You can get a milk snake to go with your iced coffee and cake at Tokyo Snake Center, a new animal cafe in the young fashion district of Harajuku, Tokyo, that opened in August 2015.
As you enter, you'll find a dozen colorful snakes in clear Perspex cases at the door. These are the "attendant" snakes and you get to choose one snake in a box to have as your table companion. The waiter then gives you a quick lesson in snake etiquette and cafe rules (available in Japanese and English), and leads you to your table.
We chose a beautiful milk snake with alternating bands of red, black and yellow. A nonvenomous variety of king snake, it proved an entertaining companion, feverishly digging under the plastic grass in its box like a plucky RAF officer trying to escape from Stalag 13.
The cafe interior is very swish with clinical white walls and gleaming metal surfaces, glossy fashion-mag posters of snakes and expensive-looking snakeskin bags and accessories. Even the pipes are clad in snakeskin-patterned wallpaper. It's more like a luxury-brand store than animal cafe.
The larger snakes are curled up lazily in cases along the central divide and down one wall. For an extra Y540, you can choose to pet any of these snakes on special sofas in a corner. Two nervous women asked the waiter for a petting session, and the first one bravely sat down on the sofa while a snake was gently laid on a towel in her lap. She stroked it timidly while her terrified friend looked on. When her friend finally got the courage to touch it, she gasped, "It feels like shoe leather!"
Customers can exchange snakes for other varieties, and we got to play with three different snakes, all with distinct personalities. The Florida pine snake just wanted to sleep, while the licorice rat snake squirmed and coiled in all directions looking to escape. The snake handler explained that the constant tongue waving was in fact how snakes smell. The forked tongue picks up scent from the air and relays it to olfactory sensors in the mouth.
The cafe boasts a pit of 35 snakes of 20 different species. Among the most colorful are the Trans-Pecos rat snake, jungle carpet python, corn snake, ball python, Brazil rainbow boa, Honduran milk snake, San Francisco garter snake and Baron's green racer.
The entry price includes a soft drink, but the cafe also offers a few desserts and snacks, including original cakes, quiche and cheese-curry bread.