By American standards, Japanese culture is, in many ways, bizarre. It’s all relative, of course. But things like live lobster vending machines, capsule hotels, and robot restaurants are so vastly different from anything we’re accustomed to in the States that we can’t help but look on with wide-eyed fascination. It should come as no surprise that the country is also home to one more oddity: the world’s first “snake cafe.”
Situated in Tokyo’s famously quirky Harajuku neighborhood, Tokyo Snake Center (the website is in Japanese) is equal parts cafe and miniature zoo. The small, bright white space has all the charm of a mall pet store. The clinical decor is peppered with glossy, poster-sized prints of snakes and even the exposed pipes are covered in snakeskin-patterned wallpaper. Perspex snake tanks line one whole wall near the entrance, while a dozen more dot shelves along the remaining walls. A handful of tables provide a place for guests to relax and enjoy a coffee, tea, or boozy beverage with a light snack.
The kicker? Visitors are allowed one “attendant” snake to accompany them during their visit. The waitstaff instructs every guest (in Japanese or English) on snake-handling etiquette and the general rules of the cafe.
In total, 35 snakes from 20 species are available — everything from Honduran milk snakes to jungle carpet pythons to exotic Brazilian rainbow boas. All are, of course, non-venomous and therefore harmless to humans. So, if you were already daydreaming of sharing a macchiato with a pit viper, you’re out of luck.
Japan has long had a fascination with strange restaurants. First, there were cat cafes, then rabbit cafes, then it seemed the Japanese were over both in a few short years. The new hotness is owl cafes and snake cafes. So, the debut of Tokyo Snake Center isn’t all that surprising.
Tokyo Snake Center is now open with a cover charge of Y1,000 (about USD $10). The fee includes one drink and the “privilege” of a snake’s company. For an additional Y540 (USD $5), visitors can pet any of the resident snakes. For guests who need a reptilian parting present, the cafe also has a small gift stand with snake-themed postcards, stuffed toys, lucky charms, and snakeskin bags for sale.
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