Animal Welfare in Japan: Kawaii, and… Problematic?

  • Editorials
Nina Takemoto

You might be familiar with some of the popular Japanese animal characters, including Hello Kitty, Rilakkuma, and Sumikko Gurashi. Cute animals are a part of modern Japanese culture, and they’re not only for kids; in fact, many adults in Japan enjoy cute animals as much as kids, if not more. If you visit Tokyo, you will probably notice that there is a substantial amount of pet shops as well. The animals in these shops may seem cute, but these places often take the culture of “kawaii” too far. 

One issue in Japan is the overpopulation of dogs and cats, which can eventually lead to owners abandoning them. In Japan, pets are sometimes handled as fashionable accessories, and the ease of purchasing them from pet shops adds to the problem. People purchase pets, often for at least one hundred thousand yen, without considering if they can financially and environmentally provide the pets with proper care. As a result, owners may abandon their pets irresponsibly. Three years ago, in Fukuoka prefecture, a man abandoned his cat in a suitcase at the doorstep of a cat café. He claimed that he could not care for the cat as he was moving to a new place where pets were not allowed. This highlights how some pet owners do not have a sense of responsibility for their animals.

The opposite scenario, in which owners do not abandon their pets but end up keeping more of them, is also problematic. When a person owns many animals and fails to care for them properly, it is considered animal hoarding. Japan has had many more incidents of animal hoarding than other countries. One notable case is what happened in 2020 in Sapporo, when over two hundred cats were found living in one home. A couple in their fifties and their son were reported to have lived there until a few months before the cats were found. The owners said that they could not handle the original number of cats, and before they knew it, the number had multiplied. Luckily, these cats were rescued by an animal welfare organization. But not all animal hoarding victims are this lucky; many end up as strays, abandoned felines. Stray animals are not only harmful to native wildlife; they can also cause problems for humans. For example, cats sometimes sneak into cars to get warm in the winter. Once the car starts to move, the engine heats up even more and the trapped cats can even die. In 2019, there were more than 2000 complaints filed by citizens (data from 125 local governments) against neighbors who owned two or more pets. A shocking 30% of these complaints were filed against people who owned more than 10 pets. Hoarders may become so preoccupied with caring for their animals that they do not take care of themselves and barely come out of their homes. Animal hoarding can be the cause of hikikomori, the Japanese term for the state of extreme social isolation. Animal hoarding is a significant issue, and as explained, it poses many negative, long-term effects on society, creating difficulties for both the hoarder and the animals. Therefore, action must be taken to prevent more incidents of animal hoarding.

So how can we prevent the problems of overpopulation and pet abandonment in Japan?  It is essential for all pets to be spayed or neutered, as this prevents too many new puppies and kittens from being born. This leads to owners neglecting or abandoning their pets when they have too many animals to care for. According to the La Habra Animal Hospital, even just one unspayed female dog and one unneutered male dog can cause over five hundred puppies to be born over a course of three years. If the number of dogs and cats is controlled, it is easier to give all of them a good life. It is also important for all animal handlers to be aware of their animals’ needs, even simply by paying attention to their pets’ behavior and changing their care methods accordingly. A shift in mentality is also crucial when it comes to pet ownership. For example, breeders, pet shops, and local governments could raise awareness through campaigns that educate people about their responsibilities as pet owners and provide support for owners who can no longer care for their pets. The implementation of these measures can solve the issue of overpopulation and abandonment and in turn, improve the welfare of pets in Japan.


Toobin, Adam. “Nissan ‘Knock, Knock, Cats’ Campaign Launched to Save Sleeping Felines.” Inverse, 29 Jan. 2016, 

Suenaga, Mayu. “Rescue of 238 Cats from Northern Japan Home Highlights Animal Hoarding Problem.” The Mainichi, 18 June 2020,
The English version of this article was used.

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