Claire Brothers is a travel consultant in our Bristol office. As well as having spent seven years in Germany and three in California, Claire lived in Kyoto, Japan, for five years – where she especially enjoying eating street food, trawling antiques markets and visiting Osaka SpaWorld. Though she is now based in the UK, she recently returned to Japan to do some research for InsideJapan Tours – including a very important visit to a Fukuoka Owl Café…
Who doesn’t love a good owl? With their appealing expressions and inherent charm it is hard to believe these feathery delights are in fact skilled predators and considered by many cultures to be a bad omen. Surely an omen of impending adorableness would be more reasonable? However, defence of the owl’s good name was far from my mind as I recently strolled through the streets of Fukuoka, one of Kyushu’s most vibrant cities. It was my first visit and I decided on an afternoon of exploring, by which of course, I mean shopping.
As I walked through a covered shopping street I found a shop selling butsudan, the shrines that Japanese families keep at home. Inside was a grandmother and two little girls dressed in stunning kimono. Obachan was too shy but the girls happily posed for a photo.
As I continued along the street I noticed a queue outside a café with an owl logo. Being both British and a fan of owls, I was compelled to join the queue. The curtains were closed but after a short wait the door opened and a member of staff stepped outside. It was in this moment that I saw them. Through the crack in the door I spied an oasis of owls. Large owls with pointy ears, tiny owls with teddy bear faces, owls as far as my far-too-excited eyes could see.
With my owl-loving heart beating wildly in my chest I approached the member of staff and asked if it would be possible for me to make a reservation. She explained that they only take reservation on the day and that the next available slot was in one hour. She also handed me a leaflet to read with prices and instructions.
Fukuro no Mise (Owl shop) is an owl café where you can pay either 1,000yen (about £5.50) for a soft drink or 1,200yen (about £7) for a beer. This includes an hour of time with the owls. About 15 people are allowed at the café at a time and both adults and children are allowed. The leaflet explained that we would have time to drink our drinks and hear instructions on how to handle the owls on the upper level of the café before we could interact with the owls on the lower level.
And so, I was in. Whilst the description of how to handle the owls was in rapid-fire Japanese, they provided a handout with instructions in English too. The most important point when handling owls is not to touch their face, chest or feet. You must also hold your arm at a right angle to your body and with one finger extended if the owl is small. This helps the owls to keep balance so they can relax. You stroke the owls gently with the back of your hand. Before stroking a small owl, you should make one of your fingers into a hook shape and show it to the owl. A human hand looks gigantic to a small owl so doing this convinces the owl you are only touching it with a small finger and you are not about to crush it with your human monster paw.
After drinking my iced coffee in record-breaking time I proceeded down to the owls. There were five owls, each being handled by a member of staff, and the other owls were
“holiday owls”. This meant they were hanging out and we could photograph them but were told strictly not to touch or disturb them otherwise. From there everyone patiently waited for whichever owl they wanted to interact with. You could hold the larger owls on your arm and the smaller ones could go on your arm, shoulder or head.
I met them all. Excited faces ahead….
I’m aware of the issues surrounding any kind of animal café and I can understand the objection some people may have to a café which houses wild animals. All I can say is that the owls seemed relaxed and at ease with the environment and did not display any typical signs of stress in captivity like pulling out feathers. The staff seemed to genuinely care for the owls and the emphasis was on always being respectful and considerate of them as animals. As it should be!