Harmonious co-existence of animals and people
One of the most unique things that I’ve noticed about Japan is the harmony between the people and the animals. Although I cannot assure the fact that Japan’s shelters are better than other countries’ or whether the sea is kept clean, I’m rather focusing on the interpersonal relationships that the people have with the animals. This country is famous for having a cat island located in Tashirojima (田代島) and a rabbit island in Okunoshima (大久野島), where the population of such animals is larger than the people. They also have a fox village located in Miyagi, a monkey park in Kyoto, and deer parks in Nara and Hiroshima.
The reason behind this peaceful relationship might be due to one of their traditional religions called Shintoism, which is the belief that there are spirits (or kami, 神) residing in everything. The Shinto tradition says that there are eight million kami in Japan. This belief sprouts a strong respect for nature and the animals residing within, getting rid of this mindset that the people and the animals have to fight one another for settlement.
From my personal experiences, I saw the city’s buildings made next to temples where stray cats resided. I saw the people in Akita providing each other with bells and flashlights when confronted with a bear, instead of guns and knives. I saw the deer respectfully bowing to humans instead of instinctively running away from the sight of us.
Animal cafes and their downsides
I was able to personally interact with animals in parks and animal cafes, but I avoided places that seemed cruel to the animals they were marketing. For example, there are a lot of owl cafes because owls are symbols of good luck or protection from hardship in Eastern mythology; however, owls are actually not meant to be seen during daytime since they’re nocturnal animals. I knew that these cafes didn’t care about the animals but only about the economic benefits. Other problems with animal cafes can be overcrowding, lack of veterinary care, confinement, stress and disruption of their sleeping cycles. Many visit these animal cafes seeking for a therapeutic experience or simply to take a picture with them, but fail to consider that these animals may be living in terrible conditions. So, when searching for an animal cafe to visit, it is important to make sure that the place is spacious, the animals are regularly cared for by vets, and that they have a fair amount of work hours and sleeping hours.
Despite the harmonious interpersonal relationship Japanese individuals have with animals, there are still repercussions to the animals when looking through an economical lens. The animal cafe is a good example, as many are popping up in Japan to keep up with the growing trendiness on Instagram and Facebook, but some cafes do not understand this as anything more than a business opportunity. I think the best experiences I had with animals in Japan were outdoors, where the animals are free and they can show their affections on their own terms.
My suggestions for animal lovers
I do not suggest that you should pet every stray animal that you come across, as they can be a host of germs and parasites, but if you are an animal lover like me, a simple observation of their content expressions and a snap of a photo is enough. However, if you are interested in having a close interaction with animals, I suggest that you should look for parks and cafes that support the well-being and healthiness of their animals.