Whether it’s “wan-wan,” “bow-wow” or “ruff-ruff,” dogs in Japan are all speaking the same language: life here ain’t too dog-gone bad.
From gourmet dinners and aromatherapy to trips to the onsen, it’s raining cats and dogs with everything showered on man’s best friend.
Welcome to a world where a glance at dog and owner begs the question, “Who’s the master?” Many dogs here now enjoy a lifestyle as luxurious as their owners can afford to lavish upon them. We aren’t in Kansas anymore Toto.
But is the foreign community buying into all the mutt maintenance mania? The big debate is whether all the pampering makes up for a general lack of space dogs have in Japan. Or if the ritzy lifestyle gives dogs here the upper paw.
Some might argue a western dog wouldn’t trade in its ride in the back of a pickup truck with its tongue flapping in the wind, for a tote around the city in a Louis Vuitton dog carrier for all the doggy biscuits in the world.
Is a day at the onsen more refreshing than a hose-down in the yard? When faced with a plate of tofu and seaweed hamburg risotto, would a dog turn up its nose at plain ole puppy chow?
“A lot of foreigners think it’s a waste of money, they’re more sensitive to cost,” says American Juan Leon, owner of a Dicaprio, a French bulldog, and a Boston terrier named Ninja.
“It’s normal for me now because I’ve been doing it for two years. I think these services are catching on with foreigners.
“A lot of my friends have dogs and they all go to the bakeries and spas. And the dogs are just as happy here as they are in America.”
And what mutt wouldn’t be happy, being spoiled with UV protection sunglasses, Halloween costumes, waterbeds, heated pads for winter, raincoats, shoes and necklaces.
A pampered pooch may also be treated to a hairdryer to improve his or her coat and reduce body odor, or even special underwear that secures sanitary napkins in place during its menstruation.
But while some might think all this pampering is a ridiculous waste of money, the continued growth of the industry suggests dog-owners think otherwise.
Reflexology, steam saunas and acupuncture are already available for dogs. Who knows? Yoga may not be too far away.
Most cities around the world that claim to be “dog-friendly” mean dogs are allowed in many of their department stores, restaurants and modes of transportation.
But Japan seems to be pulling out all the tricks to make dogs feel like a welcome and equal part of society. In addition to the regular shampoo, cut and ear-clean, a day at a beauty salon offers a colorful new dye job, fashionable extensions or a mustache and beard cut.
Department stores, like Nihombashi’s Takashimaya or Mitsukoshi in Ginza, have opened their rooftops to dogs so that while these masters are being groomed or left to romp in the park, their humans go shopping.
“My dog loves the dog runs, open spaces, best,” says Leon. “It’s different here compared to home because of space. I always had big dogs in America. I can’t do that here.”
If a dog has had a stressful week cooped up a small apartment waiting for its best friend to return from work, it can unwind with a run at a dog course followed by a jet bath, mud pack and aroma massage, such as those offered at Oedo Onsen’s Joker Dog Petit Resort.
At 3,150, the price of aroma care is comparable to that of humans, but there aren’t as many options in terms of aromas.
“A dog councilor, licensed in dog aroma therapy, checks the dog’s temperature and heart rate and discusses the dog’s behavior with the owner,” says Jun Honzawa, manager of dog resort at Oedo. “For example, the dog’s peeing habits, the way it walks or any unusual behavioral habits it has, they all help indicate a suitable aroma for massage. We mostly use lavender, but the other aromas are our secret.”
While aromatherapy and the 38-degree onsens are always popular with the pooches, going for a paddle in the pool is the biggest hit during the dog days of summer. And a plan is in the works for the resort to start pool therapy for injured or weak dogs’ rehabilitation.
After an eventful day of working up an appetite at the resort, there are about 40 dog restaurants and bakeries in Tokyo to choose from.
Takuo Morita, manager of the cozy Deco’s Dog Cafe in Daikanyama, claims to be top dog in the canine catering business because of his extensive menu. The flavor is light, as dogs’ sense of taste is stronger than humans, says Morita, but humans can eat any of the main dishes.
The most popular entree is rolled chicken, cheese and veggies. Deco’s also offers birthday and Christmas parties, with cakes made of meat and topped with a bone-shaped biscuit, for groups of over 15.
According to pet service providers, foreign residents make up about one tenth of their customer base. “A lot of foreigners come here because of the location,” says Morita, referring to Daikanyama’s trendy locale. “Most dog owners come back time after time,” he says.
Morita plans to lead the pack in other areas of the dog industry. In late autumn, he plans to open Deco’s Dog Club Resort and Memorial Park in Nagano Prefecture. Members will have access to a dog run, grooming services, rooms to take naps with their dogs, and cooking courses on gourmet dog food cuisine.
So a dog’s life in Japan can be quite fulfilling. And at the end of it, may come a full funeral service or cremation at a temple, complete with flowers, incense displays, urns, coffins and a “butsudan” (an altar) to put in the home so owners can pray to the passed pet.
Burial lots can even be reserved at Deco’s Memorial Park. All dogs go to heaven, but life in Japan is to die for.
Bringing your dog for a taste of the good life
Owners wanting to bring their pet here from abroad should note the new quarantine law, enacted June 6 to help prevent the spread of rabies.
At least 40 days advance notice of the pet’s arrival must be given and the dog must have an ID microchip number, proper vaccinations, blood test records, health certificate, hold official travel orders and meet certain age requirement.
If those requirements are met, the pet should only have to wait up to 12 hours in quarantine.
In all other cases, the quarantine period can last anywhere up up to 180 days.