Vegans of Color

Because we don’t have the luxury of being single-issue

When Cute is Not Cute. March 15, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — mcavalier @ 10:26 pm

Cute is a cultural icon in Japan.  Everything is “cute”, as you know i.e. Hello Kitty!  Everywhere you look, there are some cute cartoon characters.  Puppies and kittens are so cute, of course the Japanese people love them.  The pet industry relies upon the cute-loving culture and the impulse-buyers.  The love of cuteness greatly helps the pet industry in Japan, but there is a dark side of the story.  A few years later, very sadly, some irresponsible owners may take their grown-up puppies/kittens to shelters or pounds or worse yet release them in the mountains, because “they have grown bigger than they expected and they are not “cute” anymore.”
According to the annual report that is consolidated by ALIVE reports as below;
In 2003: Dogs 173,032/ Casts 267,214 were killed.
In 2007: Dogs: 100,963 /Cats 209,494 were killed.
The number has declined by 45.5% compared with the number in 1997 (ALIVE).  The decline is mainly due to people being more informed and becoming conscious about the ethical treatment of animals (ALIVE).  However there are a lot of improvements that still need to be made by the government, modifying The Act on Welfare and Management of Animals, which was first enacted in 1973 and modified in 2005.  Enforcing and updating the act is a must as a next step.  But in my opinion, the production of pet animals needs to be controlled in parallel with the modification of the act.  There are way too many pet shops in Japan.  They sell live animals at stores as well as on the Internet.  This means that there are too many breeders or puppy mills throughout the country.  In addition to that, the pet industry is lucrative.  Popular breeds such as toy poodles run from $2,000 to 4,000.  The other day, I saw St.Bernard puppy that was $3,500.  Where can you have a St.Bernard in Tokyo anyway?

That particular St.Bernard was in a chain store that breaks my heart every time I see it.  This store is located in a large entertainment district in Tokyo and is open all night.  The animals are treated more like souvenirs than live creatures.  In addition, a very disgusting practice often goes on in this type of store.  This practice, for example like “Enjo-Kosai” (a sugar daddy system) encourages buying pets for all the wrong reasons.  Customers at “hostess bars” buy pets for their favorite hostesses who have no interests in owning a pet, but will accept a cute puppy for a short period of time and then return the puppy to the pet store to get the money back.  There are even some cases, “a kick back system” is arranged between the hostesses and the pet shops.

I would like to conclude this; many people in Japan get (buy) pets for the wrong reasons.  They get them because they are cute at first and when the cuteness or the novelty wears off, the poor animals become disposable.  For this reasons the concept of cuteness has its dark side to it.

Cute is not always good and maybe torture for some animals.  These puppies that are bought, because they are cute, “given as gifts”, returned like unwanted and unloved products, probably wish they weren’t cute.

The attitude of animals being a source of food as an inalienable human right and the attitude of animals being objects to be bought, sold and returned stem from the same mentality.



17 Responses to “When Cute is Not Cute.”

  1. Liz Says:

    How is this much different from what happens in puppy mills and pet stores in the US? Why does this have to be framed as an Orientalist mission against Japanese people who “don’t get pets for the right reasons?”

    Yes, this is sad. But the larger issues are completely ignored.

  2. Alicia Says:

    Wow! I am just amazed at this story. Thanks for bringing it to light. I’ve been looking for a new rescue dog to add to the family and surprisingly I’ve heard a lot of similar horrific stories that you just wouldn’t expect from such a dog loving culture. I looked at about 6 shelters and rescue groups here in Atlanta and about 10% of the dogs that were in the shelters were there because their caretakers decided they weren’t living up to what they thought the dog should be so they took them to be euthanized. Thankfully, the vets they took them too were able to talk them out of euthanizing the dogs and instead finding them a new home through a shelter. I can’t imagine the countless dogs who don’t get this same level of attention and are euthanized because they aren’t housebroken in time, are too big, too playful or require too much attention.

    Thanks so much for bringing to light this issue of “cuteness”. Hopefully those numbers will continue to decline.

  3. johanna Says:

    Liz — I believe that Maho was speaking about her experiences in Japan as a Japanese person. You’re right that there are parallels to puppy mills in the US, but I appreciate the fact that Maho wants to give us her non-US perspective on how things are in Japan, from on the ground. Too often I think Western-based vegans/AR activists get their views on non-Western countries from Westerners, not from people who actually live there.

