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‘Baby cafe’ lets moms unwind while the children play

by Danielle Demetriou

Tokyo has long been a city that caters for pets, with its countless cat cafes, dog cafes and even rabbit cafes dotted across the capital. But what about cafes for babies of the human variety?

The fact that there seem to be more places to take your pets than your children in Tokyo is perhaps an accurate reflection of the nation’s demographic reality (yes, there really are apparently more pets than children under the age of 15 in Japan).

Thankfully, there are a few hidden gems in Tokyo where mothers can meet friends over tea and cake while their babies play happily in a space specifically designed to be child-friendly.

Among them is Bonheur de Sakura. This Shibuya “baby cafe” was set up by two mama friends, Oko Ishii and Sachiko Michishita, with the goal of creating a space that is as stylish as it is baby-friendly.

The pair met eight years ago when Ishii was working as a wedding coordinator at the Park Hyatt Tokyo and found herself organizing the nuptials of former hair and makeup artist Michishita — with the pair instantly hitting it off.

“Sachiko had a great sense of style and we had a good connection straight away,” recalls Ishii.

As the friends both went on to have children (Ishii has a 3-year-old boy and a girl aged 6, Michishita a 7-year-old girl), Ishii increasingly dreamed of applying her hospitality skills and Michishita’s sense of style to the world of motherhood.

The idea of a baby cafe soon took hold: “There are places where children can play in Tokyo, but I really wanted to focus on the mothers,” Ishii explains. “We wanted to create an interior that was designed totally to make the mothers relax, not a space that was obviously created for children.”

And it seems to have worked. The cafe, which opened in June 2012, is located in a former office space on a quiet, nondescript backstreet in Aoyama and may appear unremarkable from the outside.

But stepping inside, it’s clear that a lot of thought went into the design and layout: After slipping off shoes, parking buggies and hanging up coats, visitors enter the main space, which is filled with wooden floors and antique furnishings — and not a splash of the bright plastic primary colors more commonly associated with baby spaces.

Instead, the cafe is filled with big wooden tables lined by a stylish mix of chairs, with the children’s space at the back focusing around a low oval wooden table (designed by Michishita) filled with quality wooden toys.

Other design details include an antique red leather chair in a corner, festooned by curtains, where mothers can nurse their babies with discretion, as well as a dark green (and very comfortable) leather Chesterfield sofa.

The space is not only a cafe but also the setting for a number of activities for mamas, from weekly baby-sign classes to workshops in baby massage, prenatal yoga and aromatherapy for mothers and babies, as well as regular children’s birthday parties.

A word of warning: The cafe serves a great selection of drinks (from farm fruit juices and teas to organic herb cordials with Perrier and very grown up glasses of wine) but does not have a food menu.

Mothers are, however, allowed to bring their own food with them — or order from a wide selection of takeaway outlets nearby, ranging from sushi to pizza.

On the day I pop by to visit with my 1-year-old daughter, a Christmas party has just come to an end and, despite the occasion, the walls are festooned not in plastic reindeer and Santa Claus figures but in chic paper pompoms and balloons.

My daughter instantly charges over to the oval play table and enthusiastically starts pretending to cook with an assortment of toy wooden plates and vegetables, as a smiling Ishii brings over chilled glasses of iced tea to the “grown-up” table.

“The ultimate goal of this space is not actually about the children; it’s about making the mothers happy and fulfilling their demands,” she adds.

Bearing in mind the dearth of baby cafes currently on offer in Tokyo (another notable space, Tokyo Baby Cafe in Shibuya, recently closed its doors), it’s a venue that is likely to be welcome among mothers as well as their offspring — and definitely somewhere I’m more likely to be found than the nearest cat cafe.

Bonheur de Sakura is located at Ogasawara Bldg. 1F, 1-5-10 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku (03-6427 2858, info@bonheur-de-sakura.jp, www.bonheur-de-sakura.jp). The cafe charges ¥500 per 30 minutes for one adult and one child. Adults without children pay ¥250 per 30 minutes. Pregnant women pay ¥200 to ¥500. Drinks cost from ¥210.