Monday, 22 December 2014

Japanese Cult of the Cute (kawaii) Pooch

In Japan you'll find a curious fascination towards small dogs.  I guess it's because there's simply never enough room to accommodate larger animals in the overcrowded city streets.  Add to this the fact that most people live small apartments and there are very few green spaces that you can take a dog into. So small breeds are definitely "kawaii" (cute) but being cute is never enough. The locals also dress their dogs - some because they feel the dog has to wear diapers (the Japanese are very sensitive about their pooches pooping in the right place.  Most owners carry a staggering range of cleaning products plus bag to collect and clean up after their mutts).  But clearly some treat their mini-mutts like their own children (nothing wrong with that...) attending to their every desire.

According to a piece published in the Guardian newspaper (in 2012), "...while the birthrate has been falling dramatically and the average age of Japan's population has been steadily climbing, Japan has become a pet superpower.  Official estimates put the pet population at 22 million, or more, but there are only 16.6 million children under 15.

The pet industry is estimated to be worth more than ¥1tn a year (around $15.8bn) and has expanded into gourmet dog food stores, hot spring resorts, yoga classes and restaurants where dogs sit on chairs to eat organic meals.

For dogs in need of exercise after a lifetime being pushed or carried around, there are spas and onsens (hot springs), which look identical to the ones for humans. For $100 ($130) a session, an attendant in a wetsuit will give the dog one-to-one swimming lessons, relaxing bubble baths, body massages using aromatherapy oils, deep-pore cleansing and mud packs, and even flossing or manicure services. Many dogs are "regulars" who come at least once a week – running up annual bills of $6,000 or more. Canine daycare can cost as much as $120 a night in a dog hotel.

When the unthinkable happens, there are even temples where dead dogs are laid to rest with full Buddhist rites: a deluxe funeral and cremation ceremony can cost $9,700 or more. "I find these days people grieve more for their pets than for parents or grandparents," says a monk at a 1,000-year-old temple in a Tokyo suburb. "It is because pets are just like their child, so it is like losing a child."

While in Japan recently I noticed more dog prams than I have ever seen before, so many in fact that after a few days you just don't notice them until you get up close and become aware of something fluffy standing up for a pat. 
The fact that the dog is dressed up as a lamb wearing diapers and a tiny backpack shouldn't escape comment, but for most Japanese, this is normal.

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