May 6, 2015
(This blog post has taught me two things: if the topic is negative, I start procrastinating and secondly that I just need to sit down and get done with it.)
When you come to Japan you will soon see a lot of dogs being driven(!) around in doggy push cars, most of them fancily dressed and overall treated like little children. I am irritated if I see young healthy dogs being tied to a stroller, but most people smile because those dog look sooooo cute.
Dog’s hair dressers, running centres and similar are all over the place. Dog accessory shops do not only sell bracelets, leashes, baskets, blankets, feeding dishes, toys or the other usual stuff that you would expect in such a shop. They also sell clothes for dogs! There clearly are seasonal fashion editions and designer stuff including hats, sunglasses and shoes. In Japan designer labels such as Chanel, Dior, Hermès and Gucci offer luxury dog products. This canine couture doesn’t come cheap. A poodle pullover can cost $250 or more. In many parts of Tokyo, it is easier to buy clothes for dogs than for children.
You can also send your dog on a holiday in a hot spring resort or to a yoga class. Or to a fancy restaurant where your dog can sit on a chair and eat organic meals. In 2014 the estimated worth of Japan’s pet industry has risen to $10bn.
People prefer pets to parenthood so that in the meantime pets have outnumbered the children. Official estimates put the pet population at 22 million or more, but there are only 16.6 million children under 15. With a birth rate of 1.39 children per woman, Japan’s population will fall from 128 million to 43 million over the next century if this trend continues.
The reasons for this trend are manifold and I cannot go into the details, but various articles reveal that
- for Japanese women it is easier to have a dog than a child if they would like to keep their job.
- it is easier to find a doggy day care centre or a dog hotel than a nursery place for a child.
- given the cost of living in Tokyo, high taxes and static salaries following two decades of recession, having a dog makes more sense economically than having a child.
- Japanese have less and less sex. The director of Japan’s Family Planning Research Centre was quoted in one article and said that “his annual surveys indicate that the nation’s libido has been lagging in the last decade. The birthrate has declined, but fewer contraceptives are being used and there are fewer abortions and lower rate of sexually transmitted diseases.
- economic stagnation has hit young men particularly hard. More than 10 million people aged between 20 and 34 still live with their parents. They can’t afford to get married and start a family, but for the odd luxury or treats for their dogs, they can – and do – splash out.
- after the earthquake and nuclear disaster young people are even more hesitant to have children.
But of course there is a downside to the shiny, cute doggy life you can see on the pictures. If you are reading this blog with your children I recommend that you just stop here.
In 2011 a Sunday Mirror investigation revealed that 250,000 cats and dogs are gassed each year in Japan. I assume that this number has risen dramatically since then. We are not talking about old, abandoned cats and dogs that are gassed, we are talking about young dogs and puppies. All those little cute puppies that you can see in the thousands of pet shops everywhere in the city, that have not been bought before their “date of expiry” – the few weeks they have to impress the customers.
Not being sold, those puppies are getting a red ribbon and are taken away from the shops to one of the 108 locations in Japan to be disposed of. As Japanese tend to wrap even horrible things into nice words, the execution chambers are called “dream boxes”. It takes about 30 minutes full of agony to kill the animal with carbon dioxide.
The other downside is the dog “production”. In order to supply sufficient cute little dogs to the market there are so called puppy mills all over the country. The margins are enormous as the popular “tea cup” toy poodles are sold for about £2,500. Unregulated breeders sell the latest fashionable breeds, some costing up to £5,000. Production conditions are appalling. Japan has the highest number of inbreeds in the world and thus dead born puppies or puppies born with deformations, unable to live. Conditions described in newspaper articles and on animal rights campaigner pages talk about hundreds of animals crammed in a tiny space, the stench overpowering, with carcasses lying around and dead animals being dumped with the garbage. I spare you the pictures.
And still, people buy dogs here like they buy expensive hand bags and then they throw them away like toys. No one wants to see the dark side of this puppy business and animal rights campaigners have a tough time fighting for better conditions and better controls as only one breeder has been closed down in Japan in the past five years.
Fun facts would not go down well after such a post. But I promise the next post for next week. A positive one! One about my new business!