Cuddling Up at Tokyo's Exotic Animal Cafes

With hawks and owls staring down customers, the Falconer Cafe in Tokyo is a stark contrast to the cuddly animal cafes the city has become known for.

Tucked away in the Mitaka neighborhood, the cramped restaurant regularly attracts curious customers eager for a unique view with their meals and desserts. From a tiny barn owl to "Jade" the Harris Hawk, there's no shortage of feathers ruffled here.

True to its name, the cafe is run by master Falconer Kaoru Sasaki, who has dabbled in hawking for more than 40 years. He says falconry has been a part of Japanese culture for centuries. Shogun and military dictators actually hunted with falcons in this neighborhood.

Today the birds are the newest spectacle in a crowded animal cafe market, long dominated by cats and bunnies but increasingly turning fierce and exotic.

At Cafe Little Zoo in Chiba, green curry and fried chicken are served alongside an African milky eagle owl and Yucatan spiny-tailed iguana, while the Bird Cafe in Tokyo features parakeets and parrots.

Across town in Yokohama, the Brazilian rainbow boa, land turtles and lizards are the preferred creatures. The Reptile Cafe, which also houses a collection of magazines on the exotic species, draws steady crowds, especially young women, on weekends. Mami Sakurai visits alone, for a cup of tea and for a chance to snap photos with geckos.

"Cats are nothing unique, but reptiles we can only see at the zoo," she said.

Japan's lax animal regulations have allowed those like Sakurai to get up close and personal with the reptiles, but Tokyo has begun to crack down on public displays of the creatures. An animal protection law was revised last year, to slap curfews on cat cafes that operate around the clock.

The new restriction hasn't deterred customers. The opportunity to interact with the animals is irresistible, especially since cramped Japanese apartments don't allow room for pets.

At the Falconer Cafe lines regularly form outside on weekends. On Saturdays, women crowd around the store window, with their smartphones in hand, eager to snap a picture of the rare breeds.

Customers can purchase the birds at the restaurant, but Sasaki isn't exactly hoping people flock to buy.

"These animals live a very long life and require a lot of commitment," he says.

More reason for people to enjoy them in the cafe.