Animals in Japan

Animals in Japan

This site publishes columns regarding the actual situation of animals in Japan, on a regular basis. After a period of inactivity, we re-opened the site with the intention of being of help to anyone looking for this kind of information, and furthermore, creating an opportunity for the happy and borderless co-existence of humans and animals.

Visual concept of the AIJ icon

The character shown in the AIJ icon is “Akabeko”, the legendary red bull of the Aizu region in Fukushima Prefecture. It is said that Akabeko helped black cattle that were struggling to carry wood to restore a temple damaged by a big earthquake that hit the region about 400 years ago. As the Akabeko disappeared soon after its great contribution, people believed it was help sent from Buddha. People in that region have held Akabeko as a bearer of ‘Good Fortune’ ever since. The black circles on Akabeko are considered to be indications of the pox. According to another legend, the red bull was the only animal that survived smallpox infection in ancient times. People believed its red body color also had an apotropaic power and that children owning an Akabeko toy escape from misfortunes.

Visual concept of the AIJ icon
The character shown in the AIJ icon is “Akabeko”, the legendary red bull of the Aizu region in Fukushima Prefecture. It is said that Akabeko helped black cattle that were struggling to carry wood to restore a temple damaged by a big earthquake that hit the region about 400 years ago. As the Akabeko disappeared soon after its great contribution, people believed it was help sent from Buddha. People in that region have held Akabeko as a bearer of ‘Good Fortune’ ever since. The black circles on Akabeko are considered to be indications of the pox. According to another legend, the red bull was the only animal that survived smallpox infection in ancient times. People believed its red body color also had an apotropaic power and that children owning an Akabeko toy escape from misfortunes.

Mar.
2022

Animal Hoarding in Japan

As with the rest of the world, animal hoarding is a serious issue in Japan. Over the years, Japan has seen its share of hoarding cases and has struggled to find ways to deal with the phenomenon. The main issue in this country seems to be the lack of understanding amongst the human experts and human welfare services. Needless to say, animal hoarding is not an “animal problem”. It is a phenomenon that is deeply rooted in the human psyche, as proven by the fact that the word “hoarding” appears in the DSM-5(Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). In Japan, hoarding cases have long been reported mainly to the animal control authorities. The officers from these authorities usually come from the veterinary profession and are not trained to deal with human mental issues. Nor are they in any position to recommend special care services needed by the hoarders. Though hoarding may be classified as a form of animal abuse which in turn should be handled under legislation pertaining to animal protection, this does not lead to a satisfactory resolution of the problem. To start with, animal control officers, who are usually the first responders, have neither the training nor the knowledge to deal with hoarders who may have mental health issues. How should they be approached? How can one evaluate the hoarder’s psychological condition? What sort of action may be detrimental to the hoarder’s emotions? These and many other questions can only be answered by those who have been trained to deal with human issues. In order to address this issue, the Ministry of the Environment brought together a panel of experts in order to formulate guidelines for dealing with animal hoarding cases. Since the animal welfare law in Japan falls under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of the Environment, whose guidance regional animal control officers follow, it seemed appropriate for them to initiate the move. The panel members included a representative of the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labor, several animal control officers from the regional governments, a psychiatric expert, a veterinary expert, and a researcher in the field of public policy.

The Ministry of the Environment published the results of the panel’s discussion as “Guidelines in Handling Animal Hoarding: Humans, Animals, and the Community”. The guidelines are in Japanese and can be downloaded from the Ministry’s website. The contents of the guidelines include a general definition of what animal hoarding is, what measures may be taken to counter the issue, and an outline of case studies. Also included in the material are various “check sheets”, practical tools for assessing each situation, as well as example documents for the listing of animals found and the health check of individual animals.
One of the main tools that may be most effective in preventing animal hoarding cases is the enacting of ordinances that limit the number of animals that may be kept by a single household. If the keeping of an excessive number of animals can be prohibited legally, then the possibility of hoarding may essentially be negated. However, when the Ministry of the Environment conducted a survey to see how regional governments have taken action in this regard, the results were disappointing; 76.8% of all local governments had no legal limit on the number of animals that may be kept by individuals. This may be a point to be considered in the future.
Recent trends in animal hoarding in Japan have seen a rise in the variety of species involved. Whereas many past cases focused mainly on dogs and cats, there has recently been a rise in the hoarding of pet rabbits. Because of their high rate of proliferation, rabbit hoarding can escalate rapidly. Exotic species also appear at times on the hoarding scene, as exemplified by a recent case involving owls. Though the action taken by the Ministry of the Environment may be lauded, this is just the beginning. The authorities in various sectors must realize that they have a role to play in resolving the issue of animal hoarding. Human social services in Japan have been very slow to recognize the roles that animals play in the lives of human beings; it may be the time to start thinking about how important it may be for human experts to acknowledge this.

Prepared for Zenoaq by Animal Literacy Research Institute

Dec.
2021

National Licensing for Veterinary Technicians

The national law for the licensing of veterinary nurses was finalized in Japan by  Cabinet decision on the September 24th, 2021. This is the first time that veterinary nursing has been given official status under the law in Japan. Under this new system, which is a joint endeavor between the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, a core curriculum has been established to which all the relevant educational institutions must adhere. Veterinary nurses in Japan are educated mainly by two types of educational institutions; universities with a 4-year curriculum and vocational schools with a 3- or 4-year curriculum. All of these institutions must hereafter adhere to the core curriculum set up by the government in order for their graduates to qualify as candidates for the national examination. The first national examination for licensing will take place in early spring 2024. Before the enactment of this law, veterinary nurses in Japan were licensed by a private organization, the Japanese Veterinary Nursing Association. However, this did not deter the education or employment rate of veterinary nurses in the field. Needless to say, there are currently a great number of those who are gainfully employed in veterinary medical facilities, as well as in other animal related sectors. This new law provides a route through which these people may also be licensed. However, the route is not as simple as a straightforward grandfathering clause. The law states that "those who have worked for more than 5 years in the area of companion animal care and nursing, or in supporting or advising roles on companion animal welfare and care" are entitled to sit for the national examination, provided they attend an officially designated workshop/class set up for this purpose, and take a preliminary exam following said workshop/class. This may be somewhat of a burden for those already working in the field, but there seems to be no open opposition to the new system from veterinary nurses themselves.

Another unusual aspect of this new licensing system is the title given to the new profession. The official Japanese title for veterinary nurses with the new license will be "Aigan Doubutsu Kangoshi", which translates as "companion animal nurse". This means that the license does not cover care for livestock or zoo animals. The words "aigan doubutsu" appear in the Veterinary License Act of Japan. The term is defined to include "dogs and cats and animals designated under a separate ordinance". Though it can be roughly translated as "companion animals", the legal definition is very different. The animals designated by a separate ordinance are as follows: all Psittacine, all Estrildini, and all Fringillinae.
Strange as it seems, dogs and cats and all the above birds are what are classified as "aigan doubutsu" under the Veterinary License Act, and are the animals covered by the term "companion animal" in the new nursing license.
Another addition to veterinary nurses' work, or tasks to be performed by the licensee, is the broad field of human-animal interactions. This includes providing support and advice in areas such as animal care (grooming), training and socialization of animals, animal assisted education, animal assisted interventions, handling of animals during disasters, proper nutrition for pets, and caring for pet owners in need (e.g. senior citizens). This is an extremely wide variety of tasks in addition to the standard veterinary medical support that the nurses are expected to give. Furthermore, since the core curriculum includes these subjects, the educational institutions are expected to teach and prepare their students to perform such tasks. This means that the schools must prepare to teach such courses, or more precisely, they must search for instructors who will be able to teach these courses. This is no easy task, and a source of unease for many of those involved in the education of veterinary nurses.
Though a national license for veterinary nurses has been an important goal for those in the field, now that it has been officially established, there are still various issues that need to be addressed. In addition to the problem of teaching a rather expansive curriculum, the question remains as to how and when the care and treatment of livestock and wild animals will be addressed.

Prepared for Zenoaq by Animal Literacy Research Institute

Sep.
2021

School Pets

Although many animal welfare groups around the world have taken a negative stance towards the keeping of animals as school or classroom pets, many elementary schools in Japan have traditionally kept rabbits. It is believed that this tradition can be traced back to the Meiji era (1868-1912), when many schools introduced small animals and plants into the classroom in order to teach children to appreciate nature through care and maintenance. However, in the very beginning, the pets were simply insects or local aquatic animals. Rabbits did not become the mainstay school pet until later. They appeared on the scene towards the latter part of the Meiji era. Since many farmers kept rabbits for meat and fur, it was a simple, available choice. Later, during the Great Depression and the Second World War, rabbits were raised to supply meat and fur, especially to the military during the war, but the original "school rabbit" was not kept specifically for that purpose.
Schools have continued to keep rabbits, but other animals have also been popular as school pets. Birds and guinea pigs, as well as various forms of aquatic life, have been kept in schools. Under the Education Ministry Guidelines, more precisely, in the curriculum guidance for defining the basic standard for education set forth by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, the words "animals and plants may be kept and cared for" appear under the section of Life Environmental Studies. This by no means obligates schools to keep live animals, but since the above wording does appear in the official guidelines, many schools have naturally opted to do so.
The current trends in school pets have changed significantly over the past several years.
A decade ago, over 90% of elementary schools kept animals as school pets. Approximately half of these pets were small mammals and birds, about half of whom were rabbits. . Currently, the number of schools keeping pets has decreased to a little over 80%, of which small mammals and birds now account for about 30%, with the majority of pets now being fish, turtles, crayfish, and insects.
What has caused this downturn? There are many reasons that have caused educational institutions to give up on the keeping of animals, especially mammals and birds. The most obvious reason is the difficulty in caring for the animals during long vacations.

