Why is Japanese culture so dark

Cats in Japan: Animals are adored, but love has a dark side

The Japanese invented Hello Kitty and Maneki-Neko, the happily waving lucky cat. There are cat gods and numerous cat petting cafés. But the Japanese love of cats has a dark side, because the relationship of many people to animals is schizophrenic and disturbed.

A feature from our guest author and Japan expert Bettina Haruno-Irmler

The Japanese love cats, but because of the cramped living conditions in the country's big cities, many cannot keep their own pets.

If you live in the capital Tokyo, you often have to make do with less than 10 square meters.


Many do not have enough time to properly look after a pet. The Japanese are known to be very loyal to their employer.

I have colleagues who insist on being able to forego their vacation in order to be able to work even more.

They want to show their employer a special honor through their behavior. No time - no pets, but I have met many people who still do not want to do without dogs or cats in their lives.

One of the better solutions to this problem is the numerous cat cafes! Many Japanese people spend much of their scarce free time in these cafes to cuddle and cuddle with cats.

Cat café in Tokyo / Imgur

Pet shops sell kittens, but the animals don't have much time

Owning a particularly cute kitten - despite the general lack of time, that is the dream of many Japanese. The business with cats as a commodity is very profitable here. Kitties are the absolute hit in pet shops.

But the older the animals get before they are sold, the less chance they have of finding an interested buyer.

What to do with cats that could not be sold as cute kittens and are now getting older and older?

Cat in Tokyo pet shop / Imgur

Even if a kitten from a pet shop finds a home, that doesn't necessarily mean that it will stay there for the rest of its life. Few cats in Japan get the chance to grow old in their original family.

Because unfortunately it is perfectly normal for many people in Japan to replace an aging animal with a new, young and cuter one.

Older cats therefore often end up in animal shelters, where they are then killed together with the remaining cats from the pet shops after a period of one week.

Across Japan, it is estimated that up to 600,000 dogs and cats are killed in this way each year.

Cats in Japan: The Schizophrenic Relationship with Animals

Love cats, kill cats - how does that fit together? In the Shinto religion, cats are even worshiped as deities.

Many Shinto shrines across the country hold a ceremony in honor of deceased cats once a year.

A Shinto priest then reads aloud all the names of the cats that crossed the Rainbow Bridge the year before.

Practically every day of the year, pilgrims can be seen at the shrines laying small tablets with blessings for their pets.

flickr / Guilhem Vellut / CC-BY-2.0

Cruel: Japanese "Advice Center for Animal Love and Animal Welfare" is actually a killing institute

Wakana Masayuki is the head of the notorious "Advice Center for Animal Love and Animal Welfare". He says everything is done to save the animals. However, there is a lack of money, space and staff to take care of the many cats and dogs appropriately.

The death of animals that cannot be placed is therefore the only practicable solution.

There are simply too many animals bred in Japan, believes the head of the "advice center". That is not entirely absurd:

According to official figures, for every 128 million Japanese there are around 23 million unwanted pets in the country.

Unfortunately, gas chambers are the "most efficient solution" to master the problem. Wakana Masayuki could not expect his employees to have each animal euthanized individually.

However, not all Japanese agree with this cruel practice!

According to surveys, only a third of Japanese think the gassings are appropriate. Another third of the population feels sorry for the animals, but sees no alternative to solving this problem.

The last third is strictly against gassing dogs and cats.

Cats in Japan / Flickr / istolethetv / CC-BY-2.0

Cats in Japan: Is There New Hope for Unwanted Animals?

A new trend is currently in motion in Japan that could give stray cats hope:

While in the cat cafés up until now it was mainly pure-bred cats from breeders or those from pet shops that grazed the legs of the guests, in many places unwanted cats from killing centers are now moving into the cafés.

In April 2017, the first cat café opened in the Japanese city of Osaka, where only rescued cats are taken in.

A few months later, the same operator, "Neco Republic" (Cat Republic), opened another café in the capital Tokyo. Volunteers who cannot keep cats themselves provide the animals with everything they need to be happy.

If a visitor likes one of the cats, he can adopt it. “Neco Republic” has promised to open more such adoption cafes across the country in the near future.

Featured Image: flickr / Daniel Rubio / CC-BY-2.0

More posts about cats in Japan:

Japanese scientist convinced: cats know their names

Japanese cat names: 250+ names from Japan and their meanings

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