Brittany Rapone

Thesis title: Cultural Influences Behind Exotic Pet Cafés in Japan and their Relation to the International Pet Trade

Start year: 2020


Supervisor(s): Dr Jason Danely, Professor Anna Nekaris

Research topic

My research involves exotic pets and pet cafés and their unique prevalence in Japan. Following the concept of a “Cat Café”, exotic pet cafés are businesses where customers can pay for time to interact with various exotic animals. While cat cafés frequently feature drinks and food to combine a dining experience with interacting with house cats, exotic pet cafés are often more akin to an indoor petting zoo. These exotic animal cafés are found in multiple countries throughout Southeast and East Asia, but they are by far the most common in Japan. Most often located in dense urban areas such as Osaka and Tokyo, these cafés allow a sort of “temporary pet”. They feature a variety of animals, but owls and small mammals such as otters, prairie dogs, meerkats, and slow lorises are some that you may see. These animals are not restricted to cafés and are legal for sale in exotic pet shops as well.

Academic and social discourse relating to exotic pet cafés is relatively sparse. In and outside Japan, animal welfare has been an issue of concern in the café’s ability to care for the exotic species, but not so much that these cafés have difficulty functioning or opening new locations, based on evidence of their increasing numbers. Previous work on this topic has noted the variety of species present and questioned the sources of these animals and Japan’s influence the international pet trade, especially as it relates to species threatened by extinction. Publications on Japanese cat cafés have offered insight by explaining regular customers motivations to go to cat cafés in that they receive, iyashi, translated as mental or emotional healing, by visiting and spending time with the cats. They described themselves as looking for temporary relief from the ongoing stress of a busy urban lifestyle so they could reengage in their daily obligations refreshed.

Is the receiving of iyashi the same reasoning behind customers going to exotic animal cafés? If it is, are customers seeking healing for the same reasons? Do exotic cafés even have “regulars” like the cat cafés? Is an otter more healing than a cat? Can animal qualities associated with iyashi be correlated to the import of certain exotic species or the predominant species in exotic pet shops?  Many unknowns have yet to be investigated. To explore the answers to these and other questions around the phenomena of the exotic pet café and to publish study results for both a Japanese and non-Japanese audience is the goal of my doctoral studies. Ultimately, I would like my work to have a practical influence on the discourse around these cafés so that potential issues relating to international trade and animal welfare will be addressed in a culturally relevant manner.


Japanese culture, iyashi, exotic pet cafés, international animal trade

General research interests

Japan pop culture, cultural anthropology, wildlife trafficking, animal conservation & welfare, human-animal interactions, practical application of academic research, the commodification of animals, healing, and cuteness

Academic school / department

School of Law and Social Sciences

Professional information

Memberships of professional bodies

  • Oxford Brookes Department of Social Sciences: Oxford Wildlife Trade Research Group

Further details

Academic and professional training

  • 2014 University of California, Davis
  • BSc, Neurobiology, Physiology, and Behavior with a minor in Japanese
  • 2017 University of California, Berkeley’s Extension Center
  • Post Baccalaureate for Counseling and Psychology Professions
  • 2019 Oxford Brookes University
  • MSc Primate Conservation

Scholarship and prizes

  • The Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation Studentship, September 2020–September 2021