May 28th, 2008 at 1:22 pm (cats)
Long before the recent “cat-cafe” trend in Akihabara, people in southern Chiba Prefecture were getting catty.
Far removed from any major arteries of civilization on a rather remote countryside freeway dotted with local markets lies the weathered facade of cat-land “Nyan-da! Park.” Established in 1999 as an extension of the eccentric founder’s dream to “enter into a line of work related to cats,” “understand more about the deep nature of cats,” and “present others with a form of animal therapy,” it houses over 100 domestic cats from all over the world. For a charge of 1,000 yen you can stay until closing in the indoor park-like environment, petting, playing with, or just watching cats. However, their website http://www.nyanda.com/index.html now offers a live cat-cam during hours of operation in case you can’t make it out. They also have a gift shop of souvenirs and other related paraphernalia.
Though a bit far for a daily excursion, Batsu and Maru decided to take the three hour train from Tokyo to Tomiura Station.
As we approached Nyan da! Park, a strange high pitched sound could be heard – something resembling a cat’s meow (rendered “nyan” in Japanese). Shaking off any silly notions that a cat park would be playing a song composed of animal sounds, it became increasingly evident that indeed a continuous loop of cats singing “Smoke on the Water” set to a synthesized rhythm mixed with samples of cars wrecking played not only in the park, but throughout the complex. We were greeted kindly and sanitized before entering the feline sanctuary.
Not many visitors were there on that day, but some regulars brought cat treats, cat toys, and even blankets in the hopes of attracting more friends. They showed no inhibition rolling around on the floor to play with the cats. Nor did staff, dutifully walking around to check on cats, clean up (the place had almost no cat smell), and offer the occasional back to land on, for those kitties that had perched too high.
Most of the cats were out and about, but others were caged. A staff member informed me that the cats are let out according to a set schedule so as to regulate crowding and other activity. However, cats that are out and about can get to areas inaccessible to visitors at any time if they so desire.
One area of the venue is set up to resemble a Japanese style house, and also offers a low table nearby to accommodate guests (remove your shoes, please). It gives the strange suggestion of returning to an alternate home, but bears a striking resemblance to a museum or zoo. This is also the area featured on their live camera. “The World’s Largest Cat Toy” is on display, and available for rent at a price of 10,000 yen per 30 min. Resembling something more like the world’s largest cotton swab or tickle torture implement, employees will instruct you on how to use it should you choose to indulge.
As we utilized some of the many free sticky-rollers to clean up before we left, a staff member informed us that they’d be giving out “o-bento” in a few minutes. O-bento is a prepared box-lunch, usually consisting of rice and small portions of other foods arranged in a visually appealing fashion. Of course, we knew this was for the cats; it’s just the way you say “give the cats lunch” in cat kingdom.
The same staff member soon wheeled out a cart with dishes and a large plastic bowl, and ran it around the complex yelling, “Come on everyone! It’s mealtime!” He brought to mind the pied-piper, as more and more cats swarmed around, one even jumping on for a ride aboard the cart. He came to a halt exactly where he’d started and laid out the dishes. The armies gathered eagerly, but said nothing and waited in patience. Only then, in a very methodical manner did he serve out the food. Cats in the gallery, unable to make it to a food dish, were accordingly served a small spoon of fresh vittles where ever they sat. For such a large community, we saw no cat fights.
Nyan da! Park lacks the cosiness and familiarity of smaller venues, but makes up in quantity what the others offer in quality. The train ride, which follows the coast, is also a beautiful addition to the trip which could be paired with a visit to Tateyama, something of the poor-man’s tropical resort. The bus or train ride alone is exhausting, so unless you have other things to do in the area, it may not seem worth it. In other words, if you happen to be surfing, fishing, farming, or pan-handling English in the Awa region, it’s a great place to get away for a while.