'A People Bag, Please' - the Diner Barked

TOKYO'S K-9 CAFE

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Ensuke Hirakawa is no ordinary pet-shop proprietor.

He is a man who thinks the time has come for pets to receive some of the fastidious service for which Japan is famous, a man who guarantees that a pet purchased from him will stay alive for at least a year - or the replacement is free.

But most of all, he is a man with a concept. In Mr. Hirakawa's establishment, kennel meets kitsch and comes out fabulous: Lap dogs mince their way through "beef-and-cheese hors d'oeuvres," skitter across the pink tile floor, and yelp and yap amid classical music. Occasionally they leave a little puddle of something inevitable under the antique Italian table, but one of Hirakawa's Nehru-jacketed assistants is stooping close behind, spritzer bottle in one hand and wet rag in the other. It's just another lunchtime at Ken 21 - where Tokyo's lap dogs luxuriate.

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"Pet shops have a dirty, unpleasant image," says Hirakawa, a deep-voiced man who favors the sort of aviator frames that Gloria Steinem likes. In his own way, he too is a revolutionary. "I want to clear all that away," he declares. "I want to treat pets like humans."

Hirakawa knows what he's talking about - he's an esthetician, someone who performs facials and other beauty treatments. For years his shop catered only to men and women, but the attention his dog was getting caused him to consider branching out to other species.

Gatsby, a big, slobbery, and impeccably groomed white Pyrenees, was being asked to appear in commercials and fashion shoots. People were even renting him out, for as much as $180 an hour, for special occasions like wedding receptions.

So early this year Hirakawa created what he calls the "perfect pet shop" on the ground floor of the Ken 21 building. The structure has one of the oddest exteriors in the history of commerce - a pink color scheme, strobe lights, and a suspended Greco-Roman sculpture that evokes the Sistine Chapel - but it now serves as a beacon to Tokyo's pet lovers.

They come to buy pets, put them up during a vacation, or share a meal with their little four-legged companions. Hirakawa also offers a pet-grooming service, which he says is completely separate from the grooming of humans that still goes on at Ken 21.

His pet restaurant service has drawn reams of media attention, since it seems to be the first place in the country where a pet owner can order a meal for his or her animal. A large plate of chicken-and-cheese hors d'oeuvres costs about $8.90, and a dish of mineral water runs just under $5.50. Petting Gatsby is also on the menu, but that's free.

"Normally Gen-chan has to stay at the entrance," complains Naomi Saito, a Ken 21 regular, about what happens when she brings her Pomeranian out on the town. "I like to see Gen-chan running around and playing with the other dogs."

Tokyo residents favor small animals, so apart from Gatsby, Ken 21 is the domain of the lap dog. The other day a pug, two Yorkshire terriers, a small sheltie, a shitzu, and a West Highland wire terrier all raced about underfoot. A pair of cats inhabited one of the shop's half-dozen or so enclosures, but they tried to stay above the miniaturized canine bedlam.

Occasionally, Gatsby would offer a loud, gruff retort to some dog's irksome yap, sending the dog fleeing in the other direction. The customers seemed unfazed.

Yusuke Nishimoto, a nightclub worker who owns the pug, says that little Tan-chan is a lively beast who feels confined in Mr. Nishimoto's apartment.

"I bring him here once in a while to remove his stress," Nishimoto says.

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