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Speaking to animals: Japan and the welfare of companion animals

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journal contribution
posted on 2016-05-26, 00:00 authored by Cassandra AthertonCassandra Atherton, G Moore
This paper examines the phenomenal popularity of companion animals in Japan, and the way many of these pets are treated as part of the owner’s family. Indeed, some pets are treated as if they are human children. This pet phenomenon was made possible because the Japanese developed a way of seeing their companion animals in anthropomorphic terms, more similar than different to humans. First, this paper describes how this notion has its roots in the Japanese receptivity to the idea that humans and animals can communicate with one another, and the folkloric belief that animals can assume human form and speak. Second, the article details how these ideas and beliefs were consistent with both major Japanese religions, and were sustained in the 20th century by literature and, most recently, anthropomorphic characters in anime and advertising. Finally, the paper argues that there is an anthropomorphic paradox in Japan, whereby the identification of companion animals as possessing human qualities leads to the mistreatment of animals rather than an ethically superior response to animal welfare. While animals benefit materially from being thought of in human terms, being well fed and given the best veterinary care, paradoxically, they can lead miserable lives. Being wheeled in baby strollers and being dressed in designer clothes means that pets have their instincts curbed, and raises questions about the ethics of animal ownership.



Electronic journal of contemporary Japanese studies





Article number



University Sheffield


Sheffield, Eng.





Publication classification

C Journal article; C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal

Copyright notice

2016, The Authors