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Akiba Fukurou, Tokyo, Japan
Eye to eye. Which of us is going to blink first? Probably me. It’s pretty silly to challenge an owl to a staring competition.
In a city like Tokyo, it should probably be no surprise that I find myself in this situation. With an owl named Negi perched on my arm, I try to act calm. It’s easier said than done, considering Negi did just try to eat Peanuts a few minutes ago. Peanuts is the name of one of the other owls here.
By now, a lot of people have heard of the ‘cat cafes’ that began in Tokyo and have now spread around the world. They are places where people without pets can come for some animal interaction. Last time I was in town, I visited one and you can read about that cat cafe here.
But Tokyo is the kind of city that always needs something new. It has a reputation for being cutting edge and it never disappoints. One of the latest trends is the ‘owl cafe’ and it’s where I find myself one afternoon.
You enter the small room off a busy street in the Akihabara district at your allotted timeslot. After a brief introduction in Japanese – no flash photography, no sudden movements, don’t squeeze the birds – you then have an hour to spend with the owls.
There are about twenty owls in the cafe, perched on bars throughout the room. Each has a name and with that, presumably, comes a personality. Some are small and sweet, others bigger and evil-looking with vibrant eyes that are constantly watching their surroundings.
There are owls that seem sleepy and owls that seem more alert, owls that barely move and others with heads constantly bobbing.
I’ve been told you can pat them but I’m hesitant. Apart from their sharp beaks, I’m worried the birds might not like it, but I follow the lead of the Japanese people in the room. So I approach one of the smaller owls and gingerly brush my fingers on the top of its head.
It’s soft. Really soft. The owl just looks at me but doesn’t seem bothered by the attention. It starts to turn its head towards me and I quickly jerk my hand away in fear. I forgot I wasn’t supposed to make sudden movements.
Some of the Japanese people in the room have jumped straight in and now have owls on their arms. The workers – dressed in waistcoats and hats – take the birds off their perches and put them lightly near the customers’ wrists. A small rope stops them flying off if they are in the mood for flight, which most don’t seem to be.
It goes like this for an hour – patting, holding, looking. I don’t do much holding because I am still a bit nervous but I enjoy the looking and the occasional pat.
I can’t tell whether the whole experience is supposed to be a novelty or whether it’s the kind of thing that people come back for repeatedly, which was the sense I got with the cat cafe.
The owners of the Owl Cafe say it’s about relaxation. In a world where people can get easily stressed and have busy hectic lives, this is supposed to be a bit of an escape. “We think owls can heal our tired hearts like a therapy,” they say.
The whole room is designed around this philosophy with soft lighting, drapes on the walls and mood music softly playing in the background. It’s certainly a more mellow environment than outside in Akihabara where neon, blaring sounds and bustling crowds fill the streets.
So it’s about “healing entertainment” apparently and I can see that to a certain degree. For the humans, at least. I do wonder, though, whether it’s fair on the owls.
When I ask about that, I’m told that all the birds are raised from birth and are treated like pets. Maybe they would prefer to be out flying free or maybe they’re happy with this life. In many ways, it’s no different to keeping a dog, a cat or a budgie as a pet.
Is that what Negi is thinking about as we stare at each other? Is he wondering why I’m here at all? I guess I may never know.
I blink first and the staring competition is over. My hour is up and I leave the mellow dim room and the owls behind, back onto the Tokyo streets.
Where is this Tokyo Owl Cafe?
The Akiba Fukurou Owl Cafe is located at:
67 Kanda Neribeichō, Chiyoda-ku, Tōkyō-to, 101-0022, Japan.
How do you get to the Owl Cafe?
When is the Owl Cafe open?
How much does the Owl Cafe cost?
My top tip
THE BEST ACCOMMODATION AT TOKYO STATION
Tokyo is a huge city and there are lots of different areas you could stay. For tourists, I would recommend either around Tokyo station or Shinjuku.
If you’re looking for a backpacker option, you can get comfortable dorm beds at the great Wise Owl Hostel.
Tokyo is expensive but APA Hotel Ginza-Takaracho is a good price for a nice hotel near the station.
For a trendy modern hotel close to the station, I think you’ll like The Gate Hotel Tokyo by Hulic.
And for one of the best hotels in Tokyo, I would recommend The Peninsula.
THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN TOKYO: SHINJUKU
Staying in Shinjuku puts you in one of the busiest parts of city, which is great for exploring during the day and at night.
For backpackers, you can get good dorms beds at the cool Imano Hostel.
An affordable hotel in central Shinjuku is IBIS Tokyo Shinjuku.
If you’re looking for a cool design hotel, then Bespoke Hotel Shinjuku is a great choice.
And for a luxury stay, you can’t go past the gorgeous Park Hyatt.
Time Travel Turtle was a guest of the Japan National Tourism Organisation but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.
WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT TOKYO?
Here are some of my top stories about Tokyo:
- The perfect 3 day Tokyo itinerary
- The best things to do in Tokyo at night
- Visiting the most important shrine in Tokyo
- How to see the famous Tokyo fish markets
- Why the war memorial presents a different history
- This is Tokyo’s only World Heritage Site
- Play with some cats at one of the original cat cafes
- Or, for something different, visit an owl cafe
- The strange museum of parasites in Tokyo
- How to experience an earthquake in Japan
Let someone else do the work for you:
You may also want to consider taking a tour in Japan, rather than organising everything on your own. It’s also a nice way to have company if you are travelling solo.
I am a ‘Wanderer’ with G Adventures and they have great tours in Japan.
You could consider:
When I travel internationally, I always get insurance. It’s not worth the risk, in case there’s a medical emergency or another serious incident. I recommend you should use World Nomads for your trip.