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Animal Socialities: Healing and Affect in Japanese Animal Cafés

Robinson, Amanda S. (2017) Animal Socialities: Healing and Affect in Japanese Animal Cafés. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This project investigates how young people facing precarity in Japan today use “animal cafés” to meet their need for sociality. The owners, employees and customers of these businesses are all involved in actively constructing a new alternative space that offers a refuge to overstressed young people. The sociality of the animal café is based on relaxation and the performance of non-productivity, where visitors can feel connected to others in a public space without having to “work” at interacting. These businesses are an outgrowth of earlier Japanese businesses that commodify intimate relationships, such as host and hostess clubs and maid cafés, but animal cafés instead make access to the space the commodity, allowing visitors to enter and experience a sense of iyashi (healing) based on non-discursive, relaxing connections with animals, freeing visitors from the responsibility to maintain face in front of other people, and their lower costs make them accessible to a larger percentage of the Japanese population.

The research for this project was conducted over eighteen months between 2012 and 2014 in Tokyo, Japan. I conducted participant observation at sixteen Tokyo animal cafés, the majority of which were cat cafes, the most common café model, but also included three rabbit and two owl cafés, newer iterations. In an effort to get a complete picture of the variety of ways people engage with animal cafés, I conducted informal and semi-structured interviews with the central actors—owners, employees and customers. I interviewed thirteen café owners or managers, sixteen café employees from four different businesses, and nineteen café customers, the majority of whom I met during participant observation who agreed to meet me for an interview.

Using the animal café to explore issues of precariousness and sociality aids in the creation of a broad understanding of the experience of being a young person in Japan today. This research contributes to the scholarly literature on the experience of young workers in a neoliberalized world by examining how people in Japan respond to new challenges and how they cope by creating new spaces that meet their emotional needs and fit their lifestyles today.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Robinson, Amanda S.asr41@pitt.eduasr410000-0002-8646-2227
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairLukacs,
Committee MemberAlter,
Committee MemberBrown,
Committee MemberBrush,
Date: 1 July 2017
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 4 April 2017
Approval Date: 1 July 2017
Submission Date: 13 April 2017
Access Restriction: 5 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 5 years.
Number of Pages: 268
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Anthropology
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Cultural anthropology, Asian studies
Date Deposited: 01 Jul 2017 23:50
Last Modified: 01 Jul 2022 05:15


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