Ernie goes to Tokyo pt. 6 (Jun 2015)

Tokyo 2015-199

Akiba Fukurou is an owl café in a quiet corner of Akihabara. Reservations are a must due to limited space, and Ashley and I booked a 1-hour noontime slot on our last day in Tokyo. Our plan for the day was to take it easy in the morning, check out of our hotel, get a nice breakfast, buy our bus tickets to the airport, and then head on over to hang out with the owls. Instead, we awoke in a panic at 11:00 AM, hastily packed up the rest of our things, ran out the door to get bus tickets at the nearby station, and then hopped in a cab to Akihabara. We arrived with minutes to spare, joining the short line of visitors by the front door.

The café was a small, quiet space, all light tones and soft surfaces, and lots of sunshine filtered in through soft curtains. Along the walls, wooden frames covered in a thick-woven material served as perches for Akiba Fukurou‘s sleepy denizens. Before we were able to get up close and personal with the owls, however, the handlers instructed us on how to hold them, where we could pet them, and how to respond when they get spooked and fly off. There were about 10-12 of us in that time slot, a mixture of locals and tourists, and everybody went for the small and mid-sized round ones, including us. I picked up Snowman, a cheeky orange-brown character, and Ashley chose Mr. Yamashita, a surly-looking little bundle of feathers. They hopped purposefully around our hands and wrists, looking around curiously and nipping at each other, while we petted their velvety soft heads.

After a little while, we traded in Snowman and Mr. Yamashita for Charles Xavier, a beautiful black and white owl with big dark eyes, and Kuppii, a scruffy, mustachioed little thing with a perpetually surprised expression on his face. Charles Xavier was a proud owl, standing tall and still, surveying the room behind uncompromising eyes. Across the table, Kuppii wasn’t quite as confident and assured, swiveling his head nervously to catch any and all distractions, following sounds and sights with his huge dilated pupils.

Partway through our 1-hour timeslot, I noticed that the barn owl corner wasn’t getting any love, so I went around to the back of the café and hung out with Bonito. She was a stunning bird, her feathers the colour of coffee with freshly mixed cream, her heart shaped face with just a hint of lavender, and those big beautiful eyes that stared right through me.

Ashley got to hold Snowman for a while near the end, probably our favourite owl that day, and I had a chance to spend a bit of time with Mr. Yamashita, but our 1 hour at the café ended all too soon. Like our previous visit to Harry, the hedgehog and bunny café in Roppongi, we were too engrossed with the owls to bother with the drinks that came with our ticket, but the owls alone were worth the price of admission. It was a little bit surprising to come to Tokyo and have these wildlife experiences in the middle of the world’s most urbanized geography, but the city is big enough to have quiet corners like these. We reluctantly said our goodbyes to all our favourites, making room for the next group of customers waiting outside to fall in love, and quickly hopped on a cab back to the bus station in Nihonbashi.

Tokyo was incredible. Over the years, I’d built up a certain image or impression of the city, and, though some of the pieces didn’t match up exactly, it was still largely what I had been hoping for (or as much as I could tell, given our short stay). I especially enjoyed seeing the city on foot and by train, going at my own pace with just a map and some ideas, with the flexibility to stop whenever and wherever, take unexpected detours, and follow whatever seemed interesting. In my previous Tokyo posts, I tended to highlight only the more famous and noteworthy sites that I came across, the ones that are easily found in most guidebooks and websites. The truth is, long stretches of my days in the city were spent wandering through anonymous neighbourhoods and alongside slow-moving waterways, navigating crowds of kindergarteners in their matching hats and smocks and staring up at the advertisements attached to subway handholds. I love that part of traveling just as much as the wonders and the temples and the neon signs, if not more. Ashley and I would make one more trip to Japan later that year, but we’d have to wait a few more months yet, so we toasted Tokyo and Japan and all our good memories there with one last sushi meal at the airport.

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