For most people who are familiar with Japanese “kawaii” culture, the combination of coffee and cute animals is nothing new. Initially there were neko cafes in which patrons could drink tea surrounded by furry, lovable kittens. This trend quickly evolved to include dog cafes, rabbit cafes and even snake cafes. While walking haplessly through Kobe’s trendy Sakae-machi, I stumbled upon the latest iteration – an owl cafe. I personally find owls somewhat terrifying, but the inner reporter in me felt compelled to share the experience with our dedicated readers.
From the outside, you might almost miss this unassuming place, if not for the crowd of curious people who stop to figure out if it’s real or not. There is a small vending machine outside which dispenses tickets that you can redeem inside for drinks. In general almost all of the drinks are about 1000 yen, with certain premium drinks costing a little extra. This may seem steep, but it includes the entry free and when you think about how much it must cost to care for more than a dozen owls, it seems reasonable.
We were greeted at the entrance by a cheerful receptionist as well as several owls of various sizes. There were also little owl themed trinkets on the shelves along with many pamphlets, presumably about owls. She led us upstairs and seated us in a sort of spartan room with stools and a bare counter top, decorated sparsely with stuffed owls. The walls were decorated with hand written placards and notes about the birds as well as photos. Our drinks arrived shortly after. I have to say that this “owl cafe” leaned heavily on the “owl” part, and not so much on the “cafe” portion. If you go in expecting a chic ambiance and artisanal roasts, prepare to be disappointed. The coffee tasted of instant grounds and the tiny juice was polished off with the work of a single sip. But of course the main reason we came was for the owls, whose magnificence cannot fail to impress. Unless, of course, you are terrified of them, as I was.
On the third floor we were greeted by the resident owl expert. After a quick explanation of how to pet the owls, and which owls not to pet, she was available to answer any questions, of which I had plenty. She handled them all deftly. For example, she told us that the owls with black eyes such as barn owls, were truly nocturnal, whereas the owls with yellow eyes, such as a screech owls and horned owl, are also active during the day. I deduced for myself that owls with black eyes are somewhat cute, whereas owls with yellow eyes are marauding sky monsters. She explained that most of the owls are fed a diet of quails and the occasional rodent. As a reporter who asks the hard questions, I asked her if the owls vomit out the undigested remains. She explained that the owls “regurgitate” the remains, not vomit them. Potato, potato I say, especially from the viewpoint of the quail.
At first I was somewhat disappointed that the cafe portion and the owl petting portion of the shop were on separate floors, until one of the larger owls spread his wings out, and rather violently shit all over the counter. It may have been difficult to discern his runny bird poo from, say, a cafe au lait.
The whole experience was a bit underwhelming to be honest, but I didn’t have such high hopes in the first place. If you happen to find yourself in Kobe with a bit of free time, there are worse ways to spend 1000 yen.