I feel Japan is behind countries like England and Finland when it comes to animal welfare. Don’t get me wrong, many people in Japan have pets and love them dearly. Several of my students have or have had pets and they get emotional talking about them. Also, in terms of pets, many Japanese people are a bit like Americans – chavvy Hollywood Americans, to be more precise – they like to dress their pets up. Not only that, but more than once have I seen a dog and its owner wear identical clothes. So far my favourite co-ordinated pair has been a pug wearing a green baseball shirt and a cap and it’s 30-something male owner wearing the same.
Some Japanese organisations are pet friendly. For instance, the corporate landlord that owns the block of flats that we live in is pet friendly. That is, people are allowed pets in these rented apartments, and many of our neighbours have one. We know this because (a) I saw a cat in our neighbour’s apartment when they moved in and their front door was practically wide open for a two day period, (b) I can hear barking from a balcony above us on a regular basis and (c) I have shared a lift with a number of people living in our block and their pets – both cats and dogs. I don’t mind sharing a lift with a pet, but some people do, especially if they are scared of dogs and are squeezed against the wall of the lift when a mastiff the size of a horse is taking up half of the lift and his owner the other half. Or perhaps you are allergic to cats (like me) and don’t want to spend the rest of the morning looking like you had a few too many drinks the night before with itchy bright red eyes. But in our block of flats this is not a problem. You see, the lifts in our building are equipped with buttons that state PET (see photo below). When we first moved into this building we weren’t sure what the PET button inside the lift did. First, we laughed and thought that the PET button is for PETs to press (as it is low down on the lift button board). We then thought that it had something to do with PET (plastic) bottles and that if you wanted to do recycling you would press the button and the lift would take you to the basement of the building. But no, the answer was too obvious. You press the PET button when you have a pet with you. When you press the PET button, a light shows outside the lift on every floor (see photo below). If you don’t want to get in the lift with your neighbour’s animal you can simply not go in the lift if it stops in your floor, but you opt for the other of the two lifts in the building. The Japanese – they’ve thought of everything.
This type of a Japanese corporate firm’s pet friendliness (i.e. allowing pets in a brand new block of flats, and installing a lift that caters for pets and tenants who are not keen on mastiffs) is unheard of in England and Finland. At least, I haven’t heard of such landlords – and I can tell you that I have first hand knowledge of English landlords in relation to pets, as I used to own two Dalmatians. Most of my friends probably still remember them, not for catching Frisbees in the park but for their extremely bad breath after us having been for walk in the South Downs national park near Brighton and the dogs had spent the whole afternoon-hike eating sheep droppings. On the way back to Brighton, the people on the back seat of our Volvo estate had the best seats in the house (or car) in terms of experiencing the hot smelly air being panted towards them by the dogs in the boot. Then again, the person in the front seat had to put up with my husband’s bad breath after three cups of coffee. I don’t know about your husbands but in particular after ten pints of lager my husband’s breath is out of this world. To tell you perhaps more than I should, on those occasions in comparison to his breath the dogs’ breath would function as an air-freshener.
For about 10 years, I lived in rented accommodation. This totaled 7 different flats/houses, five of which were in Brighton and two in Manchester. Based on my experience, English landlords are not particularly pet friendly. For instance, it was extremely difficult to find landlords who would allow pets. I mean, I think it would be easier to secure rented accommodation if you had a swastika tattooed on your forehead than if you have a Dalmatian.
As an aside, swastikas don’t have quite as bad connotations in Japan as they do in Europe. In fact, they do not have bad connotations at all! Over here swastikas have no anti-semitic connotation. Swastikas are used as symbols to represent Buddhist temples. If you don’t believe me, go on Google Maps and find any city in Japan: Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, Tokyo, Hiroshima. The map will show several swastikas.
Going back to my dogs. If I am being honest, the landlord of one of my apartments actually never knew that I had the dogs. Why? Well, because I never told them. The apartment was rented through an agency and every time they came to inspect the flat my flat mate or I took the dogs out for half an hour. I know, cheeky, but I don’t feel bad because the huge patches of black mould that appeared on the inside of the external walls in my and my flatmate’s bedrooms about two months into our stay in that flat, which was not, from their part, exactly part of the deal either. So I view the situation as a mutual breach of the letting agreement, and because the dogs never caused any damage and the landlord still to this day is unaware of my dogs having lived in his flat for a one year period, I feel as guilt free as Tony Blair does about invading Iraq.
