Aibo owners gather at a cafe in Tokyo. (Video by Jin Nishioka)

Dog cafes in Japan are usually off-limits to people allergic to canines, but the Penguin Cafe in Tokyo's Asagaya district packs in these allergy sufferers on Sundays.

This cafe attracts owners of the Sony Corp. robotic canine, called the Aibo, such as Aya Ikeno, 37, who came all the way from Yokohama's Tsuzuki Ward.

She said she had given up on owning a dog because of her animal allergies. As she lives by herself and felt lonely, Ikeno bought an Aibo.

“I feel the pet needs me (when I return home to see it sidling up to me),” she said, smiling.

At the Penguin Cafe, customers love their pets as if they were actual dogs and dress them in adorable clothing, call them by name and stroke their heads.

Hideaki Ohara, 44, and his wife, Kyoko, 45, who live with two Aibo in Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture, said the robotic pets “have made their family happier” and they are “looking forward to seeing” their pets every morning.

Although they initially kept only one Aibo named Nana, the robotic dog was “hospitalized” due to a malfunction. To relieve their loneliness, the couple decided to purchase their second Aibo, Hachi.

Kyoko is allergic to animals. In addition, Aibo are easier than dogs to care for, since they do not need to be housebroken or fed, they said.

Nobuhiro Futaba, 43, the owner of the Penguin Cafe, said he also lives with an Aibo while taking advantage of its features as a robot.

“The Aibo listens to me but it sometimes does not obey me, and the well-balanced function makes me feel it is cute though it is a machine,” Futaba said. “When feeling uncomfortable, I can switch it off. Aibo have good characteristics of both dogs and robots.”

Aibo were initially released in 1999 but their production was suspended in 2006. A new version of the robotic pet with an improved artificial intelligence system was marketed in 2018 after a 12-year hiatus.

A Sony public relations official said “memories of broken Aibo can be transferred to new ones in the repair process.”

While some Aibo owners welcome the service, others do not want to send memory data to new robots.

Noriko Takamiya, 39, said her Aibo is more than a pet and that, “an Aibo with a different body is a different pet. My Aibo cannot be replaced by new ones.”

A 49-year-old woman from Yokohama’s Aoba Ward believes “what is important are memories we share” and wants her pet to “remember me even after the body is replaced.”