It is interesting to note that slight changes have appeared in the difficulties expressed by schools during the last ten years. The long vacations have always been a major problem, and so has the issue of care during the weekends. Another problem, reported both in the past and now, is the effort needed to keep the animal housing clean. However, the issues of obtaining food for the animals and the handling of animal death, which were previously viewed as problems, are not presently on the list of major concerns voiced by school administrators. In recent years, schools have become more concerned with the handling of sick or injured animals, as well as with the increase in allergies in the student population and the fear of infectious diseases. This shift in educators' major concerns on this topic is perhaps a reflection of a changing attitude towards animals and worldwide trends in human health.
Whether the decreasing trend in the keeping of school pets will continue is hard to predict, as there are many proponents who insist that interacting with animals is essential in nurturing empathy in children. The Tokyo Veterinary Medical Association has been running a program to educate "school vets" since 2019. Though the course is currently being given online due to the pandemic, the association's aim is to educate veterinary practitioners to enable them to impart appropriate information to make school pet keeping a meaningful experience for the students.

Prepared for Zenoaq by Animal Literacy Research Institute

Jun.
2021

Japan, a nation of dog lovers

A recent survey conducted by The Asahi Shimbun, a national daily, focused on the attitude of the Japanese public towards dogs as pets. Dogs were the most favored pets in the country for a long time. But several years ago the estimated number of cats kept as pets surpassed that of dogs. The recent survey conducted by the Asahi asked their readers a very simple question, "Do you like dogs?" 71% of the respondents answered positively. The remaining 29% answered that they did not like dogs. The Asahi conducted a similar survey some years ago on cats where only 52% of the respondents answered positively. Though this is just one survey, the public attitude seems to favor dogs over cats. The survey also looked into the reasons as to why the respondents liked dogs. The most frequently used terms by the respondents to describe the reason why they liked dogs, were words such as "cute", "likes people", "loyal", "smart", etc... It seems that the "likes" side was based more on perception, feelings... Since over half of the "likes" group answered that they were not currently living with a dog, past experience and the perception of dogs which it helped formulate were the main factors affecting the positive answers.
On the other hand the "dislikes" group gave more concrete reasons as to why their feelings about dogs were negative. The two top reasons stated by the negative respondents were the possibility of bite accidents and the problem of barking. These reasons seem to be more concrete examples of issues that may arise with dogs. Another interesting aspect of the "dislikes" was the negative attitudes the respondents felt towards dog owners rather than the dogs themselves. Some respondents stated that the problem was with owners who allowed their dogs to relieve themselves everywhere. Others stated that they did not like the "self-centered attitude" of dog owners. This means there are certainly cases where people who claimed that they do not like dogs are actually upset over the behavior of dog owners rather than the dogs! Another interesting aspect of why people do not like dogs is that they are "care intensive". Some of the reasons stated by the "dislikes" group were, "too much work to care for" and "takes time to train". Apparently, people who expressed a "dislike" for dogs did so for the reason that they take too much time and effort to keep. This seems to be a possible reason for not owning a dog, but not necessarily a reason to dislike one.
The difference in the reasons behind whether people like or dislike dogs seems a bit strange. But perhaps there is a reason behind this difference. Those with a positive attitude towards dogs seemed to be affected more by what one may call a stereotype of the dog in Japanese society. The Japanese breeds are often described by words such as "loyal" and "intelligent". There are many folktales of dogs helping their people. Children's tales are filled with memorable canine characters, such as the dog who led his kind owner to a buried treasure trove. And of course, there is the world famous dog Hachiko, who was known for his unending loyalty towards his owner. The story of Hachiko, or perhaps better known in the West as Hachi, is a true tale of a dog who waited at the station for his master to come home even after his master's death. Such tales have contributed to creating the image of the dog as a loyal friend and partner.
On the other hand those who did not like dogs were more affected by issues pertaining to the "real world". For example "barking" has been a big issue in a country where the population density in urban areas is extremely high. Socialization is another problem with many city dogs that live in apartments and condominiums where they are oftentimes isolated from the world. Some dogs, especially the smaller breeds, get much less chances to walk out into the real world to meet strangers and other dogs. Naturally such dogs may develop a tendency to overreact to the unknown. This may, at times, lead to a higher potential for biting incidents.
Furthermore, irresponsible owners are also a problem. Though Japan is known for its cleanliness, there are still those who will not pick up after their dogs. Excrement in the park and other public areas have been a point of concern for many local governments. Some years ago a city council in western Japan tried to enact a "dog tax" in order to deal with the "poop issue" on the streets. Though the law never came into being as of now, it highlights the fact that this issue does arise in many localities and irritates the public. Respondents to the survey who stated that they do not like dogs were perhaps reacting to such social issues. This is very unfortunate for the poor dogs who certainly are not responsible for all the problems caused by their owners!
The point concerning dogs as being care intensive is very interesting and it seems to underline the increasing presence of dog care services, or businesses to be more precise.
Obedience classes, dog spas, grooming salons, dog runs, doggy day care, tailor made food... there seems to be an endless supply of services to care for one's pet pooch! Such a services may be appreciated by owners who are not good at caring for their animals or who are looking for more thorough care. On the other hand, those who are exposed to such advertisements on a daily basis may feel that dogs are indeed very expensive to care for and much more time consuming than other pets.
Though many Japanese people seem to prefer dogs to cats according to this survey, it is somewhat enlightening to see the reasons behind why people like or dislike dogs. It would be interesting to explore what sort of results similar surveys would bring in other countries and other cultures!

Prepared for Zenoaq by Animal Literacy Research Institute

Mar.
2021

Rethinking the relationship between humans and wild animals

The COVID pandemic continues to endanger lives throughout the world. It is still difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel. However, we humans must strive to learn what this tragedy is trying to teach us. In terms of our relationship with other living creatures with whom we share the planet, there is certainly a valuable lesson for us to learn at this time. Humans must look back to reconsider how we have interacted with wild animals in the past. Needless to say, this pandemic is not the only time in recent history that mankind has been plagued with the devastating effects of a zoonosis. We have domesticated many animals to suit our own needs. As far as these animals are concerned, both human and veterinary medicine have identified what dangers there might be in excessive contact between man and animal. Furthermore, ways to lessen such risks have been developed over the years. But, the risks of excessive contact between humans and wild animals is a totally different story. This pandemic is warning us of the inherent danger in excessive and "unnatural" contact with wild animals.
WWF Japan has very recently conducted an online survey on Japanese public attitude towards wildlife. 1000 people responded to an online questionnaire about wild animals and rare alien species. The age of the respondents ranged from teenagers to senior citizens. Japan is known as a large market for "exotic pets" and WWF Japan felt the need to clarify whether or not the general public was aware of the wildlife factor related to this pandemic. Unfortunately, one third of the respondents expressed the desire to "touch" rare animals and one in every six expressed the desire to keep such animals as pets!
33% answered positively to the question, "Would you like to touch these animals?" The positive responses came mainly from the younger generation, with 63% of the teenagers and 49% of those in their twenties stating that they had a desire to put their hands on exotic species. 17% of the respondents expressed the desire to keep such animals as pets.
When asked about whether they were aware of the risk of zoonosis pertaining to wildlife, the dangers posed by alien species brought into the country, and the fact that the current pandemic has been traced to human wildlife contact, 68% stated that they were "totally unaware" or "did not know much" about the issue!

Fortunately, WWF Japan then presented the respondents with facts pertaining to the issue of zoonosis. As a result 96% stated that they felt this was a serious problem. This is a huge relief, to know that education will definitely change people's perspectives.
However as stated earlier Japan has a large domestic market for exotic animals and it is now up to WWF and other related organizations to find a way to conduct effective outreach programs. How do we get a majority of the population to realize the dangers of keeping exotic pets? How can this be done when the popular media, especially television programs geared to entertain the public, continue to highlight the charm of exotic pets on screen?
Another factor that needs to be considered is how these exotic pets may suffer during emergencies. As the world knows Japan is a country prone to natural disasters such as earthquakes. For those animals that need heaters, UV lamps and other special equipment to survive a blackout could have serious consequences. Furthermore it is most likely that evacuation centers that allow people to come in with their pets will not accept wild animals. So, where will the owners board them in such cases? Many vet clinics and pet hotels would probably hesitate to take in these animals. This would mean that once a disaster strikes, the owners of exotic pets will be on their own to figure out ways in which to keep their pets safe. Unfortunately many people will not consider these issues when deciding to obtain an exotic species. But needless to say, if you decide to share your life with an animal you are becoming their guardian. If one cannot be responsible for protecting your animal under each and every situation, then perhaps it is best not to have these animals enter your life. We definitely need more experts like veterinarians and human doctors to speak up on these issues.