All my other landlords knew about the dogs before we moved in. But this does not mean that they were the nicest and the most pet friendly landlords under the sun. In one place, the landlord withheld our deposit because he said he needed to replace the carpets before new tenants could move in. I thought this was out of order given that six years prior to that, when we moved in, the carpet were already practically see-through. I am sure the carpets had been in that flat for 30 years and in a hotel somewhere for several years before then. You see, many landlords in England botch the interior of their investment flats big time. For instance, they frequently just paint over mould (rather than fixing the problem causing the mould), buy hotels’ old carpets and have them fitted in their flats, install kitchens with wall units that don’t have backs to them (i.e. you see the wall at the back of the cupboard when you open the door), provide no sufficient heating system so that you have to wear a hat, mittens and a down coat under your duvet in bed in the winter because it is practically as cold inside the flat as outside, and some bedrooms in a shared house might be missing some bedroom doors. I’ve also visited a fully furnished flat where the wicker coffee table in the living room was missing one leg. I know, these are really nothing in the context of English rental properties generally, and of course the furniture in fully-furnished flats is as modern, clean and comfortable as furniture that you can find in a tip. Having said all that, I am sure many of you have experienced much worse than me.
Another landlord demanded that we would have to replace the turf in the garden because my dogs had used the garden as their toilet. Yes. They did use it as their toilet. Dogs use turfs and other such green areas as their toilets. But this should not have come as news to the landlord. I would argue that this is common knowledge. But we didn’t move out and leave an 18-month deep layer of dog shit in the garden. We periodically cleaned the garden from the poo. So, I think it was rather out of order for the landlord to re-turf their garden with my deposit.
Back to the pets in Japan. We visited a local pet shop a few days ago. I didn’t like it. It was like pet shops in Donald Duck comics from the 1960s where Donald Duck buys a puppy for his nephews in a pet shop. You see, like in old Donald Duck comics, you can buy a puppy or a kitten in a pet shop in Japan. They are on show in little shelf units with perspex windows. There were some sleeping and some were running around in their 500×400 mm floor space like they were on something. I didn’t think you could sell cats and dogs in this manner in a developed country in this day and age, so I was shocked, and went for my camera. I managed to take a couple of pictures before the staff came to say that it wasn’t allowed. I don’t know what you think of this but I think it is hardly the most puppy/kitten friendly way to find them homes. Of course kids love seeing and stroking puppies on their way home from school and of course this kind of marketing makes people buy pets on a 30 second whim – i.e. good for the pet shop. But hardly recommended though from the pets’ perspective.
There seems to be quite a few pets in Japan for whom homes are not found and the unwanted animals have to be put down. In Japan they gas them. The problem in relation to gassing pets is that no-one, of course, wants a pet gas chambers in their neighbourhood. Yeah, one of those around the corner from your apartment won’t really push up the value of your property. But not to worry, the Japanese have come up with a clever solution. They now use mobile gas chambers in many places. A mobile gas chamber is a lorry with inbuilt cubicles in which the unwanted animals are placed. While the lorry drives to the crematorium, the animals are gassed, and arrive in their final destination already sniffing the grasslands of eternity. I find gassing healthy pets incredibly sad. But the issue here is not really the method used by the authorities – gassing in Japan or by injection in England or Finland. The problem is of course the puppy farmers who produce the surplus of animals to make a few quid. And when it comes to methods used to put unwanted pets down, some puppy/kitten farmers’ methods are not particularly ethical (as these individuals often want to incur as little cost as possible). For instance, I’ve heard that in Finland from time to time some puppy/kitten farmers drown the puppies/kittens they didn’t manage to sell in a bucket of water.
Overall, animal rights don’t really seem to be the number one political issue in Japan. I don’t have to mention the whale ‘research’ the Japanese conduct in the Antarctic and shark finning for you to get the idea.
I am not quite sure if Japanese people understand the concept of free range eggs or not. When I asked my students what the boxes of free range eggs look like they were confused and didn’t know what I was talking about. Maybe you can get them in Japan but because I don’t know what the packaging of free range eggs looks like (I can’t read Japanese) I don’t know what I am buying.
In many restaurants they have as their window display a fish tank overflowing with fish and eels. I haven’t visited any of these restaurants so I can’t say I know what the fish are there for, but I am pretty sure they are the restaurant’s menu on display.
Having mentioned these rather cruel animal welfare issues it might be useful to mention that the Japanese do take extremely good care of some of its livestock. The Kobe beef is known as amongst the best beef in the world. Until the moment they are slaughtered, these cows experience a rather wonderful cows’ lives. They get frequent massages, they listen to classical music, they are fed beer – so at least relative to many cows in Europe these Japanese cows live happy lives. I can’t but help but have an image in my head of a cow with headphones choosing its favourite tunes, drinking beer and being worked on by an Asian masseuse. This results in ‘platinum’ quality beef. Although, I can’t help but wondering whether the cows have as bad a day-after breath as my husband after all that beer.