Animal cafés—businesses in which customers pay by the hour to have a drink and relax in a space filled with cats, rabbits or other animals—began to appear in Japan in 2004, as a part of the iyashi healing boom. The iyashi boom, in goods and experiences that offer emotional and physical healing, was a response to problems of economic and social precarity triggered by the end of the Japanese bubble and the changing economic situation, particularly among younger Japanese facing the loss of earlier forms of social support and community. Animal cafés offer iyashi to their customers by providing them a refuge from the stress of their everyday lives, where they can relax through engagement with companion animals, rather than returning to tiny, empty apartments. The focus of these businesses is to offer the opportunity to develop positive affective relationships with the animals, who offer stress relief, physical affection, and a listening ear to the visitors who come to spend time with them.
This research explores the way that affective relationships with animals in these cafés are being used as a method to maintain emotional well-being and control stress levels. Based on 18 months of anthropological fieldwork in Tokyo, Japan, this paper draws on the narratives of café visitors to argue that the popularity of these businesses is indicative of a shift towards the commodification of care relationships, and that visitors are using animals to reduce their stress in order to further productivity, by investigating how affective connections with non-human animals helps them feel ‘healed”’, and to explore how this relates to larger social considerations about healing and wellness in modern Japan.
- social anthropology
- mental health care
- life stress
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Contributors The entirety of the research plan, data collection, writing and editing of this paper was conducted by the author.
Funding The author has not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.
Competing interests None declared.
Patient consent for publication Not required.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.
Data sharing statement No data are available.