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I went to a Japanese owl café and felt my soul take wing
Sorry, cat cafés.
One of the many novelties that Japan excels in is themed cafes. Those of the feline persuasion have delighted thoroughly in the widespread cat cafés extending far beyond the country and making parts of Asia seem like a particularly active Neko Atsume game.
The animal-themed café trend now sweeping the region in a similar fashion happens to be owl cafés. Each shop varies in its focus on that second word, however—walking up the five flights of steps in a building as tall and slim as the sliver of street below, I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d get my caffeinated needs met at Fukuroukafe mo fumo fu, the lone owl cafe in the Shinjuku neighborhood of Tokyo.
My group was the last of the evening, taking the 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. time slot to ensure maximum owl activity. They are nocturnal, after all, but also so perma-chill that it’s hard to really tell when our adorable feathered friends are “up.” We paid our $16 entry fee, walked in, and were presented with “complimentary” drink options. Some owl cafes have owl lattes with steamed-milk art even more kawaii than the owls themselves. This was not one of those places. It’s impossible to complain, though, because they more than delivered on the whole “having real live owls” thing.
Beverage selection was on par with street vending machines. I picked a small metal bottle of black coffee and noticed a tiny blue sticker on its cap, as marked as myself and my American compatriots in a room full of squealing locals delighting in putting baby owls on their heads. Contrary to my initial jet-lagged thoughts, the owls weren’t trying to roofie me. They were just angling for my support. Each sticker was to be used to vote for my favorite owl upon leaving. Which of the eight would get all my love?
Make no mistake: Though the owners of the owl café are way into determining a fan-favorite owl, the owls themselves don’t really give a flying fuck. They’re of the “you do you” mentality. The barn owls were pretty content sleeping as much as humanly possible, while the stoic great horned owls kind of put up with patrons when not goofing off with each other. We were instructed to lightly pet the tops of the owls’ heads and occasionally asked to lift our shoulders and elbows as if unveiling our true wingspans for the owls to perch atop.
The lone warning in the owl café, and what proved to be a rather weird omen, was fairly basic: Everybody poops, and owls do so without modesty. Cotton bed pads were laid out directly under the owl perches so they could do their damn thing even if you were watching. Even better, though, was when they shit on you. It’s considered good luck, though it’s unclear how long it lasts. I narrowly avoided some dank owl crap only to be scolded by a lone café worker who told me that by not standing there and taking it, I was effectively killing my own blessing. Well, shit.
A cute but decidedly weird-looking baby owl named Hise ended up capturing my heart. He chilled on my hand at one point, and I’ve got a sweet Instagram video of my fingers caressing his fluffy owl head to prove that homie and I forged a psychic connection. That charm hasn’t been lost on those who’ve gone so far as to purchase owls from the café, starting at a cool $425 and up. Hise was not for sale, but oh was he tempting.
Fukuroukafe mo fumo fu will be celebrating its one-year anniversary in September. Voting for Hise felt like contributing to its legacy. Was it a cooler experience than the cat café I’d visited in Malaysia? To quote Outkast’s great owl ode, yeah, hootie hoo.
Photo by April Siese
A former Weekend Editor at the Daily Dot, April Siese's reporting covers everything from technology and politics to web culture and humor. Her work has been published by Bustle, Uproxx, Death and Taxes, Rolling Stone, the Daily Beast, Thrillist, Atlas Obscura, and others. Siese joined Quartz in December 2016.