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Tokyo's cat cafes offer serenity in the city

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Also in these cafes the rules run strictly in favor of the cats. A no-tail-pulling mandate means that small children are personae non gratae at some of the cafes. Let sleeping cats lie is another strict rule – as is, in some cafes, a prohibition on hoisting a cat up to be held.

"I don't hesitate to scold people who treat cats in a bad way," warns Neko JaLaLa owner Osamu Maeda, an architect by trade who recalls being bitten by a cat at another cafe because it was so bugged by the constant attention.

But the cats themselves answer to no rules: A Bose stereo speaker at Neko no Mise, another cafe in Tokyo, is in shreds. Likewise, at Cafe Calico, an upholstered reception chair no longer looks like itself. At Neko JaLaLa, one cat has been known to abscond with a customer's handkerchief and another's shtick is to nip people's milk tea out of their cups. And no one's furry or fuzzy winter coats and sweaters are safe from cat attack at any of the cafes.

But, says a Neko JaLaLa staffer, customers are extremely forgiving.

Historically, paw prints are all over Japan: Cats meander through the chapters of a prince's love story in Japan's oldest novel, "The Tale of Genji," which is celebrating its 1,000th anniversary this year. And another notable cat classic – "I am a Cat," written in 1905 by one of Japan's most famous novelists, Soseki Natsume – is told by a nameless cat who observes odd human habits as he wonders in and out of a social salon run by his owner, a high school teacher.

And today, in overworked, overstressed and overpopulated 21st century Tokyo, visit a bookstore and you'll find an entire section of cat comics, magazines, and photo books of cats that have idol status. The feline boom has been helped by popular cat blogs that get around 18,000 clicks a day (such as http://hatchan-nikki.com/ and http://scomu.jp/makocat/) – and perhaps more important, by the busy lifestyles of Japanese people dearly longing for a moment of peace and comfort.

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