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12 November 2010

The model reclines on a camouflage pillow, a bandana tied casually around his neck above a red T-shirt with a white logo. So far, so Tokyo street-chic. Except for one thing: the model is not a human being, it’s a dog.

Welcome to Japan’s untameable pet boom. Pampered pooches are currently all the rage in Japan and the nation’s unbridled passion for pets is currently tapping into all sectors of society.

Testimony to this is Nigo, the man behind the cult street fashion empire A Bathing Ape (BAPE). This week, the designer launched his first pet accessories range enabling his fashion-conscious customers’ dogs to dress as stylishly as their owners.

“We’re releasing 11 items including a dog bed, dog hoodie, leads, collars and carry bags,” says Aiko Hayashi, a spokeswoman for BAPE. “We’ve been interested in the pet industry for a while.”

Japan’s pet industry is worth in excess of a trillion yen. Today, the nation’s dogs can enjoy a leisurely life of yoga, aromatherapy massages and tap-dancing classes (yes really), in between stays in boutique dog hotels and attending dog fashion shows.

Cats don’t have it any harder: from cat acupuncture to cat cafés (including separate menus – organic of course – for both cats and owners), there are few aspects of human life that are not available also for felines.

Japan’s recession-immune pet industry is currently second only to the US in terms of size and value, with the pet care market this year peaking at $6.36bn, according to Euromonitor.

On a less heartening note for the nation, the meteoric rise of all things pet-related appears to have gone hand in hand with the decline of something arguably more valuable: the human demographic.

Japan’s population is continuing to decline, birth rates are shrinking and marriage rates dwindling, with the number of pets long having eclipsed the number of children under the age of 15.

And with a growing number of childless couples, unmarried workers and ageing pensioners, the appeal of cats and dogs is set to grow further, according to Takehiko Kariya, a professor of the sociology of Japanese society at Oxford University.

Highlighting how factors such as “individualisation and urbanisation” have led to the loss of a sense of community, he says: “Pets can be a medium to connect people. So an ageing society is certainly an important factor in the increasing number of households which have pets, especially among older citizens.”

Whether Japan’s human population will forever be dwarfed by its pets remains to be seen. But what is more certain is that thanks to BAPE et al, Japan’s pets – perhaps like their owners – will always remain among the best-dressed in the world.


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