Pets replacing children during the pandemic in Japan – The Foreigners magazine In tokyo
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Pets replacing children during the pandemic in Japan

Written by on May 28, 2021

In contrast to Japan’s dwindling birth rate, household pets are on the rise. There are some 20 million cats and dogs registered across the country, and an additional 60,000 pets joined households in 2020, according to the Japan Pet Food Association.

Chris Dunn, an executive of the Japan branch of the Pet Planet food company, told DW that demand for pets has soared since the government declared the first state of emergency in April last year.

“There has been a clear increase in sales in the last year and that can only be because more people are buying dogs and cats. They are willing to spend money on giving them the best food available,” Dunn said, adding that sales have been “even better” in the last 12 months. Dunn said the reasons behind the uptick in pet sales were quite clear. “For the last year, people have had to spend a lot of time at home and very quickly they have become both bored and lonely,” he said. “They wanted some sort of distraction and, at the same time, companionship — a pet is the perfect solution to those problems.”

Dunn said dogs also gave families opportunities to go outside and get some exercise. He thinks that the biggest reason why people in Japan are buying pets is for psychological support, whether they are doing so consciously or not. But there are several challenges when it comes to owning a pet in Japan. Many people in urban areas live in apartments with no gardens or available green spaces. The pet stores’ solution to this has been to promote animals who are more suitable in small, indoor spaces. Yuka Ito has a hamster who is nearly 3 years old at her home in Yokohama, where her two children, Rio and Dan, are in charge of taking care of it. “I think it is important that children have a pet because they learn about responsibility,” she said. “They have to feed it, change its bedding and make sure it is healthy.” “A pet does mean that it’s difficult to go away for more than a couple of days, of course, but there are more benefits than downsides,” she said. “My husband always tells me that he’s happy when he gets home from work and the children are sleeping, but the hamster is at the bars of its cage to greet him,” she said. Ito also admits to occasionally spoiling her hamster, Blanc, with sunflower seeds. Many pet owners in Japan come from middle-to-high-income households, so the surge in pet sales has been followed by the emergence of a bewildering array of accessories for animals.

Pet shops in Japan often stock a diverse range of clothing for dogs, from rainwear to fancy dress outfits. In addition to leashes, collars, toys and animal beds, the most popular products are strollers for taking pets to the park. Animal protection groups have also expressed concern over the pet boom during the pandemic, with some warning that owners need to be reminded that their animals cannot be treated as disposable toys once life returns to normal and that they must continue to care for their pets.

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