Prepared for Zenoaq by Animal Literacy Research Institute

Dec.
2020

The rise of wildlife encounters in Japan

The Japanese countryside has lately been experiencing a surge in wildlife encounters.
Bear encounters have increased this year and farmers have been worried about this trend. One of the reasons for this phenomenon is the relative lack of acorns as compared to the previous years. Japanese bears usually feast on acorns in late autumn in preparation for their long hibernation. It seems that the oak trees in the forests have not been as productive this year sending the bears out to forage for more food near human habitation. There have been numerous accidents, some fatal, reported in rural areas.
Needless to say, hunters have been called upon to deal with the bears when sightings are reported. This oftentimes results in the bears being put down. When human lives are put at risk, this may be the only solution, but in the long run such countermeasures may drive the bears to extinction. There are two types of bears in Japan. The main island of Honshu is inhabited by the Asian black bears, Ursus thibetanus japonica. Hokkaido, the northern island of Japan, is home to the brown bear, Ursus arctos yesonesis.

In some parts of Hokkaido, the brown bears are disappearing fast.
But the bears are not the only wild animals that have worried farmers in rural villages.
Wild boars and deer have been invading farmlands and consuming large amounts of agricultural produce. The bears are considered a danger to the communities, whereas wild boars, deer, and to some extent, monkeys, have been considered pests that invade fields of precious crops.
All these animals, in one way or another, have been the target of numerous attempts to keep them away from human communities.
Hunting in Japan is regulated by law. Both the hunting season and wildlife that may be legally hunted are strictly set. The hunting season in Japan starts on November 15 every year and ends on February 15. In Hokkaido, however, the season starts earlier, on October 1 and lasts till January 31 of the following year. But "vermin control", or the hunting of animals that are harmful to agricultural enterprises and human communities may be conducted during the period from February 16 to November 14. This essentially means that the above mentioned animals may be shot throughout the year.
Wild boars and deer account for a majority of agricultural loss, the amount announced by the authorities in 2016 being a total loss amounting to17.2 billion JPY of which only 1 billion has been attributed to monkeys. There are multiple causes to this phenomenon.
Humans have been expanding their communities and infringing on the territories of wildlife.
However remote villages, on the other hand, have steadily been losing their population leaving open farmlands untended and available to the wildlife. There is also the aging of the once booming population of hunters. Hunting has lost its popularity as a sport and the number of hunters is declining. In 1978 there were 500,000 registered hunters in Japan, but the numbers went down steadily since then. In 2009 there were only 150,000 registered hunters in the country.
However, as mentioned earlier, shooting "the pests" should not be the only solution to this issue. The problem of untended fields in marginal settlements should be addressed.
The farmers must also attempt to harvest all crops, not leaving anything which animals may perceive as food. Electrical fencing and other measures should be utilized more frequently to keep the wildlife out of farming grounds.
Humans and wild animals will inevitably continue to clash over territory and resources. But shooting, or exterminating what is troublesome may not be the wisest solution to resolve the conflict. This is not an issue faced only by the Japanese people. It is a worldwide issue that calls urgently for the expansion of human wisdom.

Prepared for Zenoaq by Animal Literacy Research Institute

Sep.
2020

Standards for Animal Businesses

According to the law pertaining to animal welfare in Japan that has recently been revised, the Ministry of the Environment will set forth certain standards that must be followed by those who have registered as animal businesses. Animal welfare groups have constantly complained about the lack of clear standards on the keeping of animals by pet shops and breeders. These groups have said that without definite quantitative standards it is extremely difficult for public inspectors to enforce the law. What does adequate staffing mean? How large should an enclosure be to ensure the welfare of the animal?
Animal welfare groups and sympathetic legislators have long insisted that without numerical values, it would be impossible to ensure the quality of life for the animals kept by business establishments. The lack of standards has also made the job of official inspection difficult, as inspectors must ponder over where to draw the line.
With the 2019 revision of the animal welfare law, the Ministry of the Environment has set up a task force to specifically address this issue with the goal of creating standards that must be followed by pet businesses. The document created by this task force will come up for review on October 7 during the meeting of the Animal Welfare Committee of the Central Environmental Council, an advisory group of the Ministry.
Animal welfare groups have been lobbying steadily for improvements to be made within the pet industry. They have been voicing their ideas on what these standards should be. For example, in terms of adequate staffing for animal care, many groups have been advocating for 10 animals per staff member. As for housing standards these groups stress the need not only for adequate floor space but also for "height", especially for cats. The requirement voiced by animal advocates is a minimum height of 170-180 centimeters for cat enclosures.

As for the number of times a breeding animal (dog and cats) may be bred, the animal welfare NGOs' state that a female should be bred only once a year and that they should be bred for only three litters in their lifetime. Some groups have stated that breeding females should be retired at 4 years of age and males at 3 years. In addition most groups are against breeding females during their first heat.
The contents of the draft document produced by the Ministry's task force has been seen by many animal welfare groups as too conservative. Earlier the Diet members' caucus supporting animal welfare put forth their version of suggested standards which are much higher than those of the Ministry. Needless to say, these standards were drawn up with the input from various animal advocacy groups. As stated earlier these suggested standards include both minimum breeding age and the maximum number of times an animal may be bred. Floor space requirements are also much larger than that suggested by the Ministry. On the other hand, pet businesses have spoken up about how these standards if enforced will cause numerous establishments to shut down as their business endeavors will no longer be feasible. They question whether or not the government is truly willing to go ahead with something that would bankrupt many business entities.
As always it is very difficult to find the middle ground to satisfy both the businesses and the animal protection movement.
Though the establishment of standards is in itself a significant step forward in terms of the efficacy of the law, there is still much to be said in terms of content and how to go about finding the right solution. The final standards have not been approved yet, and the official rules are yet to be set. Both the advocates and the pet industry are awaiting the final call with both anticipation and fear.

Prepared for Zenoaq by Animal Literacy Research Institute

Jun.
2020

Japan and the Wildlife Trade Issue

The world is now changing rapidly with the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The origin of this virus is thought to be the wet-markets in China where large numbers of wild animals were being sold for human consumption. Large markets where wild life is sold as food remains unregulated in many parts of the world. Needless to say, this poses a grave danger to global human health as proven so dramatically with the COVID-19 outbreak. Many people have been speaking out against the escalating trends in the global wildlife trade and this pandemic has added a new note of urgency to these voices.
Recently the World Wide Fund for Nature, also known as the World Wildlife Fund, conducted an international survey on the attitudes of people concerning these markets.
The WWF survey covered 1000 people each from Vietnam, Thailand, Hong Kong, Myanmar, and Japan.
On whether or not these unregulated markets where wildlife is sold should be banned, the rate of support for closure varied between the countries queried. Interestingly, the lowest rate of support was found in Japan, with 72 percent for closure. This was behind 91 percent in Myanmar, 80 percent in Hong Kong, 79 percent in Thailand, and 73 percent in Vietnam. When asked of their concern for the emergence of similar pathogens in the future if these markets are not regulated, Japan once again ranked below their fellow Asian countries in responding positively. 65 percent of the queried group in Japan said that they would be concerned if measures were not taken to control these markets, as compared to 85 percent in Hong Kong, 83 percent in Vietnam and Myanmar, and 80 percent in Thailand. Finally, in terms of the support that they would give to the authorities to initiate measures to regulate these markets, everyone, with the exception of the Japanese, expressed their willingness to do so, over 90 percent answering positively for regulation. Here again, interestingly, only 54 percent of the Japanese respondents expressed their support for governmental action.

Why is there such a stark difference in the responses between Japan and the other Asian nations? WWF has stated that this may be due to the fact that markets where live wildlife is sold for human consumption is nonexistent in Japan. This fact means that the Japanese people lack firsthand experience in this area and makes them less sensitive to the issue. Another reason for the low rate of support may be the lack of information given to the Japanese public on such matters through the media. Japanese media, in general do not spend much time reporting on international issues concerning wildlife and conservation. The contents of the triennial meeting of CITES held in Geneva last year was not taken up in detail by the domestic media. Nor did they touch upon how the Japanese public could/should support the decisions made during the meeting. The tendency of the media to skim through such information has created a population of people that are largely ignorant of the many issues surrounding the international trade in wildlife. One could say that the low percentages shown in the WWF survey have come about not because of the lack of interest on the part of Japanese people but more as the lack of education. Education through the dissemination of proper information is essential in order to stimulate a healthy interest in any field. Japanese media, as well as those experts involved in the conservation of wildlife should encourage the public to know more about rhino horns, ivory, pangolin scales and all the other prominent issues surrounding the wildlife trade.
Many Japanese people tend to think of animal issues as the exclusive territory of animal welfare groups. At the same time, these groups tend to focus their attention on pets, especially dogs and cats. As a result, issues related to the handling of animals becomes a very narrow playing field where activists are constantly criticizing the pet industry. Without awareness of the reality surrounding "other animals", i.e. food animals, lab animals, wildlife in trade and in captivity etc., Japanese people will never be able to see the truth in the concepts of One Health and One Welfare, concepts that are now so much a part of the global aims for a better and healthier community.
Perhaps introducing animal literacy into the nation's secondary education may help in raising the awareness of future citizens. But at the same time the media need to take on a more responsible role in reporting on issues concerning animals. They need to look beyond the "warm fuzzies" as well as the entertainment factor surrounding animals.

