that he had not paid a great deal of attention to the other customers on that first visit. Exactly how many times had he availed himself? I asked, frankly surprised by his enthusiasm; I would not have imagined something of this nature to interest Lari beyond that first, experimental, visit.

Oh, I’ve been about four times now, Lari said, I like the second one better, though it is harder to get to. He had made a few observations during subsequent visits, while waiting for his favourite to wake up, and could say just about everyone and anyone over the age of 10 could be found at any one time enjoying the experience.

It was a popular date, Lari told me, for young couples as well as older, married couples, and he’d seen several seniors there as well. Singles frequented the place, and groups of two or three young people could be found browsing the ‘wares.’

There was no alcohol served, but tea was available. No alcohol? Was that due to the fact that 10-year-olds were allowed? I asked, while trying to imagine any entertainment that did not involve alcohol involving our friend Lari. Whatever reason, it was likely proving to be a wise policy; alcohol seems to trigger incidents in ordinary clubs, it would be a match to the flame in a cat house.

I don’t think so, Lari said, before firmly terminating the call, I think it’s because the cats don’t like it.

Wait! Wait! Tell me the name of the place! I hollered into the phone.

Calico, Lari said before I heard the click of the receiver. I went online right away, and Uma, he wasn’t joking; the places do exist, but not, it turns out, in the way of my fevered imagination. ‘Calico’ is a cat house and it is in Tokyo, but the cats are actually cats, and the customers come to pet them, play with them, and take photos of them.

Which is weirder, I ask you, my version or the actual one? I tell you, after this, nothing will surprise me ever again.



Heather Bennett is a writer who lives in Watson Lake.