Whether fictional or real-life, owls are fascinating creatures. Some are adorable. Some are bizarre. Some are downright creepy. And some owls are available to the public.
In Japan, owl cafes let you hang out and make friends with the feathered fellows. You can pet some, hold some, and take selfies with them all. I visited one of these cafes in the Asasuka part of Tokyo to see what they're like. I was not disappointed.
Warning, cute overload imminent.
A few minutes' walk from Tokyo's Asakusa station is the "jungle cafe" Owl Forest (or Owl of the Forest or Forest Owl; the translation is a bit loose). It's on the second floor, so you'd easily walk past its single-doorway entrance. Usually, though, an employee is out front on street level with one of the cafe's friendlier owls.
Upstairs, the cafe itself doesn't really look like a cafe. Fish tanks line the entrance area, and a small Scottish terrier enthusiastically greets guests. The walls are covered in fake vines and leaves.
It's 890 yen to enter, about $9/£7/AU$11, and that gets you a beverage of your choice (tea and coffee, mostly). You're advised to only pet the owls with the back of your hand, and that certain owls don't like to be touched (and have signs to that effect).
From here, you can wind your way through the cafe. Owls sit on perches about chest height. Some are interested in you, some aren't. Most are free range, occasionally taking flight to higher perches, or shuffling along the floor. The backdrop and decor, vaguely jungle-like, adds well to the overall aesthetic. In the back, vending machines are there to supply your drink and there are a few stools to sit on. So yeah, "cafe" is certainly a bit of a stretch.
The smallest owl could fit in your pocket. The biggest look like they could take you on in a dark alley and win. They were all raised in captivity, around humans, so they're all really chill. I've done my best to identify what kind of owls they are, but I'm by no means an owl expert, and the signs were mostly in Japanese (feel free to fill in the types in the comments below).
They're incredibly expressive, these owls. Or at least, they're easy to anthropomorphize. Some look excited, others surprised, others angry. True to their labels, the friendly birds were friendly, the unfriendly ones... well, they kept to themselves. A few of them hang out on benches or stools, practically begging for a selfie (and then coyly looking the other way when you try).
If you want, you can even hold an owl while it rests on your gloved hand.
Owl Forest is one of several owl cafes around Tokyo (the company has another location in Akihabara), and one of an even greater number of animal cafes in general. Fancy a party with hedgehogs, cats, dogs, goats, snakes? There's probably a cafe that caters to it.
In all I spent about an hour with my new owl friends. I got some great photos, found out how fluffy some of them are, and had a lovely time.
It was a hoot.
In his alternate life as a travel writer, Geoff does tours of cool museums and locations around the world including nuclear submarines, medieval castles, iconic music studiosand more. You can follow his exploits on Twitter and Instagram, and on his travel blog BaldNomad. He also wrote a bestselling sci-fi novel. Got a tour-worthy spot you think he should check out? Let him know!