Coming off a high from my most recent visit to a cat cafe in Seoul, we were ready to check out more quirky animal cafes. I was so excited to hear Japan had owl cafes and knew I had to see what they were all about. Boy was I in for a surprise.
After arriving to Osaka, we made our way to Owl Family cafe, arguably the most well known cafe of this sort in the city. They actually have multiple locations throughout Japan. We followed the instructions and arrived early to get the first reservation at noon. I even got a quick glimpse of a bunch of owls, super exciting.
How this place works is that you get a reservation, either by booking online or showing up early in person. The staff members will put you on their list for the next open time slot, which happen each hour. They only allow for 15-20 people per one hour time slots. You pay by ordering a drink at a higher price and have to leave when the hour is up.
After successfully making reservations we had 40 minutes to kill. We walked around to Shinto Shrine nearby and admired it’s beauty.
Before we knew it our time was ready. We were ushered into a table one reservation at a time behind a barrier. Scott and I sat down and noticed two dozen owls, all of different breeds and all so beautiful just sitting on small ledges next to the walls blocked by sunlight on the otherside of the barrier. I was still really elated to be next to so many owls.
We were told no photography and videos allowed, at least not until the end when people could interact and hold the owls. This was when we turned off our camera. After they asked our drink order we had to listen to instructions. Then we started to notice some troubling things. During these next three minutes we decided to abruptly get up and leave. It was a really awkward moment and I felt relieved as soon as we got out.
We were maybe in the cafe for a total of 4 minutes. That’s all it took for us to see that these magnificent animals were stressed and didn’t want to be touched or looked at. Staff members were moving owls around and they were trying to fly away. But of course they couldn’t. How could they? They were tied up without an inch to move. They were trying to fly away even when they were just perched on their ledge next to other owls of all different breeds. Our smiles quickly went away and we felt really uncomfortable being a part of this treatment to the animals.
We both had a disgusting feeling inside of us and looked at eachother at the same time and wondered what to do. We were worried it was too late to leave because we were already sitting down. We wanted out and didn’t know what to do. As Scott and I were trying to figure out WTF to do, we were told to be quiet by the lady giving instructions. That was our cue to get up and leave. Everyone stared.
As we were outside we both were talking about how stupid we felt that we didn’t think about the circumstances these owls must be in to be living in a cafe. What were we thinking? We were ignorant. These are wild animals, not domesticated cats or dogs, stressed out, all mixed together with other breeds of owls, tied up to a post in a window for people to touch. Even when staff members were touching the owls they would duck away until it was out of their control and they would be touched.
These are not rehabilitated owls or rescued owls, these are owls who were just taken from their home and tied up like prisoners without even an inch to move. What the hell were we thinking?
We were instantly reminded of tiger sanctuaries in Thailand, how was this different? I don’t think the owls were drugged like the tigers, but they were all chained up for people to play with. Again, we felt sick to our stomachs that we didn’t think about this before going.
We did the only thing we could do in the situation we got ourselves in.
We made the regretful mistake of going without research or putting any thought into what would make an owl cafe. We were already there. There was nothing else we could do but walk out.
We are quite ashamed that we made this mistake. Hopefully other people are smarter than us, or hopefully someone interested in seeing an owl cafe comes across this post or a similar opinion and give it a second thought. Regardless how this post makes us look, we want to help let others know. Don’t make the same mistake as we did!
This also goes along with something that we have been saying lately about elephant riding and tiger sanctuary tourism. It’s hard to know about all the atrocities going on in the world, but once you do find out speak with your money.
Being an animal lover and traveler, I need to educate myself properly before almost making another mistake like this again.
Have you ever made a similar mistake? Or do you know of any other tourism attractions that aren’t really ethical?
Let us know in the comments below, we’d love to learn about it.
In case you were unaware of unethical animal tourism practices, here is a great start to learning about the most common ones from Eluxe Magazine.