Thinking About Dog Ownership in Japan? Here’s How To Buy A Dog In Japan

by Nicola Spendlove
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Dog ownership is a huge commitment, but also one of life’s greatest joys. Welcoming a dog into your home in a different country brings with it a unique set of logistical challenges.

If you’ve come across this article, it probably means that you’re seriously thinking about getting a dog in Japan. The fact that you’re putting in research already means you’re a pretty wonderful pet parent to be – but this decision is not one to be taken lightly. You’ll need to consider the practicalities of accommodation, breed, how to ethically source a pooch in Japan, how you’ll care for them, legalities of dog ownership…the list goes on.

Once you get all your ducks in a row in terms of dog ownership, this can be a really wonderful experience that will make your time in Japan all the more unforgettable.

Considerations Before Getting a Dog in Japan

If you live in a Japanese city, the chances are you’re in a small living space – most likely an apartment without a garden. This will restrict what breed and size of dog will be suitable for you – a bigger dog will need space and exercise that your apartment simply won’t afford you.

In addition, the majority of urban leases in Japan prohibit pet ownership. Not only can a pet damage furniture and flooring, but they can also be noisy (bear in mind, the walls in Japanese apartments tend to be paper-thin). Breaking these restrictions will most likely result in a discreet complaint from your neighbors to your landlord, and consequences can be serious – ranging from fines to eviction. There are pet-friendly accommodation options in Japan (look for the phrase “petto ka” in advertisements) but these are in the minority.

You also need to consider how long you intend to be in Japan. Your dog is likely to live for over a decade (some breeds will live far longer than this) and if you’re only planning on sticking around for a few months you need to have a long-term plan for your furry companion. It is possible to export Japanese dogs to the US (more on this later) so you should take your future plans into account also – will you be settling somewhere upon your return from Japan, or do you want to do more traveling? If it’s the latter, perhaps you’re not at the right life stage for committing to a dog.

Think also about your work schedule – do you find yourself in the office until late at night, or socializing with colleagues long after dark? Where would your dog go while you do this? There are doggy daycare options in Japan, but they come at a price that you need to be aware of before making the commitment to dog ownership – more detail on this later.

Pet Shops in Japan

Pet shops are extremely popular in Japan – in 2016, it was estimated that 90% of pet owners in Japan used a pet shop to secure their furry friend. Most towns and cities in Japan will have many pet shop options – particularly if you head towards bustling shopping districts.

A few things you should know about shopping for a dog in Japan – firstly, they are extremely expensive to buy compared to the Western world. Expect to pay upwards of 300,000 yen for a pooch – possibly a lot more, depending on how in vogue the breed is.

The Japanese pet shopping industry has some questionable ethics, as is the case in most countries. Japan can be a very trend-driven place – and unfortunately, this does extend into animals also. The media can impact which dogs are the latest “must-have accessory” (for example, when 101 Dalmations was released by Disney in the 90s, demand for dalmations soared in Japan).

Pet shops will often resort to ethically questionable practices in order to keep up with dog demands – for example, buying from breeders who deliberately breed micro-animals with painful health problems (smaller dogs are currently considered cutest in Japan) and sending particular breeds of dogs to pet shelters if they are not adequately selling.

Pet shops in Japan have a stock that consists mostly of very young animals. Puppies are often separated from their mothers at around 4 weeks old and shipped to pet stores – many die in transit due to anxiety. The Japanese market tends to favor extremely “cute” animals, and puppies are therefore put in the shop display younger than is strictly advisable (Japanese law states that dogs should be at least 56 days old before being advertised for sale, but in practice dogs in pet shops can be as young as 28 days old). If a puppy is not sold while they are still extremely small, the pet shop will often transfer them to an animal shelter in order to make room for the next round of young puppies.

Japanese pet shops will often encourage impulse buying of animals using tactics such as seasonal sales. This can unfortunately lead to people purchasing puppies as gifts for others, which then ultimately leads to these dogs being abandoned.

