Japan’s pet population has grown by over 9 million in the last 10 years. Cats figure into the equation, but it’s the present “dog boom” that gets the most attention, with the spotlight shining on more and more services available for Japan’s canine lovers. In addition to clothing lines and custom-made birthday cakes, dog owners can now keep a memento of their deceased four-legged friend after their death, in what now marks a complete cradle-to-grave cycle.
What’s not mentioned as frequently is how the grave-end of this cycle presents itself to many unwanted pets. Some estimates show that over 300,000 dogs a year are now being put down around the country. There is no simple answer as to why so many pets are abandoned, or even bought in the first place, although it has been argued that Japan’s love of cute and the difficulties of raising children play a role.
Other factors to consider could be the disconnect many Japanese feel in society. Dogs might appeal to the socially awkward, as they offer friendship without the give-and-take of human relationships. Pets can also be used as a vehicle for human interaction, as anyone who has taken a puppy to the park can attest to their ice-breaking abilities.
The pet boom may also be an indication of Japan’s increasing economic divide. After all, how many new dog owners are providing their pups with oxygen therapy and Izumi Mori-designed dog wear? Dogs, like the ubiquitous Luis Vuitton bags, are becoming a symbol of status for some, but when pets are treated as fashion accessories, they can more easily be disposed of when fashion trends change. And that, my furry friends, is about as far from glamorous as you can get.