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'Insta-worthy' Osaka diner with miniature railway and 'monster' cats thrives amid pandemic

Cats are seen on a miniature railway diorama at Diorama Restaurant in Osaka's Tennoji Ward in this recent photo. (Mainichi/Satoshi Hishida)

OSAKA -- A diner displaying detailed miniature models of railways and surrounding scenery here is luring customers from across Japan despite the COVID-19 pandemic thanks to its four-legged furry residents that resemble kaiju, or Godzilla-like monsters.

    Diorama Restaurant in Osaka's Tennoji Ward, which boasts railway miniature models that run through the approximately 65-square-meter establishment, is home to 14 cats. The feline-railway combo has proven to be popular, especially among Instagram users. The cats can be seen being themselves at the restaurant, even with all the models built inside -- you'll find one sitting on the railway tracks, resting with its head on the railroad bridge, while another gets up slowly from its nap in the mountains to smash a roof off a train platform.

    Diorama Restaurant owner and railway model enthusiast Naoki Teraoka, 57, has operated miniature model-themed eateries since 2005. He opened Diorama Restaurant in 2018, but it was later hit by the pandemic. He even thought about closing it down after customer numbers dwindled. But then he found an emaciated stray kitten on the restaurant premises and took it in. He started taking care of the kitten in the restaurant, after which its mother and siblings started showing up.

    The kitten eventually recovered, and after Teraoka posted images of the cats playing with the railway models on social media, his restaurant soon became a popular tourist spot, even catching the attention of foreign media.

    "What we are today is all thanks to the cats. I want to repay them from now on," Teraoka told the Mainichi Shimbun. He has opened a cat shelter on the second floor of the restaurant and engages in feline support activities, including finding permanent homes for the animals.

    Of course, the cats break the models, and fixing them has become Teraoka's daily routine, but he seemed happy when he said, "They were at it again today."

    (Japanese original by Kaoru Nagasaki, Osaka Bureau)

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