It's a dog's world: Blessings for pets in Japan on the rise amid dearth of children

Reuters

Posted at Dec 16 2017 03:51 PM

Clothes designer Miki Takebe and her 3-year old black poodle Noa have come to the gods to pray for their blessings at the Ichigaya Kamegaoka Hachimangu shrine.

It is all part of a Japanese tradition to take their children when they turn three, five and seven years of age to thank the gods for the child's health and wish them a long and prosperous future.

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Video courtesy of Thomson Reuters

Traditionally, dogs and other pets were not included. But times are changing as pets have long outnumbered children in Japan. 

According to the Japan Pet Food Association, there were a total of 20 million canine and feline pets in 2016, compared to 15 million children under 15 according to the latest government census.

Shrines such as Ichigaya Kamegaoka Hachimangu began offering traditional "Shichi-Go-San" or "Seven-Five-Three" blessings - as this specific rite is called - to pets and their owners eight years ago.

Now, they can hardly keep up with demand as pet owners increasingly treat their pets as family members and cough up the fee of 5,000 yen for a blessing by a priest.

Masaki Kaji, a priest at Ichigaya Kamegaoka Hachimangu, said it began with a few requests eight years ago. But the number ballooned to over 400 requests this year.

This all mirrors the growing market that now caters to the needs of households who lavish the same attention on their furry friends as they would have if they had children.

Expenditure increased from 7,841 yen in 2015 to 8,136 yen per dog per month in 2016, and 5,087 to 5,435 yen for cats in the same period, according to the Japan Pet Food Association.

And this has been a boon for pet fashion retailer Daikanyama Nahomilly. The shop's owner Nahomi Noritsuke has seen first-hand just how much of the increase in spending had been invested in dog and cat kimonos.