Cafes where you can interact with a particular animal have been popular in Asia for a long time. Cat cafes, especially, are commonplace in Tokyo and Seoul. But other types of animal cafe have been cropping up as well.
Japan’s latest craze is owl cafes. We saw one in every major city we visited. It makes me wonder, what kind of owl supply chain is going on in Japan? How do you source owls? It sounds like it could be a Planet Money episode.
We visited Akiba Fukurou cafe in Akihabara. Though, in this case, “cafe” is maybe a bit of a misnomer – there were no drinks served.
Only owls – on every possible surface.
We were instructed to arrive ten minutes early. When we did so, they handed us an English booklet with the rules and a description for every owl that we would encounter.
Once our time came, we ducked into the shop and deposited our bags and coats on racks. I took in the decor and realized there were little stands for owls all around and even above me.
First, we looked around at all the owls. Then you could pick an owl to hang out with. Some of the owls had signs saying they were sleeping or taking a break, so you couldn’t pick those. The visit came with a professional photo of the experience, so they’d take your picture, then carefully guide you to a table where you could sit with an owl perched on your arm.
You were allowed to pick two owls total – you could switch owls partway through.
I started out with one of the tiniest owls – a Pallid Scops Owl named Register. He was a cute little guy and kind of just hung out there on my arm. I realized I know absolutely nothing about owl behavior. They look so serious and kind of intimidating.
You were allowed to touch certain owls very lightly on the forehead – basically a tiny boop. They didn’t seem to care much one way or the other.
I wanted the experience of holding a slightly bigger owl, so I switched to holding Bonito, an Ashy-Faced Owl. I was warned that Bonito was very active and he might climb on my head. That sounded fine to me, so I went and sat down with him.
Immediately he jumped up onto my shoulder. Having an owl’s head next to your face is an interesting experience, I will say.
Then he climbed up onto my head. His talons weren’t digging into my scalp too much, and mostly I found it amusing. But he did start to feel heavy pretty quickly.
Overall, we really liked the experience of visiting an owl cafe. There were a lot of rules in place to make sure you didn’t hurt or scare the owls. The owls clearly got breaks, which was nice. The staff was careful to keep owls apart that didn’t like each other. Of course every animal attraction has ethical questions, but the owls didn’t seem obviously distressed.
Know Before You Go
Akiba Fukurou is by reservation only. You’ll need to come a few minutes early for your time slot. The price is 2,000 yen per adult (US$17.54 at the time of writing). It is cash only. No children under 7 are allowed. Make reservations on their website. And enjoy!
Would you visit an owl cafe?