Probably you were shocked the first time you heard it; less so the second; not at all the third. Pets outnumber children. Not only in Japan. The U.S. and Brazil show an equal preference for four-legged over two-legged dependents. In Japan, pets gained the numerical advantage over children in 2003, so it’s old news. A little shocking all the same.
As of last Children’s Day, the national holiday celebrated on May 5, government statistics registered 16.05 million boys and girls under 15, as against 19.79 million dogs and cats.
This represents a massive transference of affection. When you hear – as Shukan Josei (July 19) does – a housewife talking of paying 50,000 yen to send her “child” to “manner school,” your first inclination is to take the word “child” literally. In fact she’s talking about her dog, as is another woman referring to the cancer patient in her family. Caring for a cancer-stricken dog is no light matter, financially speaking – 100,000 yen is the figure mentioned, probably not the final reckoning.
No one who is not a dog lover can properly understand the attraction of the little beasts – “little” almost invariably lately; the current boom is overwhelmingly in mini-dachshunds, Chihuahuas, poodles and the like, toy-sized dogs meant for indoor living, which is another break with the past, when dogs for the most part lived outdoors and, in Japan at least, were decidedly not considered, as they tend to be now, “members of the family.”
Understood or not, the attraction is clearly in evidence, and Shukan Josei describes it in terms of “impulse buying.” So irresistibly cute are the doggies in the pet shop windows that, if there’s a void in your life, whatever the void may be – you’re alone; your kids have grown and departed; you’re newly retired and need something to do – a glimpse of a newborn puppy or kitten is enough to convince you: here is the creature to fill it.
The trouble with irresistible cuteness is that it conceals more than it reveals. Even assuming it lasts – a doubtful assumption – the love-at-first sight response blinds you to the lifelong care pets need, and the time and expense that care demands.
“Manner school” is not merely a silly and affected indulgence. If a dog is to live in the house as one of the family, it must learn to behave. You can’t have it biting into the sofas, ripping up the curtains, soiling the carpets and swallowing indigestible household items.
So it learns manners, and having acquired them, seems to demand other refinements – clothes, hairstyles and so on. Shukan Josei mentions three clothing items: summer yukata, raincoats, and New Year’s kimono. There are hairdressers specializing in dog fur, and enough poodles walking around with (for example) heart-shaped patterns cut into their fur to suggest a pretty lucrative market.
Pets indulged to this degree are bound to live long, and so they do, their old age subject to many of the same ailments that plague humans – cancer, senility, infirmity of varying degrees and descriptions. Medical treatment for canine cancer runs into the hundreds of thousands of yen and beyond – if you don’t have pet insurance – but why shouldn’t you? It’s another surging economic sector, a typical policy costing 30,000-plus yen a year.
So be aware, Shukan Josei warns, that raising a dog or cat is not so very much less taxing than raising a child – with this difference: children grow up and become responsible for themselves. Pets never do.© Japan Today