  4. maho318 Says:

    Liz- Thank you for your comment. and if you could explain what an Orientalist mission against Japanese people mean, I’d be happy try to explain my position on it. I am not against Japanese or Japan. As Johanna stated I just wanted to bring up issues in the light of the foreign community. We desperately need help, yes, as much as the animals in the world need. As a Japanese person, the best I know is about my country, so I wanted to talk about the issues regarding Japan.

    Alicia- Thank you for your comment. I am very encouraged to know that there are people like you there doing the similar activities as I do! Animals don’t have voices, so their destiny relies upon the hands of their caretakers. I totally agree with you.

    Johanna- Thanks for explaining. Through this site, I will be more informed about what is going on with vegans/AR outside Japan. I am thankful for you to give me an opportunity to blog based on my Japanese perspectives.

    I have seen PETA footage about puppy mills in the U.S. yes, they were horrible very sad.

  5. emfole Says:

    ugh yes these issues are all over the world because animals are always considered as objects. This not only affects cats and dogs but rabbits and other “pet” animals as well. Adoption and promotion of adoption are soooooo important. There is NO reason for breeding or for pet stores with animals.

  6. taniappleseed Says:

    One of the reasons I continue to read this blog is because it discusses the intersectionality of our earth’s invisibility and that of pocs/vegan pocs. the second reason is because it examines our cultures denial of poc’s relationship to what are generally thought of as “white humanitarian issues” and grounding them in our histories of struggle and solidarity. reading this post, regardless of how the blogger identified them self, was generalizing and condescending in a way that sounded a lot like someone who was reinforcing the eurocentric patriarchy. over 5 million animals are euthanized in US shelters every year. majority of which are for time and space. even if all of us identify as poc we can still have stereotypic beliefs that are hurtful to other pocs. if we replace “japanese” with “native america” in this article that was written by a “native america” you might not let this pass as a critique purely on a nation. I am expressing my frustration because i want us all to grow and other JAs who read this to not feel alienated.

  7. johanna Says:

    Thanks for your comment — how would you have preferred Maho to write her post? I’m genuinely curious — does anyone writing about non-US issues from the perspective of a person who is not from the US (& is in the country she’s writing about) have to start off by saying that the situation is similar or worse in the US? Do we always have to set the stage using the US as a base? How could Maho write about Japanese culture in a way that allows critique that would feel okay to you?

  8. Joselle Says:

    Having reread Maho’s post and just seeing some of the comments, I too am curious how we can discuss animal issues around the world without saying, “Well, it happens in this other country (read: US), too.”


    Liz, when you write, “How is this much different from what happens in puppy mills and pet stores in the US?” I’m not quite sure where we can go from there. Does the existence of puppy mills in the US negate or excuse what happens in another country? Or are you just trying to underscore that animals are exploited the world over? On that last point, I would agree, but I still don’t see why that means we can’t say “This is happening to animals HERE.”

    Taniaappleseed, again, after rereading Maho’s post, I thought maybe the first sentence about cute culture in Japan struck you as overgeneralizing and offensive? Is that it? I too am wondering how we can talk about culture without generalizing but also not being blind to the fact that big, huge patterns exist. And so to talk about them, declarative statements like “This idea reigns supreme,” must be used.

    Finally, this is a blog post and so it can only cover but so much ground. Maho’s statement about seeing the St. Bernard in the store breaks my heart. What I responded to most immediately was imagining Maho having to witness that and how horrible I feel for the dog (and the billions of animals the world over). My reaction was very emotional. To me, a bigger part of this post is just Maho writing what she is actually seeing.

    Maho, I didn’t mean to speak for you so I hope my comment doesn’t come off like that.

  9. Restructure! Says:

    “Puppies and kittens are so cute, of course the Japanese people love them” sounds like the person writing it doesn’t identify with Japanese people.

    It also looks like the author is writing for a non-Japanese audience.

