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NIPPONIA No.28 March 15, 2004

4 Wonders of Japan
By Mick Corliss
Born in the state of Oregon in the United States. After working as a journalist for The Japan Times, Corliss became a freelance writer and translator in 2002.

Top: You can eat a meal with your pet at Komazawa Restaurant.
Above right: Low-salt, low-sugar, traditional New Year's meal for dogs.
Below right: The clothes displayed in this pet store are so cute you might mistake them for baby clothes.
Above: Takara's Meowlingual analyzes the voiceprint of your cat's meows, purrs and other emotive sounds, and then translates them for you. The microphone picks up the cat's voice and displays the meaning in human language on the LCD screen.

The Japanese and Their Pets:
Who Is in Charge Here?
Written by Mick Corliss, Photos by Omori Hiroyuki, Cooperation: Komazawa Restaurant
Other photo cooperation: Takara Co., Ltd. and Japan Pet Drugs Co., Ltd.

Japan is a pet paradise. The dogs out for walks in the parks and around town are dressed in cute clothes, often sporting brand-name collars and expensive leashes. Looking around at pet shops, I see pets leading lives of luxury—with gourmet meals and clothes for every season—not to mention all sorts of other amenities.
There are pet-only hot springs to help pets get rid of stress, and pet parlors that offer massage, aromatherapy and mudpacks for mutts. There is also a system that allows lonely owners to check in on their pets at home from their mobile phone or office computer.
"This is a country where people anthropomorphize their pets,"says an Australian friend.
The number of dog-friendly shops in Tokyo is on the rise. Komazawa Restaurant in Setagaya Ward is one recently opened example. There are times when half of the shop's patrons have a dog in tow.
"We don't call the animals 'pets.' Customers don't like that. For owners, these are more than pets, sometimes something more than children," explains manager Ishiwata Etsuro.
But pets have not always held this hallowed position.
"It used to be that people kept dogs and cats for a reason—either to scare away thieves or take care of mice," says veterinarian Nakayama Masahiko. In fact, one of the more common insults in the Japanese language, "chikusho," literally means "beast," Nakayama points out. This indicates that animals were regarded as lowly in the past. But times are changing dramatically. Dogs and cats are kept inside.
"Today the role of the domestic animal has shifted to that of pet or 'companion animal,'" says Nakayama.
The enhanced exposure to animals, however, is not all unbridled bliss. Snuggling up with one's puppy or kitty can engender some problems, as well.
"I can't understand how people can kiss their dogs. As a kid, it was the first thing my dad, who is a bacteriologist, taught me not to do!" said John Williams from England. Recently, overzealous affection for dogs has yielded a jump in parasite infections in people, experts say.
All this points to the fact that, somewhere along the line, pets have become, well... something more than pets. If I were to hazard a guess, I would say that Japan's dramatically shifting demographic landscape—a rapidly graying society with a plummeting birthrate—is creating an emotional niche or void for animals to fill. Still, it seems as if there has been an owner-pet role reversal of sorts, and the tail is now wagging the dog.

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