The Day of the Dogs
Today, I ventured to a place I had never been before with my coworker, Terri. She is in love with this suburb of Osaka called, Takarazuka and this morning Terri took me there.
Takarazuka is the what Quail Ridge would be to Boise if Quail Ridge was a small city and not a neighborhood. The people that live here are usually well-off Osaka businessmen and their families. As soon as you step outside of the station you see the difference between a normal suburb and Takarazuka. First, there are houses on the hillsides that surround the town. For the most part, the Japanese consider big hills and small mountains off limits to housing development. Once, I asked Maya why there were no houses on the mountains that surround Fukuchiyama and her reply was a simple, "Because they are mountains." Not sure why that stops Japanese people but either way, most of the time, hilly areas go undeveloped in Japan, just not in Takarazuka.
There is also an abundance of art, elaborate architecture, and niche shops in the town. We passed a shop that only sold accessories for doll houses and took note of some of the crazy prices that such a small curio can sell for. It is also hard to miss the extremely nice cars that navigate between the well-groomed shopping areas and walkways, you would think that the bulk of German automakers all had plants nearby from what the majority of the cars were that passed us. Other than being a haven for the well-to-do, Takarazuka is only really known for two things. First, if you know who Astro Boy is, and most Japanese do, his creator lived here and so this is the official home of Astro Boy. For non-nerds, Astro Boy was the first Japanese cartoon to make it big on television and was actually aired in the United States as well.
Second, Takarazuka is home to an acting troupe aptly named, The Takarazuka Review. Since all things Japanese tend to have a gimmick, the kicker for this specific group of actors is that they are all actually actresses. This is the oldest and first all-female theater group. They were founded in the 1920's by women who were angry that Noh and Kabuki acting troupes were male only and barred women from performing. All of the parts of any play they have ever put on have all gone to women, male parts going to taller women with more masculine features. Other than the all woman rule, the troupe is everything you would expect of any other professional theater. They do big name Western plays like "Phantom of the Opera" as well as lesser known and regional plays. Terri has been to a performance and said it was spectacular so I may have to go at some point. One of the big reasons we went to Takarazuka today is to feed my addiction. The troupe was recently granted the honor of having Hello Kitty merchandise made in the style of their troupe. Therefore, I get a new and rare Hello Kitty cell phone dangly thingy. :)
After the trip around the shops and the Takarazuka Review theater, we headed to another place Terri wanted me to see, which leads me to why this post's title is "The Day of the Dogs".
To appreciate this experience, you might need a little background on Japanese and pets. During the Tokugawa era (think ninjas, swords, and samurai) it was illegal to own a dog as a pet. The reason being that dogs have a tendancy to bark at really inappropriate times. Think of how ticked off we get when our neighbor's dog won't shut up and we are trying to sleep. Now, imagine yourself in a one-room, wooden house with no sound-dampening insulation, and both of the outside walls of the house are shared by your neighbors to either side of you. Now imagine a medium sized dog that won't stop yapping three houses down and the owners are not around to shut it up. Put yourself in a city the size of Seattle with twice as many people and you pretty much have what it was like to live in Tokyo during that time. People were stacked on top of each other and right next to each other, therefore one barking dog can piss off thousands of otherwise happy, Japanese citizens. Oh yeah, the Japanese used to eat dogs too.
When the law against owning a dog was lifted, the trend toward just not having one remained. Gradually, people started liking the idea of having a four-legged companion around and more dogs were introduced to the country. Today, the idea of owning a dog is appealling to many Japanese but the space issue still remains. Most Japanese live in apartments and just like in the US, not all of them are friendly to animals. Even if the apartment allows pets, you have to take it out and walk it and whatnot. Since you don't own the apartment and you don't have a backyard for them to wander in, a doggy door is out of the question. Bottom line: for most city-dwelling Japanese, owning a dog can be a hassle. Also, many Japanese view dogs as merely a material possession and not part of the family like Westerners do. If a person gets a job somewhere else and his new apartment doesn't accept pets, he will give the animal to a friend or to a shelter without much hesitation. Somehow, many of them maintain a barrier that allows them to see the animal as an item, not a relative. This goes for all pets for the most part with the exception of the traditional Japanese fish, Coi. Keeping a pond of Coi is seen more as the maintaining of Japanese tradition than the keeping of pets. Many Japanese keep and care for Coi and will usually go to great lengths to keep them happy. That is not to say that dogs do not get love here and today's trip proved that.
Terri took me to park dedicated to serving our four-legged friends. This place was something, there was a store that caters only to dogs. In the store, there was a photo studio for people who needed a portrait of fluffy dressed up like a sunflower or whatever suited their fancy. There were gourmet dog biscuits and treats, toys, a clothing section, a supply section, you name it. If it involved a dog, it was there. If you ever need name brand, designer doggy collars you can get them in Japan. You need a Louis Vuitton leather collar, it's yours for just under $400.
