NHK – BEGIN Japanology: Pets ペット

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Over the last few decades, pet ownership in Japan has gradually moved from a predominantly utilitarian function, into a concept that more fully incorporates pets into the family system. In the majority of cases, pets are now considered to be family members. To many Japanese, pets are as well loved as children, and may even serve as a substitute for those who choose to forgo child-rearing. In the context of spiritual hierarchy, pets occupy the space directly below humans, but above all other animals and forms of life. This position is not clearly defined, leaving many aspects of pet ownership open to interpretation, including the practice of keeping and caring for pets, as well as the correct means of caring for them after death. This position within the family is presented through various forms within the everyday flow of contemporary life, spiritual expression, memorialization, and the burial rites of Japanese pets. Pets have been increasing in numbers throughout Japan. Providing a convenient way for companionship without having the demands that a child would, pets are a popular alternative for people who do not have the time required to raise a baby. Although it is not by any means definitive, studies reflect a trend showing that this is exactly what is happening, as adopting pets into the family in lieu of children has become more and more common. Currently, “estimates place the number of pets above the number of children under the age of fifteen”.This has been troublesome since Japan is already suffering a declining birth rate, but the trend does seem to be increasing. The Japanese “pet boom” can be traced back to 2003 where it was estimated that the combined number of dogs and cats in Japan have outnumbered the amount of children. The estimated number of pets and children under 16 in Japan was 19.2 and 17.9 million respectively in 2003, which increased drastically to 23.2 million to 17 million in 2009. Although Japan’s crowded environment makes for a not so pet-friendly country, Japanese have found ways to incorporate their pets into their everyday lives. One way, in particular, is to choose small dog breeds as their companions. Some common dog breeds for Japanese families are chihuahuas, miniature dachshunds, and toy poodles. The most common reason for choosing small breed dogs are the lack of space, and smaller dogs mean cleaner houses.


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