In modern Japanese cafes, customers enjoy hugging pigs

TOKYO –

First there were cafes that allowed pets. Then came cat cafes, where the latte took a back seat to the feline interaction. The latest fad in Japan: pig coffee.

“It was wonderful. Very relaxing and enjoyable,” said Brad Loomis, a software engineer from Pullman, Washington, after visiting Tokyo’s Mipig Café with his 21-year-old daughter Paige.

They were among dozens of customers on a recent morning, taking selfies and flashing big smiles. The pigs, a miniature breed, trotted around the room, looking for a cozy lap to curl up on.

Pigs are surprisingly quiet, although they do occasionally snort. They don’t like to be alone, which makes for great company. Unlike the stereotype, they are very clean and do not smell.

Customers pay 2,200 yen (US$15) for the first 30 minutes in the company of the pigs. Reservation required.

“Each pig is unique. Each one has its own personality. You may notice that one may be stubborn and another may be gentle,” said Shiho Kitagawa, a Mipig executive who refers to the pigs as “buta-san.” ,” using an honorific.

The Mipig Café in trendy Harajuku is among 10 pig cafes the operator has opened across Japan. The first opened in Tokyo in 2019. Two more are in the works for later this year.

The animals, known as “micropigs,” don’t grow any larger than a corgi dog, even into adulthood. The cafes also feature adorable little pigs the size of toy poodles.

Pig lovers say they make excellent pets. They can be purchased at Mipig for about 200,000 yen ($1,350), they have already been potty trained and are used to being with people. Food for micropigs is also sold. Mipig says it has sold 1,300 pigs as pets.

In one corner of the cafe there is a drink vending machine, but hardly anyone bothered to get a drink as they were too busy with the pigs.

Foreign tourists who visited the cafe said they found out about it through Instagram and other social media. The cafe does not invest in advertising. They made sure to include a visit during their trip to Japan, along with the usual tourist spots like the ancient capital of Kyoto, they said.

Australian Ben Russell smiled when a pig finally climbed into his lap. Although this was his first encounter with a real pig, it has always been his favorite animal, he said, although he wasn’t sure exactly why.

Sophie Mo’unga from New Zealand, in Japan with her husband and two children, was a big hit with the pigs, with several of them fighting over her lap.

“They were cute. I think they all kept warm,” she said.

The Pig Cafe is the latest in a series of animal cafes that have popped up in Japan, including some featuring owls, hedgehogs, birds and even snakes.

Some people have raised ethical questions about whether animals enjoy the experience as much as humans.

“It must be stressful to be touched and petted by a group of strangers,” said Sachiko Azuma, director of Tokyo-based PEACE, which stands for End Animal Cruelty and Exploitation.

“Animals have become tools for a lucrative business,” he said.

His group primarily opposes animal experiments and “petting zoos.” The cafes tend to be small and don’t offer enough natural environment for cats or small pigs, and those that trap wildlife are abhorrent, Azuma said. She approves of cafes run by shelters that try to find owners for abandoned pets.

Dr. Bruce Kornreich, a professor of clinical sciences at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, New York, said interacting with animals can reduce blood pressure and headaches and the risk of cardiovascular disease. It also improves feelings of well-being and helps people cope with stress, he said.

“I’m not sure we know the answer to how they do these things,” said Kornreich, who is also part of the Cornell Feline Health Center, which advocates for the study and welfare of cats.

“There is growing evidence that associating with and owning pets can provide benefits to people’s physical and mental health,” he said in a Zoom interview.

Even with dogs, it’s unclear whether walking the dog or being in the presence of a friendly animal helps the owner’s health.

Whatever it is, with dogs or pigs people are calm and happy.

“Very cute and very sleepy,” Paige Loomis said of the pigs. “They made me sleepy.”

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