Monday 26 February 2018

Do you love owls? A visit to this Tokyo cafe might just be the hoot you need...

Travel Talk

Mice work if you can get it: Owls wait patiently for their treats in Akiba Fukurou
Mice work if you can get it: Owls wait patiently for their treats in Akiba Fukurou

Joe Kennedy

Cat cafes, where you could have a coffee in their company, have become passé. There have been moves to be amused by other species.

Last year, I wrote about a place in Madrid where moggies would purr about your ankles as you sipped a latte. The idea first found expression in Tokyo and gathered momentum.

I awaited news from Dublin that some cat fancier had assembled their precious pets in a cosy spot for paying customers to stroke and talk to. But not a meow.

In my years at the newspaper grind I knew colleagues to whom cats were an important accessory to their daily lives.

Of course, there are thousands of cat lovers who are not necessarily media persons. But if a cat cafe opened in Ireland it did not come to my attention.

Anyway, it's past tense now, as are bunny rabbit cafes (they followed the cats) and even snakeoramas, apparently. How do you pet a python? Hello Monty!

The innovative Japanese have now come up with an owl cafe. No, not just another aul' caff. This one features birds of a feather that, in the wild, usually range silently at night.

I must point out that I have not been to Tokyo. My information comes from a reliable source

Two newsmen I know married Japanese, while, years ago, I had students from that country in my care. The wives, I recall, were persons of exceptional courtesy. My students were seriously conscientious, possessed excellent fountain pens and had hand-held devices that translated, voice to screen, aspects of my boring lectures!

Time for a coffee,or, rather a water, then. There is a district in Tokyo called Akihabara which is regarded as an "otaku", a zone for fans of 'manga' comics, electronics, video games, cartoon robot models and such. But down a quiet side street, away from the flashing neon, is a more soothing refuge.

At Akiba Fukurou, patrons may spend the equivalent of about €10 an hour sitting among a variety of owls, both native and European, which quietly gaze at customers with their great owl eyes - the birds' heads can turn 270 degrees, courtesy of 14 neck vertebrae (we have seven).

There is no coffee, just bottled water. There are 25 well-behaved owls in this quiet place and patrons can choose one to sit at the table where its feathers may be stroked. Suitable soothing noises may be made for an hour and then the proprietor or his assistant will take a photograph of you and your new feathered friend.

What do the owls get out of it? Pink, frozen mice, apparently.

The café owner, Shusaku Yasu, is an owl enthusiast, obviously, whose birds are of varied breeds and all have names, from Xavier to Sweet Potato. It's hard to tell if they recognize them.

Yasu says he gets his birds from a breeder friend and they are imprinted on humans as soon as they hatch out. They know no other species. One patron said she felt sad for them, sitting there on captive lines, but they didn't look like they gave two hoots!

The café is popular. People keep returning for the tranquility, they say, one has been back about 50 times - and there are other animal cafes in Tokyo. But, even so, as one observer noted, there's no record of anyone muttering the immortal line, "owl be back".

Sunday Independent

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