When Louise found out that I was going to Japan, she insisted that I do one thing in particular: Visit the owl cafe. We were going to go together, but unfortunately she wasn't feeling well, which left me foraging boldly where no xoJane editor had gone before, to Fukuro No Mise, one of several owl cafes around Japan.
The fact that there are several is evidence of my host's claim that if it exists, Japan has it. Truly, this is a country where anything seems possible, including toilets that open their seats invitingly as you approach and a combini well stocked with onigiri on practically every street corner. (Yes, I ate onigiri on the NEX.)
Fukuro No Mise opens at two on Fridays, the only day they have an English-speaking staff member available. Visitors queue up, and once the cafe is full, they're required to apply for reservations. Ours ended up for eight o'clock, so we headed down to Ginza for a few hours to entertain ourselves while we waited. (I insisted that we look at kimono at Takashimaya, a famous department store, and had to be dragged away kicking and screaming from their stunning collection.)
When we returned, we watched the gleeful and giddy previous group leave the cafe and quivered with excitement until they let us in, instructing us to take a seat while they went over owl procedures and how to handle the amazing assortment of owls safely.
The short version is that you can only pet the owls on the back of the head and upper back, and that you should keep hold of their jesses, bringing your hand up if your owl flaps off or gets restless to encourage her (or him) to settle down. The owls also, like many birds, do occasionally need to void themselves, so "be patient," the staff advised us, if a little owl poo (or an owl pellet) went your way. Visitors were also asked to approach staffers if they wanted to pick up, put down, or trade owls, which we all did, because why hold one owl when you could hold many owls?
They have a variety of species at the cafe, from tiny burrowing owls to much larger birds, so there's sort of an owl for every comfort level or owl fan. I didn't get to hold every single owl (I would have had to rotate through them pretty quickly), but I interacted with several birds and it was a fantastic experience. There's something deeply wonderful about facing down with a predator, looking deep into its eyes and seeing the details of the feathers and the owl's bone structure. There was a sort of humbling aspect to it; owls are sharp, intelligent, fantastic creatures.
At Fukuro No Mise, they hand raise their owls, all of whom are tame and extremely friendly. They'll sit on your hands or shoulders, and sometimes happily climb on top of your head, and they love being scratched on the back of the head by visitors. This is basically my dream, because I never knew how much I wanted to scratch an owl on the back of the head until I did it.
It turns out that owls are extremely soft and that if you pet them very gently, their eyelids slowly droop shut in a look of pleased ecstasy (they were also pretty tuckered out at the end of the day, though the staff are conscientious about resting the birds and looking after their welfare). The cafe is small enough that you spend a lot of time saying "sumimasen" ("I'm sorry"/"excuse me" in this context), because you bump into people (and their owls) rather a lot. Especially when you are a fat American.
It also turns out that holding an owl on your hand gets heavy after a while, and I recommend putting your owl on your shoulder, especially if you are holding a large owl. If this isn't a situation you can ever imagine finding yourself in, you should fix that ASAP, because getting this close to an owl really is a totally amazing experience.
Also, keep a tight grip on those jesses. While the owls at Fukuro No Mise were very mellow, they still sometimes got a little fussy, and you don't want an owl flying off — especially in a cafe crowded with people and other owls, because you could set off a bit of a chain reaction. Particularly when it comes to small owl versus large owl.
At the conclusion of your visit, the staff give you a drink (I had oolong tea) and a little gift, but you definitely shouldn't be attending with the idea of a cafe in mind. This is, as my traveling companion puts it, "strong on the owl part." You are going to hang out with owls, not to enjoy a broad selection of tasty and excellent pastries and teas (both of which are widespread and delicious in Japan).
While it's not a "real" cafe, Fukuro No Mise's staff are marvelously attentive and friendly, as has been common across the board with my experiences in Japan so far. People are unfailingly helpful and polite, even when I am making a total jerk out of myself by being inattentive, and it's honestly been one of the most difficult things to adjust to: Japanese clerks, waitresses, and other staff take their job responsibilities very seriously, and want their guests to have a good time.
At an owl cafe, it's honestly hard NOT to have a good time.
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