Prepared for Zenoaq by Animal Literacy Research Institute

Mar.
2020

An example of biosecurity: Swine Fever and Detection Dogs

In September 2018, an outbreak of Classical Swine Fever (CSF) was reported in Gifu Prefecture, a central mountainous region of Honshu, the largest main island of Japan. Since first reported in a pig farm in Gifu, the number of infected animals and facilities has continued to rise. By the summer of 2019, 25 farms in 5 different prefectures were affected and the number of animals put down rose to over 100,000. Over 500 cases of infected wild boars have also been reported by June 2019. Though, Japan saw its last case of swine fever early in the 1990's, and had declared itself "clean" to the OIE in 2007, the reemergence of this deadly disease is now a large threat to the domestic industry.
Tests have shown that the strain of the pathogen causing this new outbreak is different from what was domestically seen in earlier times before the disease was eradicated. This new strain of the CSF virus is thought to have been brought in from the Asian continent. Its first outbreak in Japan is thought to have occurred in wild boars that ingested contaminated garbage containing the pathogen. In other words the garbage had contained contaminated meats and meat products brought in from the continent. Furthermore, an African Swine Fever outbreak has started on the Asian continent with the first cases reported in China in 2018; of which no cases have been reported in Japan yet. Though the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has been enforcing biosecurity measures in farms, such as setting up barriers to prevent the entry of wild boars as well as outsiders, there is the continued issue of tourists both domestic and foreign that bring in meat products from the continent. Since the novel corona virus (COVID-19) outbreak, there has been a widespread decline in the international movement of humans, but prior to this outbreak, over 500 international flights came in and took off from Narita Airport alone in one day. Since a little over one third of international travelers come in through Narita, it is where the most important defense outpost should be to prevent pathogens from entering the country. This is where the agriculture dogs, the sniffers, are put to work in search of "agricultural contraband". The handlers and the dogs work as a team and go through the baggage claim area. The dogs will sit in front of any "suspicious bags" to indicate that they have found "something". Officials will approach the owner of the baggage and take them to the inspection counter. If the baggage contains restricted food products including both animal and plant products, needless to say, the owners are required to relinquish all such items. Often the people bringing in these products state that they are for personal use only and are not for "commercial use". What they do not understand is that the inspection is not for the detection of tax evaders, but is done to prevent contagious diseases from entering the country. The officials are health professionals working to protect the domestic scene from foreign pathogens. Most travelers thus caught are those who have inadvertently brought in animal and plant products without knowing the regulations. However, there are some who try to enter the country with boxes and boxes of meat products and refuse to give them up. At Narita, the agriculture dogs and their handlers have been successful in maintaining a high rate of detection but not all ports of entry can be thus covered.

It is said that in all other airports throughout the country the dogs can cover only about 50% of the incoming flights. Australia, for example, reaches only about 30% of the number of tourists in Japan, but they have 1.5 times as many agriculture dogs as Japan. Japan is in dire need of more sniffers but since the dogs do not work alone, both dog-power and manpower must be trained to be deployed. Unfortunately, resources are limited and this cannot happen overnight. The country must continue to do what it can with whatever is available for the prevention of epidemics.

Prepared for Zenoaq by Animal Literacy Research Institute

Dec.
2019

Service Dogs in Japan

As the hosting nation for the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, Japan can expect to see a large increase in the number of foreign visitors next summer. One of the issues that has recently been brought up is the access rights of service dog users.
Japan is perhaps the only country in the world that has a legal certification system for service dogs. The Japanese law concerning people with disabilities that use service dogs has two main sections. One deals with access rights, stating that all public institutions and facilities that are open to the general public may not refuse entry to service dogs and their users. In other words the first part of this law guarantees access.
The second part of this law states that to be given access, service dogs must be certified by a third party, an institution designated by the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labor.
In short, the state through the law demands that all service dogs to be allowed to enter public facilities, public transportation, commercial facilities etc., but also takes responsibility for ensuring the training quality of these dogs so that facilities are not adversely affected by giving them access.
The service dog access law that was enacted in 2002 aims to protect the interest of both parties, those entering with service dogs and those allowing the entry.
This law applies only to three types of service dogs which is another aspect that may be unique to Japan. Legal access is given only to guide dogs, hearing dogs, and mobility service dogs. Under the Japanese law all other types of service dogs are not guaranteed access to public facilities. Needless to say, the law specifically refers to "service dogs" which means that no other species can be certified as service animals.
Because of the wide range of service animals now seen around the world, the Japanese situation has been a point of concern for those planning to visit the upcoming Olympic/Paralympic Games.
The Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labor has stated that service dogs coming into the country may be issued a temporary certificate to allow access. It must be issued by a legitimate domestic service dog training organization. All service dog training organizations must be registered as a "Second Class Social Welfare Enterprise" with the regional government. If dogs are trained by non-registered organizations they will not be eligible for certification. The certification process is actually a public access test that is run by a testing committee consisting of human medical and welfare professionals, as well as animal training professionals, to evaluate the safety, efficacy, and social appropriateness of the human-dog pair. There are several institutions authorized by the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labor to run the certification program. They are located in various parts of the country and include some human medical institutions.

Guide dogs are not a part of this certification program. The guide dog schools are exempt from this certification process as these schools cannot be set up without the permission of the National Public Safety Commission. Since the standards set forth by the Commission for the establishment of a guide dog training institution is extremely high the existing guide dog organizations are exempt from the third party evaluation of their graduates. Needless to say, foreign guide dog users travelling with their dogs must also ask for a temporary pass to be issued by one of the domestic institutions.
Apart from the various rules and limits set forth by the service dog access law, Japan is a rabies free country and thus all those travelling with animals should make sure that vaccination and quarantine requirements are thoroughly checked before any travel plans are set down.
As for the "hard and fast rules" for service dog access in this country, the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labor has stated that the only thing they can and will do is explain the contents of the domestic law to foreign travelers and ask that they be respected.

Prepared for Zenoaq by Animal Literacy Research Institute

Sep.
2019

Rabbit Island

A small island in the Seto Inland Sea in the western part of Japan located between the mainland, Honshu, and the island of Shikoku has been attracting the attention of tourists, including international ones. This island, Okuno-shima, is otherwise known as "Rabbit Island" and has become internationally famous due to photos and videos spread through social media. The island is inhabited by scores of feral rabbits and has become a large tourist attraction in recent years.
The origin of this large feral colony is somewhat hazy. No one knows for sure how these rabbits came to be on this particular island. There are several theories. For example, one is related to the original use of the island by the Japanese military during the Second World War. Okuno-shima was a military establishment that housed a laboratory dedicated to the development and manufacturing of poisonous gas. After the war the facility was decommissioned and abandoned. The rabbits that were kept as lab animals were let loose on the island and there they stayed, reproduced, and thrived without any human interference. There is another theory that states that the rabbits were originally school pets that were brought to and abandoned on the island by a school teacher. No one knows for sure what the truth is about these rabbits but they have occupied the island and there they are today.
The island is under the jurisdiction of the Japanese Ministry of the Environment and humans are not allowed to settle there. There is one hotel resort where visitors are allowed to stay, but there are no other buildings on the island, other than the museum, the tourist center and the ruins of the former military facility. Many of these ruins, including old factories, lab buildings, and even bunkers serve as convenient and sturdy shelters for rabbit colonies. No animals can be brought in. Thus, except for some raptors, the rabbits have no predators on the island. Wild boars that are capable of swimming fairly long distances are sometimes seen on the island but there seems to be little conflict between them and the rabbits.
Recently the island has been highlighted by some animal protection groups due to the poor condition of the rabbits. Videos on YouTube have shown rabbits with scars from injuries and those that seem malnourished. The scenes showing these "neglected rabbits" have caused many to speak up for authorities' intervention.
The Japan Animal Welfare Society (JAWS) has even received calls from foreign nationals that have seen those videos.

