„Lucky charms for animals sell very well recently. More people think of their pets as family members,” explains the Shinto priest at the Nogi Shrine, when we ask him about pets in Japan. With his old-fashioned glasses and an unfavourable haircut he looks rather like a middle-aged businessman.
We have just noticed the orange and light blue small cloth packages for dogs and cats, with the written lucky charm inside, among the usual talismans against evil, or for safe journeys or easy childbirth. The Nogi Shrine is dedicated to an unusual god, the victorious General Mareisuke Nogi, who in 1912, together with his wife, committed seppuku, ritual suicide, out of loyalty when the Meiji emperor died.
A dog or a child?
The next day we eye the Japanese family sitting opposite us in the subway. He has very spiky hair and black-rimmed glasses, she is wearing a fancy petticoat, and both appear to be very young. Suddenly we realize that the small buggy holds a Yorkshire terrier rather than a toddler. By now we are more alert to the status of pets. We notice the many cat cafes in Tokyo: Coffee Shops where customers can cuddle a sedated Angora cat while sipping a Cafe Latte. Ever more people are walking proudly through the city with their dressed up dogs. A hotel in Kaga Onsen advertises shared facilities for dog and owner – from the room to the hot spa.
The empire of pet fashion in Japan
Curious, we venture into the dog accessory store in the Apia Shopping Mall. The display of dogs’ outfits has caught our eye. Current dog fashion has moved far beyond the holder’s worn out T-Shirts. The modern pet owner chooses from a wide selection of sweaters, jeans, sportswear and even leather jackets for his darling. For the she-dog there is lovely lingerie on sale. All this comes for a price, of course – about the same as that for children’s clothes. Leaving the shop we pass a showcase filled with delectable cream tarts and fancy cakes. “These delicacies are low-sugar and low-fat, therefore safe to eat for pets. Why not enjoy a piece of cake together with your pet on children’s day?” a sign suggests. The current trend of people treating their pets to cream pie, weekend outings and fancy clothes might be new, but of course people have always loved their pets. At the shrine we learn that General Nogi loved his horses so much that he built them a modern stable first thing after buying the premises. Only then he started with a simple house for his family. In the end, however, he didn’t include his horses as far into the family to let them join the loyalty suicide.