Our first full day in Japan was probably also our most packed/hectic day. But that’s good in a way because we managed to fit a lot in. I have to say a big thank-you to my friend MC and his friend DK, who showed us around. Surely with our usual leisurely pace, and my self-professed propensity for getting distracted/lost, we might not have made it to half the places we did that day.
If you saw my Thursday Doors post last week, you’ll know we began the day by wandering down a random road in Shinjuku, and serendipitously finding Yoyogi Park and hence the Meiji Shrine. (Coincidentally, the Meiji Shrine also featured in The Daily Post recently. Yeah, I never use their writing prompts, but sometimes their actual posts are quite interesting.)
After wandering through the park and the gardens (which possibly aren’t quite as stunning in winter as they are in spring, but are tranquil and captivating nonetheless (I spent a bit of time trying to explain to my friend about how a bare tree, void of leaves, may still be considered beautiful in its own way. There may or may not be a post to come on this)), we eventually found ourselves in Harajuku.
I think Harajuku is a district a lot of non-Japanese people will have heard of, thanks to the likes of Gwen Stefani, and wherever else it gets a mention in popular culture… I think it’s commonly described as a trendy area (for food, fashion, culture, etc) where a lot of young people hang out.
The Harajuku train station is actually really close to the Harajuku entrance to Yoyogi Park, and both are close to the Harinezumi Hedgehog Café. Despite my fixation with sign-reading, it was actually KF who first noticed the sign for the café. It was actually on our list of places to visit, so when we just stumbled upon it, I couldn’t believe our luck (although I think it was mostly KF’s luck, and I was just lucky I’d brought her with me).
Travel tip / side note: the JR Harajuku Station is separate from the Harajuku metro station. From what I understand, it’s all to do with the different companies that own different train lines, or something like that.
If you have Facebook friends who like to share cute animal videos, it’s very possible that you’ve already heard of this hedgehog café. You probably also know that there are a lot of animal cafés around Japan – most notably cat cafés and owl cafés. If you’re not overly familiar with these places, it’s probably good to know that they’re not so much “cafés” as “places in which you can interact with animals for a small fee, and also possibly purchase a beverage or snack”.
When we went to this hedgehog café, we didn’t buy any food or drinks. We didn’t even sit at a table. Ok, actually, we did buy a snack, but it wasn’t for us – it was for the hedgehogs. And, instead of tables, the café is dotted with these half-barrel things in which the hedgehogs reside. The idea is that you can play with the hedgehogs, and hold them and feed them mealworms. If you live in Japan you could also adopt one.
I mostly just find it bizarre that someone would think to do this. But the hedgehogs are quite cute, and it’s certainly an interesting experience to be able to hold one (if you hold them right, they aren’t really prickly at all).
Judging by how many people asked me, prior to my trip, if I was going to visit this café, and also judging by how many people shared videos/posts about this café on FB in the lead up to the trip, I was worried that there’d be quite a bit of a wait to get in. But we went late morning some time, and there was no wait at all. I wonder if this was helped by the fact that the location isn’t all that obvious. Well, there are signs outside, but it’s on the third floor of a random building, accessible only by this tiny elevator (well, I mean, there are probably stairs, but I didn’t notice them).
Side note: in Japan, there is no “ground floor”. The ground floor is considered to be the first floor. In Australia, we count ground as zero (but signified by the letter G rather than the digit 0), and the “first floor” is the next one up from there. I think our system makes sense to me because I grew up with it, but their system seems more logical.
Hmm… I’m not sure what deluded me into thinking that I’d fit an entire day’s explorations into a singular post, but I suppose I hadn’t expected to use so many words to write about this hedgehog café… But, staying on the theme of animal cafés, let me round out this post with the other unique café we visited that day – this one was for owls.
If you’ve been following my blog for a long time, and also have excellent memory, you might know/recall that I like birds. I particularly like eagles, and also pigeons, but owls seem to be more of a thing in Japan than either of those, so we went to an owl café. (I do like owls too.)
This owl café was in Ikebukuro, accessible by Tokyo Metro, and MC and DK took us there because it had good reviews (sorry, I really can’t remember the name of it). Not sure how I would’ve gone finding it without their guidance because it was off on a side street, didn’t have the most obvious signage, and it’s several floors up – like the hedgehog café, you enter via an elevator on the side of a building.
Again, like the hedgehog café, it’s not so much an eatery as a space for interacting with the animals, and then maybe consuming a beverage at some point if you choose (actually, the drink is included in the entrance fee, so you probably should have a drink when you’re there). But they had many species of owls, and they’re mostly quite docile and peaceful. The staff will also show you the best ways to stroke/pat the owls so that you don’t irritate them.
Of course, they also only let a certain number of people in at a time, so we did have to wait a bit to get in. It’s recommended to book in advance, but you can just show up, and they’ll put you on a list, and give you a time to come back. (Some restaurants operate like this too; it saves having a big queue/crowd of people outside.) You get about 40-50 minutes per session, which I reckon is plenty of time.
These cafés I found worthwhile visiting, but it’s probably enough to go just once. I feel like it’s more of a novel, touristy thing.