Sunday, October 24, 2010

Pet Mania in Japan

Yesterday, we spent the day at Odaiba in Tokyo, a reclamed area that has been transformed into a modern amusement and shopping complex especially for people with young children and/or pets. When the Odaiba complex was first created about 15 to 20 years ago, it was a lonely no-man's land with a couple of buildings and an empty shopping center. We used to drive out here when we felt like getting away because once we crossed the Tokyo Bay Bridge, it was like a different country. At that time, there were few real restaurants and the only place worth mentioning was a simple restaurant that claimed to serve Italian food. It dished up edible pasta and cheap wine, and the best thing about it was that you could eat outside in the quiet, with no cars or pedestrians to mar the mood.

Well, lots of things have changed since then and Odaiba is now a completely different animal. It's bigger and livelier, and a major weekend destination. Don't come looking for character around here, though, as there's little evidence of local color or culture. But for a reasonable day out with the kids or the dog, it's certainly lots of fun. They have great shops for kids and pets, ample parking, and stroller-friendly walkways that lead to a beautiful clean beach with a good view of Tokyo on the opposite side of the bay.

Speaking of stores for kids, I went into the large Kids 'R Us store in Odaiba yesterday and it was quite surprising to find that not a few of the items for sale here were actually much cheaper in Tokyo than in Manila. This is probably one of the effects of Japan's crippling recession, which has forced many retailers to lower their prices or end up with zero sales. So many Japanese consumers are tightening their belts and only taking their wallets out for bargains -- such a difference compared to just a decade ago!

Pets over kids in Japan

Another interesting trend in recent years is the preference of increasingly more and more couples towards having pets rather than children -- and they're treating their pets as they would treat children. In this expensive First World country with almost no family network to speak of, having children is a major life change. It's a big change for couples all over the world, but perhaps it's biggest in Japan where houses are cramped, the cost of living expensive, and cheap childcare nonexistent. I remember my friend Keiko recently telling me of how she'd gone out to lunch with a group of girlfriends from her high school days. Two of her friends had young children, and they'd both confessed that it was the first time in something like 1.5 years that they'd been out on their own for lunch. So you can sort of imagine why not a few couples in Japan prefer having pets to kids.

Special pet strollers as plentiful as baby strollers

Well, this increasing preference for pets was nowhere more evident than yesterday in Odaiba. Almost every other couple walking around had a stroller, and inside wasn't a baby but a dog or a cat. Moreover, these specially-made pet strollers -- which are plentiful all over Tokyo and come in various designs, colors and, yes, designer brands -- are pretty expensive; in fact they're much more expensive than strollers for kids.

The pets themselves cost a small fortune. Yesterday we saw dogs being sold for a bargain price of about 300,000 yen (PhP 150,000) and cats going for an average of 200,000 yen (PhP 100,000).

Just some of the pet strollers on sale in one pet store

Pet accessories for pets who fancy being pretty in pink

In case you're worried about not being able to choose the right design for a pet leash, Tokyo is certainly the city for you.

This pet stroller costs "only" 43,000 yen (PhP 20,000)

Tokyo residents usually have really small apartments, but their cats certainly don't. I'm guessing this multi-storey cat kingdom is filling up someone's entire living room somewhere in the Tokyo burbs.

Anyone fancy a toy poodle for 358,000 yen (PhP 178,000)?

This black toy poodle is slightly cheaper at 328,000 yen (PhP 164,000).

Even pets in Japan celebrate Halloween.
Here are some of the Halloween goodies on sale for dogs and cats.

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