Outside the store was a park. You had to pay to get in but once inside you are free to roam around the play area that is equipped with toys and jumping bars to entertain your dogs. This also gives your dog a chance to socialize with hundreds of other frolicking, fur balls. It was very fun to watch and worth the price of admission. Yes, I paid to get in, but I wanted to visit another area of the park, the petting zoo. I miss my dogs, I miss Lucky and Bungie and being able to sit around and have one of them curled up next to me. I miss playing with them and talking to them and doing all of the things that you would normally do with a little, albeit, evil dog. Fortunately, I am not alone. For people that cannot own a dog, they can do the next best thing, visit a doggy petting zoo. Basically, you walk through the gate and pick what size dog you want to pretend is yours. Having picked the small ones, I went through another gate on my right and into an area with about ten or fifteen different dogs. All of them were very well taken care of, clean, and docile; there was nothing left for me to do but sit down and start petting them. To be a dog in this place is probably akin to winning some sort of canine lottery. The area that they rest in is probably about 100 sq.ft and outdoors. The ground is concrete but all of the dogs were given blankets and pillows and beds to lay on. There was a roof over most of the area and there were two or three massive gas heaters stationed under the awning. The blankets and bedding were extremely clean and all of the smaller dogs had sweaters or coats on to keep them even warmer. Since the dogs were especially fond of the heater area, I also got to sit near it and was warm as well as I gleefully petted an assortment of breeds of wee doggies. If there is anything these dogs don't get, its alone time. There were dozens of other people in the area, all of them rubbing down or admiring the animals. I saw many families come to the petting area because for smaller kids, this is a safe environment to meet animals that are not going to bite them. As I said, if you can't own a dog, this is the next best thing. Though with the stares I was getting from kids, I was left to wonder what the bigger attration of the petting area was, me or the dogs.
After petting the wee beasties for a bit, I went with Terri to the larger dog area. Again, same layout, same imaculate cleanliness, just bigger doggies to love and cherish for as long as you want...or closing time. Speaking of cleanliness, I actually saw one of the attendants take a lint roller to the sweater that one of the dogs was wearing, while the dog was still wearing it. I also forgot to mention that each area is always supervised by at least one attendant who's sole duty is to make sure that dog/human relations are on par and to clean up after the animals if nature calls. There were no wet spots or other danger areas in this place, it was CLEAN. The only downers of the trip was leaving the petting area and watching some of the other people play with and watch the dogs. One guy was sitting on a bench, looking truly lonely, just watching the dogs play and grinning. I wanted to give him a hug. Its awesome to see the calming power that dogs can have on people, especially when a person is alone or depressed. Here are a few pics of the beasts and those that pet them in their natural petting area habitat:
While there, I made two other observations. If one were to select a dog to eat, NO, they don't eat dogs anymore, but if they were to start up again, these dogs would be choice. All day long, these little guys are pet and stroked and massaged, these dogs would be the canine equivalent of Kobe beef. Grain fed and tenderized, while being spoken to in loving tones; this would be excellent, well-marbled, meat. But we don't eat dogs because they are cute and furry.
The second observation was one of slightly different nature. We were basically, visiting a doggy whorehouse. Here are these animals that are cared for and lay around all day, while people pay for the pleasure of stroking them and whispering sweet nothings to them. When the people have had their fill, they leave the park and new customers replace them. To prove my point, I took this picture:
This is a name board that shows each of the dogs featured in the large dog petting area for the day. Each pic is accompanied by the breed of dog, their name, and their personality/likes/dislikes. The reasoning behind this is so visitors can call the dog by name and it will respond as if the animal was their own. This can also be a test drive of sorts for people looking to buy a specific breed of doggy. The opposite side of the board shows the name and breed of the dogs that will be visiting the petting area in the coming days. That way, you can plan your trips accordingly. The small dog section had the same type of board as well. The funny part about these boards is that the hostess bars and strip clubs here use the same method to show off the women.
When you exit the petting area, there is a large hand washing and cleaning area. Having made sure our hands were clean and checking for doggy hair, we ventured off. We had other things to do and unfortunately, could not spend all day playing with our furry, four-legged buddies. For the first time in a long time, I did not feel sorry for the animals behind the fence, but for me. I really miss dogs and cats and I don't realize it until I have pet one of them and walked away. If someone were to let me, I could easily play with their dog or cat all day long. Today pretty much cemented me buying a pet upon returning to the US. The $6 I paid to get into the park was well worth every penny and I wouldn't be surprised if I went again sometime, just typing this post has made me feel slightly lonely. On the upside, today was a fun day and it was great to see that the animals were so well cared for. It would be cool if places like this one started springing up in the United States. Animal shelters could be relieved of some of the overcrowding and people unable to have a pet could at least pretend for a short time. Man, I miss companionship sometimes.