At the end of the day, whether you buy from a pet shop in Japan or not is an ethical decision that lies with you. The puppies in Japanese pet shops are not responsible for the industry’s shortcomings, and deserve good lives with responsible owners – if you are in a position to provide them with this, then you might be saving them from being bought on impulse by somebody less responsible. On the other hand, you might not feel comfortable giving money to the industry at all. In this case, you might consider the option of adopting a pet shelter in Japan instead.

Pet Shelters in Japan

If you read the above section about pet shops, then you can probably understand why pet shelters in Japan tend to be full to capacity at all times. Unfortunately, this also means that approximately 80% of dogs in Japanese pet shelters are euthanized. To give some perspective on this number, figures from Dog’s Trust indicate that approximately 20% of dogs in UK shelters are euthanized.

While adopting animals is extremely popular in the US (hashtags like #adoptdontshop gain massive traction amongst Western animal lovers) it is uncommon in Japan – accounting for only 10% of dog owners. The Japanese dog shop industry has long promoted dogs as a product, rather than a friend – and to be crass, why would you buy an old product when you can get a brand new one?

Thankfully, there are numerous wonderful organizations that are advocating for animal rescue and adoption across Japan. Through them, you can rescue a dog from a pet shelter who would have otherwise been euthanized – and you don’t even have to leave your couch to find your new forever friend, as most of them have comprehensive websites listing details of dogs in your area.

The list of these charities is constantly growing (which is wonderful) so it can be difficult to know where to start. Animal Rescue Kansai (ARK) is one of the most established animal rescue sites in Japan and has a fully English website for those who aren’t confident in their Japanese language skills.

Dog Fostering in Japan

If you’re going to be in Japan for a considerable amount of time, but not necessarily the lifespan of a dog, fostering might be a good option for you. This means you will provide a loving home to a shelter dog, sparing them from being euthanized, while an agency works in the background to secure a more permanent place for them to stay. This really is the best of both worlds – you get a furry companion while in Japan, and they get love and safety while they’re waiting for a forever home.

Link in with a local Japanese organisation such as Dogs Shelter (you can find them here) to begin your fostering journey.

Legalities of Dog Ownership in Japan

Once you purchase or adopt a dog, you must register your ownership within 30 days at your local city office. There is no restriction on nationality – you do not have to be a Japanese citizen or have permanent residency to register dog ownership. When your pet is registered, you will be provided with a registration tag, which you must attach to their collar. This should be on their person at all times when outside the house – just as you must carry your passport or residency card.

You also have a legal obligation to vaccinate your pet against rabies on an annual basis. You can do this at your local vet’s office. Proof of vaccination should be carried with you at all times – this is likely to be checked if you want to avail of any public pet facilities, such as dog parks.

When out in public, your dog must be kept on a leash (except for when using a specified off-leash dog park). Your dog can only ride on the subway if it is small enough to fit in a carrier bag or cage – another reason why smaller breeds are most popular in Japan.

When your dog uses the bathroom in public, you are obliged to clean up after them. In Japan, this means you should bring home your bagged dog poop with you from your excursion, rather than disposing of it in a public bin. It is also socially expected that you will carry a bottle of water around with you to spray on top of dog pee on pavements – this dilutes it and gets rid of any smell.

How to Bring a Dog from Japan to the US

Perhaps you’re hoping to bring your Japanese furry friend on a brand new adventure with you when you leave Japan and return to the US. This is certainly a viable option, but it does involve a bit of organization and knowledge of Japanese animal customs procedures.

You will need to fill out a dog export form (you can download it here) which must be submitted to the Animal Quarantine Office prior to leaving Japan. This part of the process is generally very straightforward – but try to err on the side of caution and do it as soon as you make your travel plans, in case there are any complications.

You should also make an appointment with your local Animal Quarantine Office to arrange a pre-export inspection for your dog. This is a basic health check that allows the quarantine officer to sign off that your dog was in good health to the best of their knowledge when leaving Japan. This verification will be very useful when you arrive in the US. The timing of this examination is important – it should be close enough to your departure date to provide an accurate picture of your dog’s health upon leaving Japan, but far enough away for you to have time to follow up on any minor concerns that might be raised. If possible, book your dog in for their health check approximately 7 days before your planned departure.