There are several issues that need to be discussed. One of them is the issue of food. Some tourists, journalists and researchers have reported on the lack of food on the island for the large number of animals.
The impression one gets when first setting foot on the island is indeed that grass has been eaten down to the ground. But that is actually only in areas where there are benches and walkways for tourists. The island itself is quite lush when one ventures into uncharted areas. It takes a little over 2 hours to go around the entire island. Vehicles are not allowed. There is only one vehicle on the island, the bus that shuttles visitors to the only hotel resort from the port where the ferries come in. Most visitors will stay in the area between the port and the resort and most of the photos and videos are taken there. The area in front of the resort is a large open space where the visitors will hang around feeding the rabbits. Some will come with piles of vegetables to leave in the area. Needless to say, that is where many, many rabbits will gather attracted to the carrots and greens that the tourists bring in. Unfortunately a large number of rabbits going for treats in a limited area will result in conflict and rivalry. This is where most of the injuries are seen. Many rabbits will also hang around the port area in anticipation of the "treat bringers". The mass feeding of the rabbits on the island causes two main issues. One is the acceleration of proliferation, i.e. there is more breeding if there is more food. The other issue is human dependence. The feeding of feral animals causes them to depend more on humans which, in turn, will cause other issues such as the aforementioned gathering of an unnatural number of individuals in a limited area.
One other problem caused by the feeders is that of "overload". Some visitors will bring large quantities of food such as whole cabbages. During the summer, the man-made piles of vegetables will rot, giving off unpleasant odors and generally marring the hygiene of the environment.
Businesses catering to tourists such as the shops near the port of Tadanoumi, where the ferry departs for Okuno-shima, openly advertise the fact that "vegetables cannot be bought on the island", encouraging tourists to buy treats for the rabbits from them.
Because of the sheer number of rabbits and the fact that they have been feral for generations, the Ministry of the Environment feels that medical intervention is not possible. However, a survey of the island is being considered to evaluate the number of rabbits as well as the conditions of their environment.
Perhaps more rules should be put in place concerning the number of visitors allowed and the management of their feeding practices.

Prepared for Zenoaq by Animal Literacy Research Institute

Jun.
2019

The Plastics Issue and Japan

Plastic waste disposal has been a looming problem for each and every country. There is so much plastic now polluting our environment that life has indeed become hazardous to both people and animals. As many of us know, the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal of 1989 was revised on the 10th of May. The revision was to include a new rule concerning the export of "dirty plastic wastes", i.e. those plastics that have not been cleaned out and therefore unfit for recycling. The revised Convention states that exports of such wastes may not be conducted without prior agreement from the government of the importing nation. 180 nations have supported this revision and as a result of this new development, some countries have started to refuse imports of dirty plastic wastes from Japan.
But more important is the fact that the oceans of the world are now so polluted with micro-plastics that there is no effective way for humans to "clean up what they have sullied". It is estimated that no less than 100 million tons of micro-plastics are adrift on the seas. These particles are less than one millimeter in size, and these miniscule particles, often undetectable to the human eye, are consumed by many kinds of marine life. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the United States Department of Commerce have reported that these tiny particles are small enough for baby fish to consume. In terms of reproductive statistics in general for fish, of all the eggs that are laid by mature individuals, only 0.1 percent survive to reach adulthood. This means that the more micro-plastics invade the diets of baby fish, the more human beings will be faced with the diminishing of marine food resources.
What does this mean for Japan where a large number of traditional foods are based on marine resources? "Kaizuka", shell mounds, as they are known around the world are prehistoric dump sites where huge amounts of sea shells and fish bones have been found.
These mounds have been dated to be more than 10,000 years old, and attest to the fact that marine life has always been central to the Japanese diet. Japan is famous for the longevity of its population as well as for the extremely low percentage of obese people. This phenomenon is in fact partly due to the national diet which has been based on sea food rather than meat, though in recent years the per capita consumption of meat has surpassed that of fish. The northern people of the Japanese archipelago, the indigenous Ainu, consumed large amounts of salmon, utilizing every part of the fish. Even shoes were made of dried salmon skin. The southern people of Japan, on the Ryukyu Islands, ate large amounts of fried fish cakes known as "age-kama". The mainland people had a tradition of eating raw fish, which Japan is famous for even today.

Going back to the reports by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a large consumer of micro-plastics is the flying fish. Unfortunately, this fish is one of the favorites of Japanese cuisine. "Ago-dashi", or flying fish soup concentrate, is one of the most popular types of flavoring used for many traditional dishes. The nationally famous cooking site, "Cookpad", has numerous recipes listed for this particular fish. Needless to say, the Japanese people are also consuming the micro-plastics that come with the fish.
Our animal friends are also in danger of consuming these pollutants. The majority of cat food sold in Japan is fish-based. In fact the Japanese image of the cat is always paired with some sort of fish. Cat supplies, cat dishes, blankets, toys and other trinkets almost always have fish designs on them. Of course dog treats based on fish are also sold. With the issue of allergies becoming more and more prominent, changing the protein source of dog food to fish is a very attractive option. Dried fish flakes are sold as toppings for both dog and cat food. Therefore, one may safely assume that micro-plastics are steadily making their way into the bodies of our beloved animals as well.
Another issue pertaining to wastes in the ocean is that of plastic bags. Japan has several famous beaches where sea turtles land to lay their eggs. As is well known, these turtles eat jellyfish. Plastic bags floating in the water can be mistaken for jellyfish and ingested by the sea turtles. Needless to say this will cause obstruction of the gut, suffocation, and many other problems adding to the sad demise of an already endangered species.
The world is now embarking on a new endeavor to do away with plastic straws, trays and other items. Free plastic bags and wrapping in shops are gradually disappearing. But, Japan still lags behind many countries in changing their ideas on "wrapping". In many high end stores when a customer buys a fresh food item, the clerk will first wrap this in a plastic bag, then the bagged item will be wrapped once again in wrapping paper with the store logo, then again this wrapped item is put into a plastic or paper carry bag!
In order to tackle the waste problem, the Japanese public must first change their perception of customer service. Over wrapping is not the customer service of this age!

Prepared for Zenoaq by Animal Literacy Research Institute

Mar.
2019

Are Small Breeds More Convenient?

More and more Japanese dog lovers are beginning to turn to smaller breeds as pets.
The toy breeds are increasing in number and the larger breeds are declining, as more people prefer to keep smaller dogs as pets. One factor contributing to this trend is the lack of space in this country. A large percentage of the population live in apartments in tight living quarters. As a result, smaller breeds such as toy poodles, Chihuahuas and miniature Dachshunds are becoming very popular as companion dogs. Needless to say, in terms of convenience or "ease of keeping", these small dogs would be the natural choice for many pet owners in this country. However, the popularity of, and the increase in numbers of smaller dogs has created issues on many fronts.
First of all, there are some owners of these dogs who feel that their dogs do not need to go outdoors. Their rationale would be that since the dogs are so small, running around inside their apartment gives them plenty of exercise and thus there is no need to walk them outside. This has been the cause of several issues, one of which is the lack of socialization of the dogs. Since Japan is a disaster prone country, pet owners must be prepared to evacuate with their animals. If and when a disaster strikes and the owner is forced to move out of the home and into an evacuation center, the dog would, of course, accompany him/her. But if this dog has never, or very rarely, seen and experienced the outside world, the evacuation process can be extremely stressful. The dog may not be able to cope with living in a strange place with a horde of strangers and their pets. There may be barking, whining, stress-related illnesses and more. In other words, many small breeds are kept under conditions where they are never allowed to learn the life skills that will enable them to lead a stable life.
Another and more important issue related to the "indoor life" of these small dogs is the owner's lack of understanding concerning the true meaning of the nation's dog registration system. Dog owners in Japan must register their dogs with the local authority under the Rabies Prevention Act. Each year the registration must be renewed.
Owners must receive a new dog tag in exchange for a rabies vaccination certificate each year. This system ensures that Japan stays a rabies free region. However there are currently some owners of small house-bound dogs who insist that registration and likewise, vaccination is unnecessary for their dogs because "they do not go outside". Though legally mandatory, the registration rate of dogs is far from reaching the 100 percent mark. This can be very dangerous for the entire nation, as it is known that should rabies enter the region, the vaccination rate of dogs in said region is the major factor in either the prevention or proliferation of the disease.

Apart from these issues concerning the lives of dogs, the rising popularity of smaller dog breeds is a major concern for the pet industry. Looking at this trend from the business standpoint, smaller animals means less food sold. But the problem is not only about how much dog food the manufacturers can sell. All supplies on the market will be faced with downsizing. This means smaller goods such as crates and equipment, as well as smaller amounts of supplements and pharmaceuticals. Dog trainers are facing the issue of people not needing as much help for behavior problems since the "little ones" do not cause as much trouble even though they may be more nervous or crankier than the larger breeds.
"Just pick them up to stop them", is the easier solution many owners choose to practice.
All in all, the general preference for smaller dogs may have a large dampening effect on the pet industry as a whole.
So, is the issue of space the only reason the small dogs are winning? Perhaps not. The Japanese word "kawaii", translated as "cute", has become known worldwide as an aspect of the nouveau culture of the country. The cuteness factor has become a prominent feature of many consumer goods. Stationary, clothes, sundries...cute designs and motifs are found on almost anything. This culture of "kawaii" may be one of the reasons people are so attracted to smaller dogs. There are many boutiques that sell cute clothes for these dogs as well. Dressing their cute dog in colorful, fluffy clothes is also a popular trend. Many foreign people will be surprised at the variety of pet clothes available on the market as well as with the large number of people who "dress-up" their dogs. This has given rise to another troubling issue, that of "smaller small dogs". One example would be the popularly used term "mame-shiba" meaning miniature shiba. There is no such breed but many owners insist that their dog is a miniature shiba. These are simply shiba inu that have been bred to be smaller than the standard breed. There are many toy poodles and other small breeds that are now being bred to be dangerously small. These tiny dogs seem to appeal to the public who endorse the cuteness trend. Needless to say, extreme downsizing may cause physical problems for the dog. Veterinarians need to speak up about the dangers of such a trend.
Small dogs are indeed cute and cuddly, they may also be less of a burden on people in terms of space and care. The trend to keep smaller breeds in itself is not an issue, but when this trend affects other factors we need to think of ways in which to prevent the negative outcomes that may arise.

