Owl Cafés

owlcafe

Looking for a date? A close and personal opportunity to gaze into the big eyes of some cutie?

Don’t expect much of a conversationalist. However, he or she may be willing to clasp your wrist. The possibility of posing for a picture or two is not out of the question either (but sorry, no flash photography). Did I mention that this acquaintance can be flighty?

Oh, and one more thing. Visits can get a little messy. More on that later. Apparently, lots of strings are attached—literally—in the owl cafés of Japan.

Who-hooo Gives a Hoot?

In the past few years Japan has spawned many animal-themed cafés, including those dedicated to goats (1), rabbits, goats, cats, and lizards (2). As for birds, parrots (3), falcons (4), and penguins (5) have become part of the scene. Yet none compare to owls, a sensation all their own. That trend has garnered attention from major news organizations, inspired visits from bloggers, and triggered criticism from wildlife conservation groups.

The fascination that residents of cities like Tokyo have toward owls, of course, is understandable. (London, UK, had its own controversial stint last year.)  In most cases, urbanization and technology have widened the rift between people and nature. Yet the human urge to reconnect persists. Owls are appealing because they paradoxically embody aspects that are both accessible and remote.

In fact, few animals seem as simultaneously familiar and strange as these avian creatures. On the one hand, owls are recognizable to just about anybody, even folks with only a cursory knowledge of birds. The frontal setting of the eyes and surrounding facial disks give the creatures’ heads a slight human appearance. Nevertheless, owls also seem exotic and mysterious. That most species are nocturnal and hence hidden from view must largely account for this. Their amazing head-turning abilities—a range of 270 degrees or three-quarters of a circle—and strange assortment of cries have to be factors as well. Add, too, the representations of owls throughout popular culture, most notably Harry Potter, and in mythology, including that of Japan’s own Ainu people (6).

Too Close for Comfort

At the owl cafés, the birds are tethered in dimly lit establishments that serve beverages. Visits last around an hour, with the opportunity to usually get close to a more than one fukurō (the Japanese word for “owl”). Supervision is customary. After all, unlike many birds including other raptors, owls do not have an extensive history of domestication.

Situations can get messy, so visitors have to be mindful of more than just the creatures’ sharp beaks and talons. Owls poop whenever the mood strikes. This means that coffee stains are the least of one’s worries. Some visitors seem to take the splatterings in stride, reporting that getting dinged by droppings is considered good luck (7). Wow, talk about marketing!

Of course, that people in metropolitan areas are excited about wildlife is great. However, there are much better alternatives than these cafés. In the United States, where for legal reasons owl cafés do not exist, raptor centers are a good option. Another possibility is going on a nature hike at dusk with friends or while camping. Why not see these amazing creatures without any artificial barriers at all? Make a “date” to hear and glimpse an owl in its own habitat.

Sources:

  1. Opar, A. “Japanese Cafés Use Live Owls to Attract Customers”, 11/11/2013. Audubon magazine: audubon.org/news/japanese-cafes-use-live-owls-attract-customers
  2. McKirdy, E. “Night Life: Owl Cafés are Tokyo’s Latest Animal Café Craze”, 12/10/2015. CNN: cnn.com/2015/12/09/travel/tokyo-akiba-fukuro-owl-cafe/.
  3. Kugan, J. “Owl Cafés in Japan are the Latest Hoot!”, 8/7/2014. The Star Online: http://www.thestar.com.my/lifestyle/features/2014/08/07/owl-cafes-in-japan-are-the-latest-hoot/.
  4. Lombardi, L., Associated Press. “Owl Café a Hoot in Tokyo”, 2/1/2015. The Columbus Dispatch: dispatch.com/content/stories/travel/2015/02/01/1-hoo-knew-that-interacting-with-owls-would-be-a-hoot.html.
  5. Opar, A.
  6. Morris, D. Owl. London: Reaktion Books, 2009. pp. 57–58.
  7. Siese, A. “I Went to a Japanese Owl Café and Felt my Soul Take Wing”, 1/31/2016. The Daily Dot. http://www.dailydot.com/lol/japan-owl-cafe/.
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21 thoughts on “Owl Cafés

  1. The fascination is real. Here in my area, the Armand Bayou Nature Center sponsors evening/nighttime “owl prowls” to provide an up-close-and-personal experience. They last about an hour and a half, and the one I went on was rich in hootings (and some hollerings from the kids, until they were shushed.)
    The guides were knowledgeable, and I’m sure it was far less stressful on the owls.

