When it comes to animal cafés, Japan has it all, from owl cafés to a recently-opened hedgehog hangout. Now one cat café has opened a new branch with a specific issue in mind: to promote awareness of Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV).
Homeless cat café Neco Republic's new branch in Tokyo is home to eight felines they've dubbed "apple cats" (ringo neco) to give them a cute-sounding image. The cat café chain has several branches across Japan, but at this Tokyo branch—which opened on July 1—all the cats are FIV positive.
"Many people in Japan don't know that cats can get [a virus related to] HIV too, but when they hear that they can, sometimes they feel a bit apprehensive," Yuka Tokunaga, Neco Republic's Tokyo branch manager, told me over the phone. "We want people to interact with our 'apple cats' like normal and understand that there's nothing to fear."
Cats have been associated with FIV for years. While some can be born with the virus, others can catch it through scratches and bites after fighting with infected cats. The virus can only be spread from cat to cat, and is not dangerous to humans. It depletes white blood cells, weakening against infections. However, as FIV can often lie dormant for years and take hold of the cat's immune system slowly, many cats with the virus enjoy perfectly happy and fulfilled lives.
The issue, said Tokunaga, is that many people don't really know that cats can contract FIV, and can be put off when they find out. Neco Republic wants to dispel any stigma by promoting its band of friendly FIV-positive apple cats to be loved and played with just like their healthy counterparts.
Tokunaga said that so far they'd had around 50 visitors who'd all been happy to chill out with the apple cats while learning about FIV from Neco Republic staffers.
In the future, Tokunaga said it would be cool if more cat cafés could have branches dedicated to cats with FIV so that the positive message continues to spread.
Cool Japan is a column about the quirky and serious happenings in the Japanese scientific, technological and cultural realms. It covers the unknown, the mainstream, and the otherwise interesting developments in Japan.