  10. johanna Says:

    Restructure! – can we cut Maho some slack for writing in a language that’s not her native one? I know for me, speaking as a US person who was never super-encouraged to learn another language, I wouldn’t be able to write a blog post in a language besides English that was anywhere near as comprehensible as Maho’s. To me it feels a bit unfair to be nitpicking on language in this case for this reason…

  11. Restructure! Says:

    Sorry, I did not know that English is not a native language for her.

  12. adam Says:

    Maho, thank you for writing about the great work ALIVE is doing to engage and educate the public.

    I find it interesting that instead of the usual backlash against a North American of color poster, this post has generated some harsh criticisms against a poster from a different continent for being “Orientalist” and writing for a non-Japanese audience. I agree with Restructure! that the previous criticisms may be generated from the feeling that the post is appealing to people outside of Japan, but I also think Joselle raises good questions about the difficulty of discussing these issues to international and intercultural audiences.

    Nonetheless, I get the sense that a lot of ARAs perceive the structure of animal exploitation as something universal, and thus they will criticize any article that does not address it *all* equally–otherwise the author is being either overly-pc or racist.

  13. Brivari Says:

    Howabout forgotten american cute? Until maybe the ’80s at Easter you’d find bunnys and chicks DYED in easterish colors everywhere! With the combination of (usually toxic) dyes and no real way to care for baby animals they’d usually be dead within a week. A lot of folks, myself included, consider the movement to end that practice, the real start of the animal rights movement here.

    IMHO the Japanese deserve a bit of a break for being behind the english speaking times. Turn things around, what if veganism and animal rights had started in Japan instead of England? How many english speakers would have ANY clue about these concepts? How would you feel as an american writing to Japanese about what it’s like here if the tables were turned and they accused you of anti-americanism?

    I (for one) am quite happy to have met Maho thru her posts here! She’s going thru the same struggle in Japan that any pre-’80s veg went thru right here in the US of A. There’s no need for american vegans to beat up on her, she can get all the abuse from her fellow Japanese that have never heard about veganism or animal rights (except from her of course).

  14. perhaps the fact that we want the conversation to be global, but do not translate the blog into japanese, spanish, chinese, or any other language is part of the problem. it centers an English speaking, predominantly american readership under the guise of being international.

  15. johanna Says:

    This is a fair point, & obviously one that a lot of blogs & online communities deal w/ (the issue was recently brought up here, for example, regarding fantasy/science fiction communities).

    I don’t have any easy answers to that one. I would be interested in hearing about, say, vegans of color blogging in other languages, as a start — though my own linguistic background would limit what I was likely to stumble onto on my own.

    I know that there are bloggers here (not just Maho) who are multilingual; it’s worth exploring the idea of multilingual posts. Thank you for suggesting it.

  16. Maho Says:

    First of all Joselle, you represented my idea and thank you very much. I could not have explained as well as you did. So thank you.

    I appreciate all of your comments that made me think and think. I am a Japanese national, have lived in Japan whole life. I have studied English years and I am a translator/interpreter, so I should be able to write in English.. but I am still learning. So sorry if I confused you all…..

    There are a lot of people in the world who are working very hard and deligently to help animals. I have worked as an interpreter for people who came to Japan to promote/educate but I am not really familiar with the cultures outside of Japan. Activist in Japan influence the government, however, it is a fact that Japanese government are more sensitive to foreign criticism and I believe can be influenced by it. It may be easier to change things with the help of foreign communities. I am aware that there is the same problems everywhere (and it is terrible) and I did not intend to offer that as an excuse. Different cultures will respond differently to the same issues, so I am hear to learn from you. I thought this is a place where we share information, knowledge, experiences and learn from each other. I would like to hear from all of you and learn about different country and culture.

    My sentence about Japanese loving cute was simple and sounded generalizing, but I did not mean to. I thought it will be too long and did not want to use much space for it.

    I do appreciate all of your comments and I am looking forward to hear your opinions!

  17. Renee Says:

    I don’t think that this problem is unique to Japan. Many people right here in North America get pets and don’t think before doing so. Pet shelters always report a rise right after Christmas. People buy a cute puppy or kitten for their kids and don’t take the time to properly research the breed and then become shocked when the animal is not a good fit for the family. I believe all people should be required to prove a working knowledge of the specifics of any breed before purchase to prove that they know what they are getting into. Adding a new pet to the family is a serious responsibility and we should find a way to make people take this more seriously.

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