Yes, an owl cafe. Because cat cafes are so last decade.
Let's make a few things absolutely clear.
1. I'm not a Harry Potter fan. The books put me to sleep so effectively that I nearly drowned in the bathtub when reading one while having a soak. The movies I found so incredibly boring that I actually took a nap in the movie theater. And then again at home when we tried watching another installment on DVD.
I didn't even know that Harry Potter had a pet owl, or somesuch. I only found out last weekend.
And if I hadn't visited Ikefukuro, I'd still be living in blissful ignorance.
2. I don't like zoos. I don't like petting zoos either. And I think that circuses that use animals should be closed immediately and their owners taken out back and put in the cages. And made to do tricks for the amusement of the masses.
3. I am not a vegetarian, but in my own hypocritical way I love animals. I believe that all animals deserve to live comfortably and be treated with dignity and respect.
4. Only domesticated animals should be kept as pets.
5. Owls are bloody damn cute.
So now that you know where I stand, you may be wondering what the hell was I doing at the owl cafe in Ikebukuro last Saturday?
And to be honest, I am wondering the exact same thing right now.
I guess I had to satisfy my morbid curiosity and make sure I'd be sufficiently depressed for weeks afterwards.
The name of the cafe, which by the way is not a cafe at all but a petting zoo in disguise, is Ikefukuro.
It's located in Ikebukuro in Tokyo. And "fukurou" means "owl" in Japanese.
So, Ike + fukuro? Get it?
The place is about a 10 minute walk from the station. You gather, every hour on the hour, in front of this Lawson:
Next to this sign:
You make your booking on the internet (via email) and once your reservation is confirmed, you get the details of this designated pickup place.
Bookings are done in hourly slots. One hour on a weekday costs 1400 yen. One hour on a weekend or a public holiday will set you back 1600 yen. The price includes 1 bottled drink. This place is a "cafe" only in the name. There is no food or drink service.
Payments are cash only and are collected half way through your hourly slot. If you post something on social media using this hashtag #ikefukurocafe, you are eligible for a 100 yen discount.
You can get all the relevant info on the cafe's website - Ikefukuro Owl Cafe in Ikebukuro.
So anyway, you are waiting by the sign, and when it's time, a staffer appears with a booking list, calls out the names and leads you to the tiniest elevator ever. Seriously, this elevator is big enough for 4 skinny people packed very tightly together, or one oversized guest.
And then it's just playtime for you and the owls, and for everybody else who booked the same time slot.
There are big owls there:
And small owls:
Yes, poop happens, be prepared. Wet wipes are available for your convenience, but consider yourself warned. And it seems that the smaller the owl, the bigger the poop.
And now let me get depressed for a long, sad while...
I understand these are not wild animals. I understand they were bred in captivity and would die from starvation if they were released into the wilderness.
I understand they were meant to be pets. And they are treated as pets. In a petting zoo. Because, let's not kid ourselves, this is exactly what this place is.
A petting zoo full of captive birds of prey.
Owls are not easy pets to handle. They need lots of space. They need to stretch their wings and get sufficient exercise to stay healthy and happy.
Owl pet experts say that an owl needs enough space to flap its wings at least 5 times when flying around. Otherwise there is a very high risk of developing chest infections. Owls that don't have sufficient exercise get depressed and develop a multitude of health problems.
I have tried to ask one of the staffers if these owls get a chance to fly around and act like birds once in a while. She looked at me like she didn't quite understand my question, but answered "yes" anyway, just in case.
I looked on their website to see if there is any information about what these owls do and where they are kept when they are not working. Unsurprisingly, there isn't any.
If these poor owls spend their entire time in that tiny "cafe", I feel so sad and so sorry for them. If it was me, I'd rather chew my leg off and bleed to death than live like that.
Yes, they are bloody damn cute.
But it was still a heartbreaking experience.
The petting zoo, pardon me, the cafe, also sells owl related merchandise. I didn't buy any, and now I am glad that I didn't. I might be a hypocrite (because even captive owls are cute), but I'm not a total idiot.
I asked if they had this for sale:
Luckily they didn't. Phew! Otherwise, I'm sure I would have gotten one.
To sum it up, would I recommend going there?
If your conscience can handle it, then yes, by all means - visit.
The staffers looked well trained in handling the owls and clearly cared about the birds very much,
The birds were pretty tame and very well behaved (apart from an occasional shit here and there).
And did I mention they were also bloody damn cute as well?
Here you can see where the cafe is located:
Hint - it's the green sign in the window.
Now... in more pressing news...
I'm out of Lindt balls. How did that happen????