Sunday, September 3, 2017

An Owling Good Time in Tokyo

-- Susan, every other Sunday

With the world in chaos, and stress levels rising, I face a choice when my Sundays here at MIE roll around: address the world's troubles or try to offer an island of peace. Admittedly, Jeff makes my decision easier - his willingess to dive into the breach on Saturdays allows me to retreat to the fluffier side of blogging.

And it doesn't get much fluffier than the place I'm taking you today.

Her name is Holi Moli.

Most people have heard of Cat Cafes - coffee houses where cats roam freely so customers who like animals but can't own one can pet and play with cats while sipping lattes or iced tea.

But this Tokyo phenomenon has now given birth to an even stranger offspring: the OWL CAFE.

As the name suggests, it's a cafe where people go to pet and interact with owls.

Yes, live owls.

Much more fun than the dead kind.

I discovered the existence of Owl Cafes last spring, shortly before my last research trip to Japan, and since I've always wanted to touch a living owl, I hoped to pay one a visit.

As it happened, I stumbled across an owl cafe in Asakusa on the very first day of my trip, while doing research at Sensoji (Tokyo's oldest Buddhist temple, about which I've blogged here before). To escape from the rain, I wandered down a shopping arcade near the temple, and came across the most unusual--and compelling--barker I'd ever seen.

Tell me you wouldn't have gone inside too...

I didn't hesitate. I headed up the stairs, paid the cover charge (about $8.00, which entitles you to a drink and unlimited time with the owls), disinfected my hands (per the entry policy) and headed in.

Visitors are allowed to pet most of the owls -- the ones that don't like being touched have signs that say "Please look, but do not touch me" in both English and Japanese - but instructed to use the back of the hand (most likely to avoid harm to everyone).

Come at me, bro.

There were also other posted warnings.

Everybody poops. Sometimes, above you.

While some owl cafes are set up like standard coffee shops, with tables and wait staff who bring an owl to the customer's table for a time-limited visit, the owl cafe in Asakusa is built to resemble a jungle, with 12-15 owls sitting on perches and others roaming, flying, or wandering about on their own.

Barn owl!!

(Even more owls are in a resting room, away from the public - the owls are only "on" for a couple of hours at a time, and even then most of them can leave the public areas and fly into the rafters if they want to.)

The room is fairly dark - I suspect the owls are "time shifted" to think it's evening during operating hours, because most were alert and interested in the visitors.

Love the mustache.

Before visiting, I wondered whether the owls enjoyed being petted. Based on my experiences, both here and with other types of birds, they do. They leaned into my hand, fluffed up slightly the way birds do when happy, and didn't try to move away.

A happy owl.

For the record: petting an owl feels the way I believed that clouds must feel when I was very young. They're almost too soft to believe, and the amount of airspace beneath their feathers makes petting one feel like it almost disappears beneath your hand.  

I enjoyed my trip so much I went back a second time with my son, who also wanted to experience an owl cafe.

A boy and his owls.

He liked it as much as I did--and for the same reasons. Not only did we get to interact with owls, but the birds were clearly healthy, well-fed, alert, and not being forced to interact with us against their will. While some (the dozen or so that were actively "on duty") were tethered, the tethers were long enough to allow them to move around and to escape from visitors if they chose.

At least a dozen others were completely un-tethered, and most of them were still interacting with visitors. The ones that didn't want to be touched simply walked away or watched us from the parts of the cafe we could not enter.

On display, but not interested in being touched.

I loved it so much that I'll definitely go back, the next time I'm in Tokyo.

I finally found my own photobomber.

In fact, with no apologies . . . my son and I both had an 'owling good time.


  1. I dare not think what might happen should I take the back of my hand to my photobomber. But I can speculate that you'd probably hear a sound or two from me approximating, "OWL"

    1. A wise man knows when to keep his hands to himself. :) I did love finally finding a photobomber of my own, however.

  2. Awww, I'm in love! Wish I'd known about it on my last visit to Tokyo.

  3. Amazing. You'd think that Britain would have owl cafes popping up, only with a Harry Potter theme...

    1. I'm a little surprised they haven't, Everett! That said - liability issues in Japan are a lot different than they are in the US (and probably Britain). If you get nipped in Tokyo, there isn't a lawyer waiting in the wings.

  4. When I go, I will have a lawyer (YOU!) with me.