You may have heard of cat cafés – a uniquely Japanese phenomenon where you pay by the hour to visit cats in a comfortable living room-like setting. I’ve been meaning to visit one. Apparently there’s one in Kyoto but a combination of poor Internet access and train schedules prevented me from getting directions in time to visit.

On Sunday I had a little train adventure. The Wakayama Electric Railway is probably the world’s most fun suburban railway. It’s a pokey little train line running from Wakayama (edge of nowhere) to Kishigawa (middle of nowhere) – about the same size as the train system that runs from Kyoto to Kurama and Kibune.

The fun part is that they’re gradually renovating the 6 trainsets they purchased from the Nankai Electric Railway. I took the Tama Densha (Tama’s train) out to Kishigawa. Tama is the Station Master of the Kishigawa station – and she’s a calico cat! The train interior and exterior are really impressive, showing the beautiful, obsessive attention to detail that only Japan can do. Some examples: cat-shaped seat backs, cat-shaped lighting, and pawprints on the floor.

Unfortunately, Tama wasn’t working on Sunday. They’re starting renovations of the station on Monday so she’s been moved out because of the dust and noise. She’ll be back as the stationmaster of the new station, but not until after I leave Japan. (Thanks to Ihara for translating the notice.)

I wandered around Kishigawa for a bit, hoping to make it onto the Omoden (Toy Train) running 30 min later. The Omoden apparently has a large collection of children’s toys on shelves that you can use freely during your ride – again, something that could only work in Japan. Unfortunately, I got a bit lost in the twisty streets of Kishigawa and missed the train. Rather than wait another 2 hours, I took one of the boring, unrenovated trains back to Wakayama. We passed the Omoden going the other way and a kid in my car jumped up and down pointing at it and begging his parents to let him take the Omoden :) Maybe he just didn’t want to go to Wakayama though.

There are a few wild cats living in the park around Wakayama Castle, but they’re skittish and only one of them would approach me.

I took the train back to Osaka and tried yet again to find a cat café. Osaka has a few, but sadly they all close early on Sundays! So no cat café for me, yet again.

Oh well. There will be other cat cafés. And adventures continue! Today I’m heading to Ibusuki, the southern tip of Kyushu, via Fukuoka and Kagoshima. The trip has involved 2 types of shinkansen, a local electric train, and something I didn’t think even existed in Japan: a groaning multispeed diesel.

Originally written January 25, 2010