Beyond kawaii

Home to some of the world’s cutest furkids, we explore Japan’s extraordinary love affair with cats and dogs while taking a closer look at their pampered lives.
By Gillian Lim
Published on Friday, 09 June 2017

Japan is not only famed for its delicious cuisine, hot springs and rich culture, but also its obsession with all things cute and furry. Animal-related digital games, folklore and popular culture centred on pets, and an extensive range of services specially catered to furkids­—you name it, Japan has it. 

What you might not know is this: The Japanese love their animals so much that there are now more registered pets in Japan than there are children! The phenomenon first happened in 2003 when the number of pets hit 19.2 million and overtook the number of children, which stood at 17.9 million. 

SPECIAL TREATMENT
The furkids in Japan don’t just have a good life; they live the high life. Many wear designer apparel from brands like Chanel, Dior, Gucci and Louis Vuitton, don fake fur coats, and are carried around in Hermès doggy carriers. They are also pampered with manicures, complete with nail art­—embellished with stones and a shiny finish. These manicures range from ¥3,000 to ¥5,000 (S$40 to S$65). “A common request is to give a dog and its owner matching nails,” says Tokyo-based dog beauty artist Eiko Sase.

Doggy spas have evolved beyond the typical microbubbles and mud spas, and now include hot springs and oxygen-capsule treatments. For example, the Dog Petit Resort JOKER in Tokyo offers hot tubs, therapy pools and a beauty salon for pooches. The attention to detail is astonishing—just like at human onsens, a hot towel is placed on Fido’s head before he enters the hot springs to ensure he has a relaxing time. For $100, Fido gets a one-to-one swimming lesson, bubble bath and body massage, deep pore cleansing pack and flossing service!

It sounds incredulous, but you can even send your pooch for etiquette classes. The Athletic Dog Club in Tokyo runs weight loss, behaviour and training programmes for dogs. And if you’re still not convinced that Japan’s pups are an ultra-special bunch of furkids, guess what event the Japanese government organised to mark the start of its annual family week in November last year? A nationwide dog yoga class in Tokyo. A record-breaking 136 dogs and their owners gathered at Tokyo’s Toshimaen amusement park.

For more on Japan's love story with dogs and cats, flip to Around the World (pg 18) of our June-July 2017 issue!