Saturday, 10 March 2012

Keeping a Dog in Japan

Sunset with Hayate

Attitudes and challenges

It hasn’t been particularly easy. Shiba are not the easiest breed, my Japanese is not the best and we don’t have a car. Had we been able to drive to a dog park (there are none close by) our first year with the puppies would have been a different experience. Although it is certainly not unique to Japan, we find it frustrating that everyone around us buys into the alpha mythology. Dr Dunbar is extremely popular in Japan, but everyone we know uses physical violence in training. When we were struggling with our training it was hard to hear “you should just hit him” three or four times a day. There are also some pervasive beliefs about dogs that made it hard to socialise Hayate when he was a puppy. Most damaging is the idea that two males can’t be allowed near each other because they will fight. How do they think dogs ever survive without human intervention?! Even after Hayate was desexed, people would pull their dogs away from him and tell us that it was “dangerous” to let them near each other. Even worse are the people who allow their dogs close enough to sniff but interpret play bowing as aggression and yank the poor dog away with the leash.

Who wouldn't want to play with this cute little guy?
On the other end of the scale there is a lot of patience and acceptance of dogs. Hayate is really loud, and we have never had a single complaint. Whenever I apologise to my neighbours they say that babies cry, animals make noise and nature is what it is. There are far more places where our dogs are welcome than there are in Australia, including cafes, restaurants, pet-friendly hotels/B’n’Bs and some shops. Dogs are allowed on trains if in a crate, and we once had a taxi driver give us a lift with both (at the time very muddy) dogs in tow.
Doggy Health Insurance

In Australia I had never heard of pet health insurance. The insurance we have for the shiba is incredibly good value, and they get their own cards! 

What having dogs has meant for us

Sleepy puppies, sleepy Sunday
Deciding to get a dog (which fairly quickly turned into getting two dogs, but don’t tell… officially Kuri is “visiting for a while”) was both the best and worst thing we could have done for our social lives. We can’t spontaneously head to karaoke after dinner and sing the night away with friends. Overnight trips require extensive advance planning. My husband and I rarely go out together on weeknights because we don’t want to leave the dogs alone after they’ve been alone all day. In terms of becoming part of our community, though, the dogs have opened doors for us that we didn’t even realise were closed. The dogs provide a “safe” reason for strangers to approach us and engage in conversation, for neighbours to visit and for co-workers to connect with us. After our first year in Kyushu we moved into a different apartment, because the one I had inherited from my predecessor did not allow pets. One of the main advertising points of the new apartment building is that it allows dogs (relatively unusual in Japan) and consequently most families have a dog. Near the apartment is a park (well, more like a long nature strip dividing the road) with rubbish bins for dog poo (it is very rare to find bins anywhere in Japan; for an interesting explanation of why see HERE). This means that when we walk our dogs we regularly meet our neighbours walking theirs. If we ever bumped into neighbours from our old apartment we’d nod and maybe say hello, but that was the extent of it. When you have a dog, that changes completely. We exchange our dogs’ names, ages, what tricks they can do; we sympathise and offer advice about training problems. We are part of a ready-made community. The funny thing about these relationships is that they center so completely on the dogs that we never exchange our own names; I am “Hayate Mama” and I know my neighbours by their dogs’ names too!
We became friendly with our elderly next-door neighbours after I wrote to them apologising for Hayate’s barking. They invited us over for tea and said that my letter had been a wonderful opportunity for them to feel more connected with their neighbours. A young family on the other side of us can’t keep a dog themselves, so their daughter wants to play with ours. Best of all, our super (kanrinnin) liked Hayate so much that he adopted a surrendered black shiba puppy himself, and we’ve been good friends ever since. He has been a huge help to us in all sorts of ways. Then there are our co-workers. After word got around that I had a puppy, staff who had never spoken to me offered to drive us to the vet, gave us dog toys and organised ‘play-dates’ with their own dogs. I think it was more than just having something in common or a topic of conversation; I think that getting the dogs was a tangible sign of our intention to be involved in our community long term. By its nature the ALT positions are often “revolving doors” with new ALTs coming and going year after year. Some staff see little point in getting to know someone they don’t expect to be around for long. The dogs are a symbol of our intention to stay.

Hayate playing with the care-taker's shiba

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  1. what would you recommend me when my women and myself are considering to have dog and bicycle in Japan...Is it gonna be impressive.

    1. Hi Deepak! I would recommend reading some bell hooks, Judith Butler and considering the implications for rape culture and dehumanization in the way your website talks about women.

      For bicycling with a dog, the Doggyride trailer works well.

  2. Hi
    How much do you pay
    For the health insurance?
    Ive been planning to buy a dog in a very long time now lol but i am hesitant because i am not really sure how much will it cost me


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