Prepared for Zenoaq by Animal Literacy Research Institute

Jan.
2019

Japan and the Whale Controversy

Japan withdrawing from the International Whaling Commission (IWC) was one of the latest news items concerning animals that drew global interest. It is interesting to note that this was not a topic of deep interest to many Japanese citizens. Why? Simply because the Japanese whaling industry is a dying industry that does not affect the lives of very many people and most domestic consumers are not terribly interested in the consumption of whale meat. Unfortunately the views of those outside of Japan do not reflect such facts. To the outside world, the Japanese people favor whale meat and are interested in preserving the cultural aspect of whaling. For a majority of the Japanese people, whale meat is not considered a crucial part of the Japanese traditional diet. It was widely used in the immediate postwar era as a useful and readily available source of protein. As such, it appeared in school lunches as well. Many middle aged citizens remember the days when whale meat appeared regularly in public school lunches. These memories for some are not very mouth-watering. They remember tough meat and fishy odors. Needless to say, there are gourmets who savor special parts of the whale as delicacies, but these do not constitute the majority.
So why is the country so aggressively protective of whaling? The answer is most likely a political one. The leading political parties are influenced largely by local conservative interests in various regions. This means that "traditional items" cannot be dropped from their agendas. At the same time, it seems as though the Japanese government (and other politicians as well) cannot "back down" even though national consumption of whale meat products has gone down drastically. "Iji" is a Japanese word that is hard to translate into the English language. Loosely translated, the word means ego, but is actually much more than that. It can also mean spine or backbone, not anatomically but rather, mentally. In other words the Japanese government is leaving the IWC in order to show that they are not spineless. The whaling issue has indeed become a battle of egos.
However there is another whaling issue concerning Japan that surfaced several years ago.
This is the issue of the dolphin drive hunts in Wakayama.
Every year from September to March the dolphin drive hunts are conducted in a certain area in Wakayama Prefecture. Each year more than a 1000 dolphins are captured or killed in these drive hunts. The dolphins are killed for meat but at the same time many are sold to aquariums around the world for an immense profit. The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) has prohibited its members from buying dolphins from drive hunts that are considered both cruel and unnecessary. The Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums had been warned by the WAZA that some of their member facilities were indeed buying dolphins from these drive hunts. JAZA chose to ignore these warnings for quite some time, until WAZA decided to suspend their membership until they resolved this problem. After much debate, JAZA finally decided to enforce the WAZA rules and tell all their member organizations that they would no longer be able to buy dolphins from the drive hunts. This enabled JAZA to retain their membership in the world organization, but at the expense of losing several members who decided to give up their membership in JAZA so that they would still be able to buy dolphins.
The dolphin drive hunt in Wakayama was made into a documentary film and went on to receive the documentary film award at the Oscars. The documentary entitled The Cove caused a worldwide sensation, and the fishing village connected to these dolphin hunts became the focus of animal welfare activists and environmentalists. However, the Japanese news media did not go on to elaborate on the facts shown in the film, but went on to say that the film itself was too one-sided and did not respect Japanese culture, not to mention the fact that very few Japanese nationals were even aware of these hunts and that most of them have never even tasted dolphin meat.
So, whales and the Japanese people, where do we go from here? Nowhere. Until the Japanese public is made aware of the fact that they are perceived as "whale consumers and dolphin killers" outside of their national border nothing will happen. Until this happens and the Japanese public is educated enough to understand what is going on, the whale issue will not be resolved. At least for now JAZA has chosen to remain a member of the international community. This is a step forward in the right direction, but for the time being, that is all that is going to happen. Some say that a large number of the cetacean species in Japanese coastal waters will never attain sustainable levels. But withdrawal from the IWC means that Japanese whalers will have to return to their coastal hunting grounds. Do the Japanese people have to worry about this? Yes, by all means, yes.

Prepared for Zenoaq by Animal Literacy Research Institute

Nov.
2018

Visitor-Animal Interactions as a Fad

Facilities where visitors can interact with various animals are becoming more and more popular in Japan. Needless to say, petting zoos have always been a large attraction for children and adults, but the ordinary petting zoo with guinea pigs and rabbits is now evolving into something much more exotic, and at times, unbelievable.
Cat cafes are a phenomenon that started in this country, but it has now spread to other parts of the world. There are cat cafes in various cities in both the U.S. and the EU. Cat cafes are places where people can relax whilst interacting with cats that are kept on the premises. They have been quite popular in Japan, perhaps due to the fact that many people are unable to keep pets because of a busy work life or because of housing restrictions. Pet shops in Japan are not allowed to operate after certain hours under the animal protection law in order to prevent the over-stressing of animals, but cat cafes are given a certain leeway. They are allowed to operate for a few more hours at night to accommodate those visitors who arrive after work to enjoy a few hours of "de-stressing" with the cats.
So far so good. Well, the newer developments in visitor-animal interactions is not all about cat cafes. There have been a "blossoming" of various animal cafes, including hedgehog cafes, raptor cafes, owl cafes, and more! This has become a serious issue with many animal protection organizations that have spoken up against these entities. But it seems as though the public never hear these voices. These exotic cafes are perpetually full of "fun-loving" people including tourists from other nations. It is incredible that anyone would think of parading a nocturnal animal like the owl in broad daylight and having multitudes of people gawking at them. The hedgehog café that has now become widely known is located in Harajuku. This locality is known for its fancy shops and pop culture, and is popular with both adults and youngsters alike. Many people travel from afar to come to Harajuku these days, not only for the culture, but also to experience the "tantalizing hedgehog café"! The Japanese word "kawaii" is now known to many people around the world. The word literally means "cute". Japan is at the top of the cute phenomenon, where everything and anything "cute" goes. In that regard, hedgehogs are the ultimate kawaii creature. It is no wonder that the café where one is allowed to hold them in your hands is so popular.
But the ever spreading phenomenon does not stop here. There is a petting zoo in the Yokohama area that allows visitors to have a truly close up experience with capibaras. The creatures are not fenced in, nor are their movements restricted in any way. Though these creatures are gentle in nature, they are wild animals and can be unpredictable in their behavior. Visitors passing through the facility casually pet these capibaras as though they were dogs or cats in their living room. Risk control seems not to be an important factor here. This facility also houses an armadillo and a meerkat, fenced in by a low acrylic fence that allows visitors to reach in and touch them. Here again the concept of risk control seem to be irrelevant.

Amazingly, there are also reptile cafes housing numerous types of the slithering creatures. Though people are asked to sanitize their hands afterwards, the risk of a salmonella infection seems very real. Needless to say these somewhat "unconventional" facilities, or rather businesses, can continue because there is a steady flow of consumers.
Why do people visit these facilities? It is interesting to note that many Japanese people love animals but seem to enjoy these "not-too-animal-friendly" attractions. This has been a long disputed topic in the controversial world of dolphinariums. Japan has the highest number of aquariums per capita. As the exhibits of dolphins and whales become more and more controversial, the Japanese exhibitors have openly stated that the Japanese population "love dolphin shows", thus making it harder for them to stop these attractions.
This is probably a "chicken or the egg" argument, but one thing that needs to be understood here is the general lack of education. Though environmental issues are taught in schools, the predicament of wild animals and their position in the natural environment, and what humans should understand about them are hardly touched upon. If they are touched upon, then they are presented in such a way that it is in disconnect with the wild animals we see around us.
Japan is known to be one of the world's largest markets for wildlife, it is time that the educational system begin to address the real problem in the country's entertainment industry.

