Japan is famous for many things: anime, kawaii culture, samurai, ninja, temples, tea, etc. Another concept that Japan popularised (but did not create) is animal cafés (Taiwan opened the first cat café in 1988). Today there are many animal cafés across Japan, such as the Owl Café Tenjin in downtown Fukuoka.
At first, I was somewhat hesitant about visiting an animal café. There has been much controversy around animal cafés: poor conditions, unhygienic environment, animal rights issues, animals being made to “perform” on command, etc. However, during my visit to Owl Café Tenjin, I did not see anything of concern. The café was clean, the animals looked well treated, and one of the staff on hand was obviously a medical professional (most likely a vet tech).
When we walked in, we first cleaned our shoes to ensure we didn’t track in dirt or parasites from outside. We then took a soft drink from the fridge and sat at a table. At animal cafés, it seems the drinks are very secondary. Many people don’t even drink their drinks while they are there since they are in bottles and you can take them with you. Instead, the focus is on the animals. After picking a table, one of the staff showed us what to do. She taught us how to approach the owls, how and where to stroke them (only the top of the head with one finger) and some signs to know if the owls had had enough.
After the introduction, we then could approach the owls with relative freedom, although a staff member was always near. The café is tiny and only had 4 or 5 tables, so there were only 3 staff members. However, while we were there, only 3 tables were ever occupied.
We first approached the smallest of the owls, of which there were three. If they are sleeping, do not mess with them (just like you wouldn’t want anyone to mess with you while you are asleep). Two of the smallest owls were sleeping but one was awake, so we interacted with him.
Afterwards, we went over to the three barn owls, who were nine months old. Two of them were sleeping but one was somewhat awake (dosing and then would wake up). We left them alone for the most part at this point and went to look at the bigger owls.
There were several large owls – I think at least 7. At first, I thought they were stuffed because they were in a separate room and all were asleep, so weren’t moving. However one shifted and as we entered the room (to look respectfully and not touch), one of them opened a weary eye. They had no interest in humans at that point though, so we looked for a couple of minutes and went back to our table to give others a chance to see them up close.
Just owls – or is it
What I was expecting at an owl café were owls. What I was not expecting were hedgehogs. It seems it is common practice in Japan at animal cafés to have multiple animals. In the case of Owl Café Tenjin, they also have hedgehogs. Since owls are usually nocturnal and are usually asleep, the hedgehogs (who are usually also nocturnal but some of these ones were very active) stepped in to take up your time.
After seeing the owls (and waiting for others to potentially wake up), we each received a hedgehog. My hedgehog was very feisty and wanted to explore everywhere – the table, me, the rest of the café. Here is a video of the hedgehog’s disregard for heights:
After about 10 minutes of running around, she decided she would in fact rather be asleep:
The Owls – Round 2
Just as the hedgehogs decided to have a nap, another of the small owls woke up. He was interested in seeing people and sitting on shoulders, so that is what he did:
Overall my impression of this owl café was good. I think the owls are well treated and well looked after. I also think the owls were respected by guests. Owls are revered in Japan not only for the same associations that Westerners have for them but also because they are believed to be lucky.
One thing that I was not necessarily a fan of was that the medium-sized owls had lines on their feet. The small owls were allowed to fly around if they wanted. The larger owls were in their own rooms. The medium-sized owls though were on lines and had a collar around one of their legs. I was not necessarily the most comfortable with that, but it did remind me of a visit to the Hawk Conservancy in the UK when I was 16. They also used lines on any birds that had direct interactions with the public for educational purposes. The set-up in the café was the same for holding them (see the featured image of me holding a barn owl). After all, owls are raptors and could do some damage if they wanted to.
I think in the future I won’t go to owl cafés or any other cafés where the animals are typically nocturnal. The staff look after them well but they may not have been comfortable in that kind of environment. I think I will stick with diurnal animals in the future.
How to visit
If you want to visit, the place to go is Owl Café Tenjin. Their website (in Japanese) is here. You pay per hour for being with the animals, which is currently (June 2022) ￥1,800 for 1 hour for adults. This includes one soft drink as well. They are open every day from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. They are located on the third floor of their building.
Want to see more from Japan and other countries? Explore my interactive travel map here! You can also read about the nearby otter café here.
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