Published on Monday, 09 May 2016 00:00
Written by Cheryl Teo Kai Lin
Why would you waste your time with dog, cat or rabbit cafes in Tokyo when there are more exotic animal cafes like the Akiba Fukurou Owl Cafe in Akihabara? This charming little establishment houses more than 20 different species of owls in all sizes that you could cuddle up with for an hour.
The Akiba Fukurou Owl Cafe is located in an alley with a nondescript shopfront, photos of owls plastered on the glass windows, and stools situated outside for waiting customers. Honestly, when I first arrived with my friends at our appointed time, the exterior of the cafe looked lacklustre and I was mentally lowering my standards to avoid disappointment. However, when we were welcomed in by the warm staff, the interior of the cafe was a stark contrast to what we saw from the outside.
Cream wood panelled floorboards and walls give a cozy, homely feel to the little cafe with soft lighting reflecting off the many facets of the crystal chandeliers adorning the ceiling. Before entering the space, we were asked to pay ¥1,500 (S$19) per pax before being instructed to quietly leave our coats and bags on a rack. I didn't notice the owls as first as everything was so pristine, clean, calm and silent until my friend pointed out a couple of the winged cuties silently and stonily perched on a bar just right in front of my eyes.
We were brought to a table where the staff softly told us the cafe's rules; only speak in hushed tones, do not make sudden movements, do not touch or disturb the owls which have a pink sign above their heads as it is their rest time, only stroke the top of the owls' heads with the back of one finger, no flash photography, no squeezing the birds, and we should always ask for the staff assistance if we want to hold an owl. We were then free to roam around the cafe and interact with the puffy birds.
Above each owl's head is a sign with its name and species. It is not hard to realize how each owl has its own unique personality right off the bat. Some were sweet and curious, and others wary and cautious when I approached them. There was even an owl who kept hopping on and off its log, vigorously bobbing its head, shaking its body and pawing the ground as though it was doing a happy dance, however my friend reckoned that it was “mentally unstable”.
I was a bit hesitant to pat the owls at first as the proximity between their heads and sharp beaks are precariously close. But once I plucked up the courage to do it, I realized how well-trained and tame they are thanks to the meticulous training they go through before they become permanent residents of the cafe. Most of them were adorably friendly and thoroughly enjoyed the stroking, closing their eyes and pushing their heads forward, while the less sociable ones would fluff up and give a pouty face but tolerate it anyway.
Do note that you can only hold up to two owls in a single session, so if you come across an owl that you really like, let one of the staff know so that he/she could place it on your arm for you to bond with. A rope securely tied around the owl's leg will be coiled around your finger just in case the owl is in the mood for flight. I chose a teeny tiny Indian Scops Owl with heart-melting puppy-dog eyes called Ms. Yoshinori and immediately fell in love with her when she hopped onto my arm and settled herself in.
The second owl that I chose to hold was not as well behaved and sweet as Ms. Yoshinori. I barely held the Barn Owl for a minute when it decided that it wants to take flight and kept flapping its wings until the staff came forward to take it away. When that happens, you do not get another chance of holding a third owl and you will just have to look around in jealousy as your friends handle their owls, or go around stroking the different owls till the time is up.
Even though it is stated that each session lasts an hour, the staff will kindly and politely ask everyone to leave the premises after 45 minutes as they will have to clean up and get the owls ready again for the next session. Before you depart, they will present you with a laminated photo (that the staff takes of you or your group during the session) to keep as a momento of your unique experience. These lovable birds will steal your heart away, so if you are the kind that gets attached to animals really easily (like me), you will find it hard to tear yourself away from your owl when the session is up.
Other than the sad, heart-breaking goodbyes to my new avian friends, the entire experience was really enjoyable and thrilling – a unique break-away from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo's hectic city life, the jarring neon signboards, and the crowed-thronged streets where you can get in touch with “wildlife” in a way that you have never been able to before.
The cafe only permits a maximum number of 14 customers for each session, and while you might try your luck at walk-ins, it is highly advisable to reserve your slot prior to your trip as they are completely booked out for days. I was extremely “kiasu” (a panicky sort of eagerness) and reserved a time slot for my group a month before my Japan trip even though the website states that you can only reserve up to three days in advance. However, I explained to them that I would be travelling around Japan and would not have internet connection for the most of it before I reach Tokyo, to which they accomodatingly obliged to my reservation.
Address: 67 Kanda Neribeicho, Chiyoda, Tokyo 101-0022, Japan