Prepared for Zenoaq by Animal Literacy Research Institute

Jul.
2018

Aging with Pets

As with other developed economies around the world, Japan is now facing the issue of an aging population. In relation to animals, there are currently two currents of thought regarding pet keeping by the senior population. One of the two, is the idea that pets are "good" for old people. Many people have come across literature citing the benefits of animals on human health. And in the world of an aging population there are many experts who are focusing on the health benefits of pet keeping for the elderly. Needless to say, the thought itself cannot be denied. Pets are a wonderful stimulus both mentally and physically, they give companionship where necessary, and they can become objects of the human nurturing instinct in place of the children that have, many years ago, left home. The animals give the elderly a purpose in life, a reason to get up in the morning, and to leave the indoors, for walking, for the procurement of necessary supplies.
So, society on the one hand is all for the keeping of pets by senior citizens.
However, we must take a look at the other side of the coin, the second current of thought, or better stated, the reality behind all this. Though there are many positive things to be said about the effects of pet keeping by the elderly, in reality, things are not so easy, especially here in Japan.
There are many factors that contribute to this issue. Obviously, one that is probably common in other cultures as well, would be the issue of financial means. For many people with age comes the loss of income as they retire from their jobs. Living on a pension is limiting in many ways. Needless to say, keeping an animal is not cheap. Basic supplies, veterinary care, and other expenses will tax a small household budget. The other common issue is that of the physical ability to care for an animal. With seniority comes fragility and the loss of motor skills. This means that caring for pets becomes very difficult. At the same time there is the worry of one's own health. What will I do with the pet if I am hospitalized? Or even worse, what will happen to the animal if I must enter a care facility?
One thing which may be unique to Japan is the fact that many public animal adoption centers run by the regional governments have an upper age limit for new owners. This age may differ slightly between local governments but what this means is that if you are over 65, 70 etc. years of age, then you are disqualified from adopting an animal from the shelter. Many private shelters also have set such limits. This means that for older people adopting animals from shelters is not an option. Thus, the only way for those who are aged and indeed desperate to obtain a pet may be buying a puppy or a kitten from a pet shop. But for older people who feel that they do not have as many years ahead of them as the younger generation may, getting a puppy which will most likely need a home for the next 10 to 15 years is quite a burden in itself. There being very few assisted living facilities and care homes that allow their clients to move in with their pets, which may be too heavy a burden, when thinking of the future of both the animals and their owners. This will most certainly deter elderly people from making a positive decision.

Another issue that may be unique to Japan is the existence of care homes for senior dogs and cats. As their owners get older so do the pets. One of the current issues is that of seniors having to care for their aging pets. Whilst the physical abilities of elderly pet owners decline, the caring of older pets becomes more and more demanding for the senior owners. This results in them looking for ways to find other means of care for their animals. This issue is further exacerbated by the fact that euthanasia is not a very commonly accepted procedure yet in the Japanese veterinary community. Bed ridden animals cared for until they die "a natural death" is not uncommon in this country. Naturally this is a big burden on both the animal and their aged caretakers. Though euthanasia is not the only way to deal with such issues it is certainly an option that may be presented to the elderly in these situations. The care homes or hospices for senior dogs and cats do not come cheap and there are many who may not be able to pay for such care. These owners have nowhere to go but to the public animal control/shelters. Senior pets are difficult to adopt out and so what happens to them...the answer here is obvious.
Well, why not offer senior pets to those seniors who are still physically capable and looking for a pet? This is something that Japanese shelters both public and private should consider. Perhaps it would be possible, as has been proven by a number of programs in the U.S., to set up a system where senior citizens would be given the option to adopt older animals at a lower adoption fee and with the guarantee that the shelter would take the pets back in case of death or hospitalization of the owner. It would give the animals a chance of finding a loving home and would certainly give many elderly people a wonderful motivation "to keep going"!

Prepared for Zenoaq by Animal Literacy Research Institute

Mar.
2018

What's Unique About the Japanese Breeds?

Japanese breeds are becoming increasingly popular amongst dog lovers the world over. They are certainly beautiful in appearance and unique in character. Most Japanese breeds originated as hunting dogs, helping their owners who were called "matagi", a special name for the professional hunters of lore. Perhaps the most interesting fact about these breeds is their closeness to their wild cousins, the wolves. With the exception of a few, such as the Japanese Chin, a toy breed, most of the Japanese breeds are quite similar in appearance, They are short coated, have the typical spitz shape pricked ears and a tail that curls over their back. The Chin and the Tosa fighting dog are brachycephalic but the other hunting breeds all have long snouts, though with somewhat of a variation. It is interesting to note that these dogs are all named after the region of their origin. Though this is not a unique phenomenon in breed names, these Japanese breeds all started out as village dogs of specific regions. Compared to their western counterparts, these Japanese hunting dogs, like the Shiba, Akita, Kishu, Kai etc.,were never bred for a certain physical trait or function. In modern times, breed standards have certainly been written and thus size, coloring etc. have now been set forth for each of the breeds. However, traditionally these breeds were never "manipulated" to emphasize certain traits. The long body of the Dachshund suited for going down into nest holes, the small compact body of the "rat -killers" like the Jack Russell and Yorkshire terriers, these were all traits picked out and emphasized by man to be more effective in their field of work. The Japanese dogs were what could be called "village dogs". The Japanese hunting breeds were left in their natural form without excessive human interference and as a result the basic physical traits remained more or less the same. The major differences seen over time were those that were emphasized through breeding only within the local stock. Thus the dogs living in Akita gradually evolved into a physical appearance a little different from the dogs breeding, for example, in the Kai region. There is also a large variation in size ranging from the large Akita and Kishu types that stand around 70 cm at the withers to the smaller Shiba Inu at about 40 cm.
The Tosa dog is to be differentiated from the Tosa fighting dog, the large mastiff type dogs used for dog fighting. The Tosa dog frequently referred to as the Shikoku dog, another "regional name", is again of the same body type as the other Japanese hunting dogs. Many of these breeds go back almost 1000 years and have been designated as natural monuments by the government. The aforementioned Tosa dog was designated as such in 1937. The Kai dogs bred in the mountainous region of Koshu, the present day Yamanashi Prefecture, was designated as a natural monument earlier in 1934. The Akita currently gaining popularity around the world became a natural monument in1931. The Hokkaido dog, another natural monument, frequently referred to as the Ainu dog was a valuable companion for the Ainu, the indigenous people of northern Japan. They were fierce hunting dogs used to hunt bears and Ezo deer. The Hokkaido dogs became famous in 1900 when they participated in the search and rescue efforts for the troops of the Imperial Japanese Army lost in the snowy mountains of Hakkoda in Aomori Prefecture. The Shiba Inu, perhaps the most famous of the Japanese breeds is said to be as old as the country itself. Similar to the Pariah dogs that are seen in wide areas of Southeast Asia including the Philippines. Perhaps they too are of southern origin. There are references to these dogs in ancient Japanese poetry.

The Japanese hunting breeds are all known for their intelligence and brave hunting behavior. However many of them are also famous for their "aloofness". The Kai dog, for example is known as a dog that will refuse to take on a second master, remaining fiercely loyal to its first and only. The Shiba is also known for its loyalty. Besides being good hunting dogs, these characteristics make these breeds good guard dogs as well, as many of them are extremely wary of strangers. The Akita has been characterized as" being wary of all except its master". Though often referred to as brave hunting dogs, in terms of modern day behavior science, these dogs would be termed "shy". The term is not meant to be derogatory, it simply reflects the basic nature of these "primitive dogs" that are much closer to the wolf than their western cousins. However this is a point that must be kept in mind when deciding to obtain a Japanese hunting breed. These dogs need to be socialized at a young age in order for them to be able to participate in the lives of their owners. Though there are exceptions, these breeds are generally more reserved and less willing to accept the new and strange when compared to, for example, the retrievers.
There are other Japanese breeds that are different from these hunting types. Their histories are much shorter and as a result better documented. The Japanese Chin was brought to the Imperial Court of Japan in 732 A.D. from Korea. The Japanese Terrier famous for listening to "his masters voice" was bred from the Smooth Fox Terrier in western Japan in the 1800's. The Spitz was imported into Japan from the west in 1924 and gradually evolved domestically to become the Japanese Spitz. Though treated as Japanese breeds, these latter day breeds were and are very different from the "indigenous village dog" type hunting breeds.
Going back to the original hunting breeds, there is a growing demand for dogs such as the Shiba and Akita worldwide. Needless to say, the temperament of these breeds must be seriously considered before bringing them into one's life. They are not cuddly lap dogs. Nor are they the tail wagging retrievers. Instead of wondering whether or not the breed is the right dog for oneself, it may be better to think of whether or not the human's lifestyle and personality is right for the dog.

Prepared for Zenoaq by Animal Literacy Research Institute

Mar.
2013

Animal Assisted Therapy or What??

