I went to a Japan Owl Cafe. This was my experience.
We all sat at our desks. Laid before us rested a blank sheet of paper, tiny little plastic forcep, and wooden probe. The teacher went around the classroom to each excited and eager second grader, all of us hopeful for a winner. The super cool science experience for the day? Dissecting an owl pellet.
And in case you didn’t know, an owl pellet is owl vomit that contains the bones and fur of it’s victims. It’s like a hairball for owls. Delicious.
That was my first close encounter with an owl. With it’s regurgitation.
My second owl encounter happened 20 years later on the other side of the world, at the one country you’d expect to have a cafe where patrons can pay to hang out with owls: Japan.
Japan is the land with the quirkiest and most bizarre animal encounter cafes. As a Michigander, cat cafes are still considered out of this world. In Japan, owl cafes are becoming almost as ubiquitous as those cat cafes. Head over to Tokyo and you can find hedgehog cafes, penguin bars, robot restaurants, Alice in Wonderland cafes, bunny cafes, goat cafes, reptile cafes…
Japan will probably be the first to have a dinosaur cafe where you can enjoy your latte with a real T-Rex.
(it’s Japan… I’m sure they’ll figure it out)
Fukuro no Mise owl cafe
We went to Fukuro no Mise. The story goes that the owner had a pet owl that all his neighbors adored (I guess it’s legal to have an owl as a pet in Japan). He decided to share his passion for these birds and open an owl cafe for locals and tourists to experience these majestic birds. With a beverage.
You know what would taste great with this tea, Sally? A TAWNY SCREECH OWL.
At the time of our appointment, we filed into the modest, dim cafe, a greeted by the “baristas” (as I’ll call them) and the perched owls. Big owls, tiny owls, sleeping owls, white owls, brown owls. REAL OWLS.
We all gathered on the couch, placing our drink order. The barista explained the rules — how to handle the owls, where to pet them (not the head), what to do if they fly, how to deal with being pooped on (oh god)… I listened, but eyed my new feathered friends, placing mental dibs on which owls I wanted to strike a friendship with.
I pet my first owl. His feathers felt like the finest silk. So soft and fluffy… like a down pillow minus the pillowcase barrier. One owl barked like a dog. Another owl had the cutest googly eyes.
Hoo Hoo Poo Poo
Remember when I dissected that owl pellet, all those years ago? Just like I got intimate with what comes up from an owl, it was time to get intimate with what comes out the other end. Yep. I got pooped on by an owl at the owl cafe. Really. My shirt became the final resting place of owl feces. I became an owl litter box. The victim of owl defecation. These are the risks you take, friends. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…
I can only be thankful that the smallest owl in the cafe was the culprit.
Pro tip: Planning on wearing an owl on your head or your shoulder? Bring a hat or a cardigan/shawl/etc. in case of an unexpected owl poop emergency. Otherwise you’ll just have to wipe up the mess and try not to think about the new accessory on your shoulder while you’re wandering around Tokyo for the rest of the day.
But are Japanese owl cafes ethical?
It’s questionable. If you think birds belong in the sky, I know — I feel the same. And part of my heart hurt seeing these birds getting all the love and attention in a cafe vs. soaring through the forest seeking out a mouse snack.
While Fukuro No Mise appeared to be clean with a caring staff conscious of the owls’ well-being, the argument is that the entire principle of an owl cafe is simply wrong and against intended nature. Wildlife should be just that: wild.
My suggestion is to be an informed traveler and make that ethical judgment call for yourself. Do your research. Owl cafes are on the list of most unique Japanese experiences. It’s your personal call if you give a hoot to participate.
Perhaps my decision to participate can be a reflection of my character or judgement. Or perhaps these owl cafes are a bigger commentary of the Japanese culture that accepts and embraces the existence of these establishments.
Know Before You Go to a Japanese Owl Cafe
While this doesn’t necessarily apply to every owl cafe in Japan, here are some things to know before going to Fukuro No Mise.
- You need a reservation. At Fukuro no Mise, you need to make that reservation in person. See what time they start taking reservations and get there at that time.
- Don’t expect to drink coffee with the owls. Event though it’s a Japan owl cafe, the experience is about the owls. You’ll get a drink at the end, but it’s a milk tea.
- Videos are not permitted.
- Bring a sweater or a hat. In case of hoo poo.
Have you ever been to an owl cafe in Japan? Would you want to experience one?