I am not generally to be found soaking up the utterly bizarre counterculture of Harajuku, but some of the less fashion-centric trends tend to find their way out into (relatively) less edgy neighbourhoods like Koenji. Cat cafés became somewhat better known in the UK after one opened in London, but here in Tokyo they are almost old-hat now. Being not quite emotionally ready to handle a maid café, it was to Café Baron that I journeyed on my first morning as a nineteen year old.
A small room, littered with paraphernalia both strigidaean and tytonidaen and run by a quiet man with a long ponytail, the café is dominated (visually, if not spatially) by a corner by the window, wherein two owls can be found sleepily gazing out onto the street outside. Having ordered out cinnamon teas, the owner brought out the first of the two owls. Having fluttered up to the back of a chair in the middle of the room, he began the rather arduous task of preening his many feathers, occasionally pausing to stare in a somewhat shocked manner at the patrons drinking and watching, casting accusatory looks at the owner whenever another customer walked in. His vigilance was such that all who entered bowed to both hosts.
Although there as no touching allowed, we could get very close indeed to the birds. While this larger one maintained his position for most of our stay (he later hopped down and looked very significantly from the door of the enclosure to the owner), the barn owl was rather more mobile, and seemed far more dishevelled from its slumber, although this was soon cleared up by further preening. Both were very quiet and pleasant, posing for photos when needed, although one man who tried to get a clear shot of the back of the barn owl’s head was foiled in every attempt by the its turning round every time he approached with camera primed.
Cats and maids are all very well, but this is one of the few places where one can satisfy strigiformal sympathies in a relaxed and slightly bizarre environment. A little extra research has taught me that such places are far from limited – mice, rabbits and guinea pigs have also joined the ranks of animals that ultra-fashionable Japanese can gaze at and play with while sipping very expensive drinks. Maybe in five years these too will be enjoyed by the folk of London town.