    I had no idea such things existed. It’s good that people want to encounter nature, but there’s not much “natural” about those owl cafés.

    1. Our local Audubon chapter recently held an “owl prowl” as well. Although I wasn’t involved in that excursion, I think those kinds of activities are wonderful for folks of all ages, but especially for getting young people interested in learning about and respecting nature. Such encounters have to be a lot less stressful and intrusive on the owls. What’s better than seeing an animal in its own natural environment? We occasionally catch sight of owls near our home (including once a great horned owl). Hearing them, of course, is much more common. Perhaps our area will have more frequent “owl prowls” like the Armand Bayou Nature Center. I’m all for that!

  2. Interesting post. I’d heard of cat cafés but not owl cafés. I like your idea of the forest owl “date” better. Excellent painting! It’s a hoot (of course 🙂 )! Karen Blixen (Out of Africa) had an owl pet. I don’t know how well they got along.

    1. “Out of Africa” is a classic, but I’ve neither seen the film nor read the book. And I had not heard about the pet owl. Thanks for letting me know. I’ll have to check that out!

  3. Very nice and so net to learn about owl cafés.. Athena, i.e Minerva would approve … she was the Goddess of wisdom and her symbol was the owl
    All my best wishes. Aquileana 😀

    1. Thanks, Aquileana. Indeed—the Athenians loved owls! Images of the bird appeared on the city-states’ coinage. There’s even a tale recorded of owls being used in ancient battle.
      Take care, Michael

  4. Aussies are a pet-loving nation and here in Melbourne often on a weekend you will visit your local café that has tables outside and see lots of dogs; often the café owners will supply bowls of water for them! This is where I like to observe how much like their pets their owners look…it’s fascinating! But, I digress. I can appreciate the Japanese owl café…for me, often these things are a sign that it is about not getting time to visit nature, much like bringing a small farmyard of animals for children to see and pet whenever the local fair has arrived. Seeing them in the wild ‘tho is best…love the humour in your article and painting…I wonder if that’s chocolate in the mugs?! 😀

    1. Janina, I’m glad that you enjoyed the article and artwork. I’ve seen owners bring their dogs outside of cafés here, too. The owners will sip on beverages while the dogs lap water. Unfortunately, we just can’t have that kind of relationship with owls. Even those raised by humans will eventually escape to the wild. The birds are still beautiful to watch from afar!

      1. Oh, I agree with you re owl cafes. I believe no bird should be caged, whether in an actual cage or in a cafe. But, the Japanese are a quirky lot! LOL. I’m sure this phase will peter out eventually…I hope!

      2. If laws were not already in place in the U.S., I think we would also have owl cafés. (After all, there are cat cafés.) The U.K. even had one dedicated to owls for a brief while. Human nature is quirky!

      3. Yes, we are an odd lot, aren’t we!! LOL. I wonder what would happen here if people started bringing their cats on leads to cafes…

      4. Us on leads…perhaps…LOL! Cats on leads…I guess you need to view some cat-focused blogs here on WP. I have no trouble with that idea!

  5. I always feel uneasy about owl cafes since I think it can give people the wrong impression. However, I do understand it brings a little bit of wildlife to a very metropolitan community. It would be nice if they paired up with the local birdwatching chapter or society in that they can advertise about bird walks and owl prowls. That kind of thing might not be very popular in Japan, but hey, everything is worth a try. 🙂 Thanks for following my blog by the way.

    1. Yeah, the cafés themselves are not a good idea, but they may at least provide a gateway for some visitors to get involved in more beneficial ways. I’m optimistic. Thanks as well for following my blog, and I hope your friend is doing better.

      1. Thanks. She is, she said that she’s moving out from the ICU today and should be able to go home soon after a bit more recovery time.

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