“Don’t count your owls before they are delivered.” ~J.K. Rowling
But count them when you see them! It seems that animal cafes are becoming much more deeply ingrained in Japanese culture. While still rare on Okinawa, it’s not hard to find a “Cat Café” in most any major city one can visit in the main islands of Japan. But that’s only where the idea just began. Snakes, lizards, goats, penguins, rabbits and squirrels all have their places now at cafes where animal lovers can call.
However, what is NEW, at least to Jody and I, is the idea of an “Owl Cafe.” Many say the popularity of the Harry Potter series has helped in creating this new expansion. The Japanese, undeniable leaders in the strange and novel (see Kawaii Monster Café and Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto for more of Japan’s cutting edge culture), have managed another kawaii-cute breakthrough featuring owls!
The BiBi & GeorGe Kobe Fukurou (Japanese for “owl”) Café is a small establishment located just outside Chinatown in Kobe, Japan, and offers a number of different types of owls from around the world.
The experience of one’s visit begins with attempting to operate a ticket vending machine outside on the ground, street floor. Here you can purchase tickets and prepay for drinks ahead, but you’ll need help, to which the staff is only too eagerly and happy. I believe the minimum amount of time is 1 hour, which costs 1,000 yen (about $10 USD), perfectly reasonable for a chance to see rare birds up close and personal.
The cafe has three floors. Entering the narrow shop, you’ll meet Sakura, apparently the café’s greeter…who is apparently unimpressed with the guests and all passers-by. The first floor seems to be just an entrance lobby for the café, but does include a varied and eclectic selection of owl-related goods that has to been seen to be appreciated.
After climbing a very narrow stairway, the second floor is attained. Here there are no owls, only seats for guests to enjoy any beverages they may have bought with their entrance. The prime attraction – owls, await you on the third floor, and after leaving your bags on the second, another narrow set of stairs offers access. The main aviary is there where about 15 or so resident birds are located.
Kobe‘s first owl cafe boasts a wide array of owls, including Western Screech, Eagle, Snowy, Barn and Tawny owls. The room was long and very narrow, but clean and tidy, and numerous staff were on hand to help with and discuss the various owls, but only in very broken English. Bright sunlight was streaming unchecked through the room’s windows, and the overhead fluorescent lights seems to be unnecessarily too bright for nocturnal animals with such sensitive eyes.
Behind each owl is a montage of kawaii-cute pictures of that particular bird, along with some basic information, like name, weight, and type of owl and their habitat. Most of the information is in Japanese, but there is some basic English offered. Each owl is featured on the café’s website, where English can be selected as your language, but most of the detailed information remains untranslated.
We received some quick instructions on how to properly interact with the owls, like only gently pet them on the top of their heads, and leave them alone if they don’t wished to be touched. The guidance is provided via a handout, in English. One of the owls was “on break,” and was not to be touched for his/her hour off the clock; still others were sleeping.
The assorted owls have beautiful feathers of all colors and patterns, and are much softer to the touch than I would have imagined. Although at first you may be timid about their long talons and sharp beaks, there really was no issue of potential harm from either. While each owl has their own unique personality and responds to touch and attention in different fashion, they all seemed perfectly unaggressive. A flapping of large and strong wings was all it took for guests to prudently withdrawal their hands!
A staff member will offer you an aviary glove and place an owl on your arm for photos. Such animals seem to offer an almost universal mystique, and some are adorable while others are downright beautiful. With their haughty attitude, they really are cats, but with wings.
It certainly is a unique opportunity to see and touch all these beautiful creatures. But unlike a cat café, these animals are not domesticated and probably not tame, and it is not normal for them to be kept inside as, well, prisoners, chained at their ankles to bars, negating not only their getaways, but even their movement about the space. I feel bad enough about keeping my cats indoors (and they are all indoor/outdoor cats), but for these wild animals, it seems, in a sense, juts wrong. Especially since they are such nocturnal creatures who are forced awake and on display primarily during daylight hours.
The owls seem to be well-fed and well-care for, however, something that can be quite challenging from what I’ve read. The fact, though, that they can’t fly free, seems so repressive (see Whale of a Time for more on a similar situation).
But the chance to get up close and personal with these magnificent creatures is a novel opportunity that shouldn’t be missed…at least once!
Bibi and George Owl Cafe
Opening: Tues-Sunday 11am-7pm (last entry 7pm)
Cover charge is Y1000 for one hour
Chuo-ku, Kobe, Sakaemachi-dori 1-2-14, Umifuku Bldg 1-3F, located in Motomachi
Reservations are accepted via the shop’s website or by phone, or you can just show up.