Cat Cafés are over – next year we'll all be drinking tea with owls
Photo: Laura Martin
Mozart is playing. I'm sipping San Pellegrino. My lunch date is sitting so close to me, he's practically on my shoulder. Then he poos on the floor. The most shameful thing? This isn't even the worst date I've been on.
Thankfully, my date is actually an owl, as I'm sitting in an owl cafe in Tokyo – currently the coolest place to hang out in Japan.
While London might just be getting its head around its first cat cafe, the Japanese have been all over them since 2005. Many people aren't allowed to keep pets in their apartments, so cat cafes are the perfect place to have a bit of hang time with some moggies and get a cup of tea, too.
Studies have shown that playing with a pet can “elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax” – so it's easy to see why these animal-loving venues have rocketed in popularity, with more than 40 cat cafes in Tokyo alone.
However cats have been declared “old news” in Japan and this year it's all about our feathered friends instead.
I paid a visit to Akiba Fukurou in Tokyo, one of four owl cafes in the city, to find out just how owls feel about the whole leisure-time-with-humans thing.
I pay the 1500 yen fee (about £8) and enter the small cafe. Immediately I'm greeted with the strains of classical music – no pop music for these posh birds. It's all very zen, with everything painted in pastel colours and atomisers misting away to create a calm space. I'm instantly told to lower my voice as I'm handed an instruction manual.
We're offered a soft drink, then told we can pet the owls very gently as they sit on the perches around the room. The other 10 guests in the pre-booked slot walk around touching the owls and taking pictures (no flash allowed) and we're all told to choose “our favourite” so we can hold them.
Good thing they warn us about the birds' toilet habits – one of the 15 owls who live in the cafe chooses to relieve itself almost straight away on to the kitty-litter covering the floor. Everyone laughs nervously.
I envision having a scary Tippi Hedren moment like in Hitchcock's The Birds when I'm handed my tiny owl. But instead he sits calmly on my arm, then turns his back on me. He isn't too happy about being the subject of an owl selfie, either.
One of the guests tells me: “This is my second time coming here. It's nice and calm and the owls are so cute. It's nice to be able to pet them."
We're encouraged to have a seat and enjoy our soft drinks with the birds perched upon us. The birds are fed dead mice and chicken while we sip on ice cold refreshments. Thankfully, no party snacks.
The owner tells me: “I chose to open an owl cafe because owls are very special. They make people smile. I trust the owls and they trust me. They are mainly from Japan, but some others are from London and Berlin. My favourite owl here is called Katsuo – the Japanese word for fish.”
After an hour of coo-ing and twit-twooing is up, we choose an owl to be photographed with by the cafe's camera. We're given a laminated copy of the picture on leaving, with the phrase “special memories” branded across it. Special, yes. It's definitely one of the more bizarre ways to spend a lunchtime, too.