Animal assisted therapy, animal assisted activities, animal therapy...whatever you want to call it is becoming a popular phenomenon worldwide. Needless to say, those involved in the field on a "serious level" know that animal assisted therapy and animal assisted activity are the words being used to describe the participation of animals in human health care, currently being grouped under what is known as animal assisted interactions. However, many people like to put their own twist on things, whatever the subject matter. People simply want to be unique. People want to stand out as the "one and only". So in this field we hear word like pet therapy, dog therapy etc.etc. Japan is no exception to this worldwide trend in bringing animals into the human health care scene. Though there are still many institutions that do not care to have animal brought in to meet their patients, many others are beginning to start programs without making use of the basic foundational skills and knowledge that is available, has been available for the last two decades. Recently two very large institutions made public their plans to incorporate animals into human care programs. One of them is Saga University located in Saga prefecture on the southern island of Kyushu. The Department of Agriculture at the university has opened a center for what they term "creative-agri education"(translated into English by your truly and not the official English name). The main objective of this center is to start an animal therapy project using farm animal such as cows and pigs for human health care, human welfare, and education. The concept is to bring these animals traditionally regarded as food or property into contact with human beings to promote emotional stability and to improve the QOL of human beings. This project is the center of the university's new Agri-Medical division (and this does not mean veterinary medical activities practiced on large animals and food animals). Though the press release from the center uses phrases such as animal therapy for learning disabilities, dementia, and interactions between farm animals and human beings, there is no mention of baseline risk control, welfare of the farm animals that will be used (which as we all know is really the key to the therapeutic effects an animal may or may not have), and programs/studies that have preceded this endeavor . Needless to say the Green Care Farming movement in Europe, the equine assisted programs that have gained attention in recent years (different from hippotherapy in that they focus more on the horse care aspect rather that the riding) have not been mentioned by those starting the Saga program. It is truly amazing how many people who start to involve themselves in the field of human animal interactions try to reinvent the wheel. And this is not a phenomenon unique to Japan. The faculty of the university who are given the responsibility of nurturing this program have no background whatsoever in any sort of animal assisted programs. Nor have they been educated in the basic foundation work concerning bringing animals into contact with clients so meticulously created over many years by leaders in this field such as the U.S. based Pet Partners. Using farm animals is NOT a unique endeavor. Farm animals need to be evaluated for program participation just like dogs and cats. These are simple facts that anyone in the field would know. There are also medical facilities in the country that are talking about "facility dogs" as opposed to therapy dogs. They stated that "facility dogs" are different from "visiting dogs" that volunteer handlers bring in, in that these dogs undergo a year of "special training" and are then brought to live in the facility. The most puzzling thing about the press releases coming out from such facilities is the fact that there is no mention of the dog's welfare. Where do these dogs live? Who will be responsible for being the dog's advocate? These questions remain unanswered. As mentioned earlier this is probably not a phenomenon unique to Japan, but the disturbing trend is definitely being seen here.

Prepared for Zenoaq by Animal Literacy Research Institute

Feb.
2013

Recent Pet Statistics for Japan

Some figures about pet keeping in Japan have been published for the year 2012. According to the Pet Food Institute of Japan, of all the households in the country, 24.9%live with either a cat(s) or a dog(s). This is one out of every 4 households and speaks of the popularity of pet keeping in Japan. Since the statistics do not include small pets such as hamsters, rabbits , birds etc., it may be said that the number of households that live with animals is even larger. Statistics from earlier years have also been mentioned in this column but for 2012 the estimated number of pet dogs in the country is 11,530,000. The number of cats is 9,750,000. Needless to say these are simply estimates mainly derived from statistics pertaining to the consumption of pet food, but nevertheless they give us an idea of the scope of pet keeping in Japan. The pet food industry also published figures concerning the amount of money households spend on feeding their companion animals. For dogs the average monthly expenditure for one animal is approximately 7500 yen, which at current rates is about 67-68 US dollars. This monthly expenditure includes food and other supplies as well as veterinary fees. For cats the individual monthly expenditure is slightly lower at approximately 5300yen, about 47-48 US dollars. In the current economic climate these figures are far from "minimal". When one considers the fact that many households own multiple pets the amount of money spent on pets in the country as a whole reaches staggering heights. A decade ago when people were asked to describe their pets, many used the word "child". This sense of "guardianship" is changing slightly in recent times. Many pet owners now do not hesitate to state that their pet is an integral member of the family, not simply a "child" figure to be petted and protected. Some will use the word "son" or "daughter" instead of child. Some will simply say a "member of the family". The relative position of the companion animal in the household is gradually changing into something more important and meaningful. It need not be said that this is not a phenomenon that is unique to Japan. The importance of the companion animal to the human family is a topic that is currently being discussed in many circles the world over. But at the same time we are beginning to see the negative side as well of this phenomenon. Just as with children, for example, there are many "parents" who become obsessed with the well being of their animals. Obedience classes, designer clothes, luxury foods and more are appearing constantly on the market. And just as with children, some animals become an extension of the owner's ego. Many foreigners who come to Japan for the first time are surprised at the amount of dog clothes sold in pet stores. The Japanese tend to overdress their pooches. Of course the fact that there are more smaller toy breeds than large dogs makes this much easier. People are also surprised by the number of pooches they meet out in the street out for a stroll in their "prams"......yes baby carriages made exclusively for the transport of pets. The riders are not all geriatric or disabled. Sometimes our love goes a bit beyond what may be termed "normal". Is this good or bad?
Well...what do you think?

Prepared for Zenoaq by Animal Literacy Research Institute

Jan.
2013

Tokyo Shelter for Disaster Victims Closes

Following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami Tokyo metropolitan government set up a temporary animal shelter on the grounds of its animal control center in order to take in animals evacuating with their owners into the metropolitan area on a temporary basis. The shelter was set up in the early fall of 2011. The government of Tokyo set forth an emergency operational plan of one year to help out with owners unable to find housing where pets would be allowed as well as to take in animals rescued from the danger zone around the nuclear plant in Fukushima. This shelter was built through the coordinated efforts of the Tokyo metropolitan government and the Tokyo regional emergency animal rescue headquarters for the victims of the east Japan earthquake. The facility was built by the metropolitan government and the operation was placed under the aforementioned "headquarters", a cooperative unit formed by a coalition of veterinarians and animal charities. The operational funding came mainly from public donations given for animal rescue purposes. The number of animals taken into this facility was not huge owing to the fact that many members of the Tokyo veterinary community as well as those from surrounding areas such as Yokohama, were willing to take in individual animals into their clinic facilities for temporary care. The total number of animals housed in the shelter were 24 dogs and 12 cats. Of these animals , 10 of the dogs and 4 of the cats were able to rejoin their families before the closing of the shelter in September 2012. The rest were all happily rehomed with the exception of one dog who is still with a foster family. Though small in scale this shelter was infact a good model facililty in terms of its standard of animal care. There were more than 600 volunteers that participated in the endeavor which enabled the shelter staff to set up a system where the animals were never short of attention. Though the facility was built by the authorities, the internal details including the setting up of play areas, adjustments to meet the individual needs of each animal etc., were all done by hand. The volunteers wielded tools to create an environment that catered to the needs of the animals under their care. The shelter, as mentioned earlier, was a one year project and was closed on September 30, 2012. The Japan Animal Welfare Society, JAWS, played a leadership role in the operation of this shelter and is to be applauded for a job well done. Needless to say, though, Fukushima is still struggling to deal with the animal victims of the disaster. The feral cats in the nuclear evacuation zone are numerous and an effective TSNR must be implemented. With the passing of time people are beginning to forget the scale of the disaster but the fight continues both for people and for the animals.

Prepared for Zenoaq by Animal Literacy Research Institute

Dec.
2012

Exotic Pets in Japan

Recent statistics show that Japan is the third largest market in the world for wild animals. Despite being a very small country in terms of its physical size, there are an amazingly large number of exotic pets being kept by animal fanciers. One famous case that surprised the media and shocked the entire nation was that of a man who kept more than 50 poisonous snakes in his apartment in the middle of Tokyo. This man was bitten by his green manba while he was caring for the snake. He called for an ambulance and the paramedics found his abode filled with a hoard of dangerous creatures. Though he was in critical condition for some time this man did live thanks to the efforts of a very knowledgeable doctor only to be arrested for violating the animal welfare law upon recovery. He was arrested for keeping "specified animals" without a permit. The category of "specified animal" is defined in the law and species listed therein cannot be kept without registering with the local authorities. This man's arrest lead to the arrest of another party, the business that sold him these dangerous animals. The pet shop that had sold these animals to this individual was also arrested for the keeping of "specified animals" without a permit. The business owner was also arrested for the violation of the law governing the handling of invasive alien species. For those wishing to keep these animals that need to be registered with the authorities, the procedure is actually not very prohibitive. There are specifications that must be met in terms of cage space, safety devices etc. However many keepers of exotic pets choose not to register, as was the case with the aforementioned unfortunate owner of the 50 some snakes. There is no regular policing as such and often times people will get away with keeping these animals without the alerting the authorities. Needless to say, businesses will sell if people are willing to pay and thus pet shops that handle exotic animals will continue to thrive. In terms of legal restrictions, the Japanese law if still lax in many respects. For example, there is no national license to become a falconer. This means that a layman may keep and train his/he own falcon provided the keeper registers the bird with the local authorities (which may or may not be done). This is dangerous to the keeper, the bird, and also to the public. But the legal tools to regulate such a situation is extremely limited. What would be ideal is to put a legal ban on the importation of wildlife for commercial purposes. Importation of such should be allowed only in cases where there is official screening and approval of the species as well as the purpose of bringing in such and animal. There should be a white list of what can be kept rather than a black list of what needs to be registered as is the case with the current law. There are cases currently where fanciers have bred hybrids of the animals specified under the law to be registered. Legally speaking these hybrids are not listed as specified animals and therefore do not need to be registered however large and/or dangerous they may be. This is simply ludicrous. Though Japan is not the only country in the world with the exotic pet problem, a solution must be found to this issue. How far will businesses and fanciers go? How much are they willing to fight to keep their current situation? We will not know until we attempt to put in place a better and more effective legislation. The sooner the better....

Prepared for Zenoaq by Animal Literacy Research Institute