Once you arrive in the US, you will need to present a completed entry application form for your furry friend. You should also present proof of rabies vaccination (this is extremely important) and the documentation provided from your Animal Quarantine health check in Japan. Once all this is in order, no period of quarantine should be necessary (with the exception of Hawaii and Guam). In the unlikely event that your dog is refused entry to the US, they will be deported back to Japan – having a back-up arrangement with a friend over there who might take responsibility for your pooch in this instance will likely give you peace of mind. However once your dog is healthy and has all their documents in order, you’ll be good to go.

How to Bring a Dog from the US to Japan

Perhaps you’re in the opposite conundrum – you’ve settled into Japanese life, and have realized that you’d like to stay perhaps longer than you’d originally intended. If you already have a dog at home, you might decide to begin proceedings to import them over to you in Japan. Bringing a dog into Japan from the US is more complicated than the reverse, but very doable.

The following are the current requirements when bringing over animals from the US to Japan (unless you are bringing an animal from Hawaii or Guam, which has different requirements).

You must provide the Animal Quarantine Office at your dog’s port of arrival with advanced notice that they will be coming to Japan. The legal requirement is 40 days – but again, err on the side of caution and let them know as soon as your travel arrangements are set in stone.

Your dog should be fitted with an ISO readable microchip to confirm their identity – think of this as their inbuilt passport. Your dog must be vaccinated for rabies in advance of their trip, and proof of this will be sought via evidence of testing for rabies antibodies. These rabies antibodies samples must be evaluated in a laboratory approved by Japan – at present there are just two in the US, so make sure your US vet is aware of this requirement when sending off the samples.

This is where things get a little bit complicated. A period of 180 days waiting is required after the rabies antibodies sample is collected before your dog is free to roam in Japan. They can complete this wait in the US, or they can fly to Japan and complete their waiting period in a quarantine facility.

Your dog must travel with a valid health certificate, confirming they have no infectious diseases. It is recommended (though not legally required) that your dog receives their full complement of immunizations, and completes internal and external anti-parasitic treatments before making the journey to Japan.

It’s certainly not a quick process to bring your beloved dog into Japan, but as any pup parent will vouch for – the reunion will be so worth it.

Doggy Day Care Options in Japan

If you’re working over in Japan, chances are you’re doing some pretty heavy hours. Some pooches are quite content to be left alone in an apartment while you’re off earning money to keep them in dog treats, but for others this simply isn’t an option.

Many Westerners use daycare facilities to keep their dogs safe and stimulated during the working day. This is also an option in Japan – but is often a far more lavish affair than what we would be used to in the West. The upside of this is the facilities are fantastic, and your beloved dog will be pampered and played with to the highest standard while you work. The downside? The cost. Doggy daycare in Japan is considerably more expensive than its Western counterpart – expect to pay approximately $3000 per quarter (!!!) for a reputed doggy daycare placement in Tokyo.

You might be interested to learn that there are also dedicated pet hotels all over Japan. If you’re going traveling, your pooch can also enjoy a glamorous holiday (again, at a premium price). You’ll collect them upon your return and can hear all about their spa treatments, and sweaty sessions in the doggy gym. If you’re somebody who spends a lot of time traveling and exploring Japan, facilities like this mean that you won’t have to compromise on your plans once dog ownership becomes a feature of your life – provided you have plenty of spare cash.

The Joy of Dog Ownership in Japan

I’m aware that much of the tone of this article sounds like a strict schoolmistress – but as any dog owner will tell you, raising a furry friend is a huge commitment that you need to be ready for (as I type these words, a seven-month-old whippet is hanging off my arm – trust me on this one).

Once you’ve secured the logistics, Japan really is a fun place to bring up a puppy. Where else in the world would you have your pick of a vast array of dog cafes, dog resorts, and even dog onsen? Japan’s incredible fashion scene also caters widely for four legged fashionistas, so your pooch could enjoy all of this while rocking a beret – I mean, come on!

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