Monday, July 30, 2018

Playing with Harry at the Hedgehog Cafe Harry (Harajuku, Tokyo)

Tokyo has its quirks and never fails to deliver an eclectic experience - like visiting a "cafe" for petting hedgehogs. It's not a proper cafe in the sense that you don't actually eat cake or drink tea, although tea is served for everyone. But nothing fancy. 

You're there for a first-hand encounter with hedgehogs, those spiny nocturnal mammals that curve into a ball when intimidated or asleep. They differ from the porcupines in the sense that the latter are more rodents; hedgehogs are closer to shrews.

General Information

Hedgehog's spines (quills) are hollow hairs made stiff with keratin, thus aren't barbed or poisonous. Unlike the quills of the porcupines, they don't easily detach from their bodies. But they can shed when they're under stress. When they roll into a ball, the quills on the back protect the tucked face, feet, and belly. They are also vocal animals so you get to hear them "grunt, snuffle or squeal". They are omnivorous, feeding on insects, snails, frogs, mushrooms, berries, roots and melons. Without predators and a controlled diet, they can live as long as 8 to 10 years in captivity. As trivia, a group of hedgehogs is called an "array".

I was supposed to go to Roponggi for my "Hedgehog Cafe Harry" visit. I had been reading about it, but was anxious about its location. Many reviewers had difficulty locating it. Moreover, Roponggi's subways and tunnels always tire and confuse me. When I visited the H.I.S. Tourist Information Center in Harajuku, I was told that they could book me a slot now. What's better, this was not in far, far Roponggi. This cafe is located right in the heart of Harajuku. I only had to cross the street, walk a block, then I was there. Between the two, Harajuku seems the better choice: bigger space, not too strict with the time allotted.

The cafe is accessible through a tight elevator. At the second floor, doors opened to a bright room with white walls, glass cages on tables, clean space, and framed photos of hedgehogs. I handed my appointment voucher then I was lead to a table with a couple of hedgehogs moving slowly. I expected them to be asleep as it was around 4 PM. 

The cafe staff then gently scooped one of the hedgehogs to show me how it's done. I was wary not because I was scared of them, but I was unsure how to hold them without stressing them. The more active one was handed over to me and it curved into a ball. I picked a worm with a pair of tweezers and offered it in front of its mouth. It opened up and gobbled the worm. That's how it perked up and started moving around my arms. It was a joy. I didn't even feel the spine. I enjoyed this play for about 10 minutes, then placed it back to its cage, feeding both of them before I proceeded taking photos. I even forgot there was juice, soda, tea or coffee from the vending machine and some cookies as well.

I looked around and found the whole room almost fully occupied; each tourist is assigned to his table. Everyone seemed to enjoy their 30 minutes, which was more than enough. Otherwise, the other option is 1 hour, which is excessive. Despite online criticism about patronage for these petting zoos, I didn't find anything wrong with it. 

Goats, Owls, Cats, and Snakes

It's almost silly to pay for the experience, but it was surreal. The controlled environment guides you how to handle them properly. I never thought much about hedgehogs before, but now I've learned to appreciate them. Other pet cafes in Tokyo offer goats (and you can walk your goat around the streets of Tokyo), owls, cats, and even snakes - no, thank you. 

The cafe has hedgehogs up for sale. Before I forget, their names were "Harry" - all of them, males and females. 

A tarpaulin is on display outside the elevator.

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