Aarian Marshall is a transportation reporter at WIRED and former CityLab contributor. She lives in San Francisco.
Move over, kitties.
Tokyo, Paris, Madrid, Vienna, London, San Francisco. If you’ve spent some time on the Internet, you should spot what these metros have in a common: cat cafes. These are establishments where felines and humans can mingle with cozy cups of tea, for a fee. They are a bit of a regulatory nightmare. They are also old news.
Now, all of Tokyo’s cool kids (let’s be real: mostly tourists) are headed to the city’s owl cafes.
One would think the cafe needs no raison d’être beyond “owls are super cute and fun to play with,” but the birds have a particular significance in Japan (and among Drake fans). In Japanese, “owl” is translated as fukurou, which is closely related to the word fuku, or “luck.” Those wishing for a little extra fortune might tote around a symbolic owl figurine or pennant.
CNN recently took a trip to the city’s most popular owl establishment, Akiba Fukurou, and discovered a 400-square-foot room filled with about 25 owls. Patrons can spend up to an hour hanging with and petting the owl of their choice, all for the low, low price of 1,500 yen (about $12). The catch is that this owl cafe doesn’t actually serve café: The only drink option is bottled water, though multiple brands are available.
The new breed of animal cafe has raised the hackles of some animal rights advocates. Kent Knowles of the Raptor Conservancy of Virginia told Audubon Magazine that owls are not meant to be “indoor companions.” They’re nocturnal, for one, but they are also stubborn and easily distracted—not ideal coffee dates.
In Japan, however, critter cafes span the animal kingdom, and are permitted and licensed by the authorities. If owls don’t cut it, Falconer’s Cafe offers, yes, falcons, Kotori Cafe has parrots, parakeets and cockatoos, and Ra.a.g.f. has bunnies. The acronym stands for “Rabbit and grow fat,” which is very excellent advice and a sign that we should all go to Tokyo.