Inside the cat train.
Inside the cat train. All photos: Bill Adler

Bill Adler moved to Tokyo from Washington, D.C., about three years ago. Over the phone, he lists a few of his new home’s virtues: “Beautiful country, great food, interesting people,” he says. “And cat café trains.”

This past Sunday, September 10, Adler and a few dozen fellow travelers rode on one of those cat café trains. They were joined by about 30 rescue kittens, which spent the trip climbing the legs of besotted passengers, running back and forth on train benches, and napping on laps.

Three kittens clamber over a cat train passenger.
Three kittens clamber over a cat train passenger.

Adler traveled about 90 minutes outside of Tokyo to hop this train, which left from the small city of Ōgaki. He is quite familiar with cats—he has one himself—as well as with his adopted country’s love for cat cafés, in which patrons drink tea and eat cookies while surrounded by felines.

But he was too curious to pass this opportunity up. “We all wondered what it was going to be like—this vision of a train and cats,” he says. “How was it going to work out?”

The cat train's exterior.
The cat train’s exterior.

Quite well, it turns out. Unlike the older, often lazier cats that lend stationary cat cafés a lounge-like atmosphere, the train kittens were in perpetual motion. “They were so light and little and curious about everything,” says Adler. Three kittens circled one woman for nearly the entire ride, clambering all over her. Another passenger spent hours cradling a tiny black cat to his chest.

The two-and-a-half-hour trip flew by. “In Japanese, one very popular word is kawaii, which means cute,” Adler says. “That word was more appropriate on this train ride than any other place I’ve ever been. It was awesomely cute. It was just wild!”

Selfies and feather sticks abound.
Selfies and feather sticks abound.

The cat train was a collaboration between a local NGO, called Kitten Cafe Sanctuary, and the train’s owner, Yoro Railway Co Ltd. The NGO hoped to promote stray cat adoption, while the transportation company aimed to jumpstart tourism to Ōgaki and the destination city, Ikeno.

To this end, the ride offered other amenities—free food; views of mountains and meadows; a bathroom break halfway through.

Love at first sight.
Love at first sight.

All were ignored. “Not a single person ended up having snacks during the ride,” says Adler. “Nobody got off the train [at the break]… no one bothered to look out the window, because the cats were just so cute.”

The cat train was so successful, in fact, that its mission was somewhat undercut. “I don’t think the cats even knew they were on a train,” says Adler. “And frankly, neither did we.”

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