An Overview of Animal Welfare around the World

This essay discusses how the socio-economics of Japan affects the welfare of animals in and by that country. It starts with an exploration of Japanese culture by looking at the concept of ma. It then examines the religious make-up of Japan, followed by a brief outline of its economics since World War II. These factors are then considered in relation to animal welfare in Japan by looking at specific categories of animals, namely companion animals, production animals, wildlife and laboratory animals. It concludes with a list of references cited within the essay.

A significant factor in Japanese culture is the concept of ma, which Isao (2007) would pick as the defining factor if forced to choose a single one. Ma influences all aspects of Japanese culture, including religion and economics, through its defining of what is appropriate, particularly in the arts and human interactions. For example, in art, ma is the void that defines the art: for dance or Noh drama it is the timing between steps or beats (Isao, 2007), for visual art it is the emptiness that defines the depicted image (Isao, 2007) which leads to a display that appears relatively simplistic but is appreciated in Japan as the “aesthetic of purity” (Shoji, 2006). In human relations, ma is how the young learn what the standards of behavior are and what attitudes to form (Isao, 2007). It defines the world as 3 concentric circles; the inner circle is uchi, comprising of one’s own group, the middle is seken, defined as the public or people, while the outer circle is soto, outsiders (Isao, 2007). The important group as far as behavior and attitudes shown publicly is seken; there is a very strong imperative kindled in the young to not be shamed before seken (Isao, 2007), this social obligation is called giri (Befu, 1993). This is most strongly visible to western eyes in seppuku, the samurai tradition of killing themselves by cutting open their abdomens before a second beheads them if they perceive themselves as being shamed or dishonored. People’s personal inclinations and desires are termed ninjo and there may often be conflict between a persons ninjo and giri (Befu, 1993). Thus ma is a defining and binding force within Japanese culture that until recently has acted as a barrier to the outside world; globalisation and western influences appear to be having the effect of bringing the rest of the world into the seken, where previously they were classified as soto. Japan has been taking a more active role in world affairs, beginning in the 1990s (Jansen, 1994).

Modern Japan could be considered to be a secular society, with only between 25 to 35 percent of the population in 1993 claiming to have a personal religion (Andreasen, 1993). This has followed from Japan’s defeat in World War II, with the occupation forces imposing a separation between the then national religion of Shinto and the state (Morton, 1994). However, the lack of a personal belief does not prevent participation in religious rituals, with about 75 percent of households having family altars and 80 percent of the population participating in religious festivals and visiting shrines (Andreasen, 1993). A point to note about religion in Japan is that many people participate in the rituals of more than one religion, both now and historically with the notable exception of Christians (Andreasen, 1993). This is clearly illustrated by the figures Andreasen (1993) quotes from Japan: An International Comparison (1990, Keizai Koho Center, Tokyo) which states that of an approximate population of 120 million, 112 million are followers of Shinto, 93 million of Buddhism, 1.4 million of Christianity and 11.4 million of other religions. It is thought that Christianity has failed to flourish in Japan because of its exclusivity (Andreasen, 1993), however it has a stronger influence than its numbers might indicate as many well-educated Japanese and leaders have used Christian ideas, particularly in such areas as social welfare and education (Morton, 1994).

Aspects of the various religions are significant with regard to animal welfare, such as the Christian concept of human dominion over animals, the Shinto concept of kami: spirits that inhabit the natural world including those of animals (Holtom, 1993) and the Buddhist proscription on the killing or eating of terrestrial animals (Kellert, 1993).

With their defeat at the end of World War II Japan’s economy collapsed and large-scale starvation was only held off due to economic aid from the United States (Reischauer, 1994) and was probably a significant factor in the industrializing of farm production methods that started at that time (Kishida & Macer, 2003). Since 1949, through a combination of external factors such as supplying American forces during the Korean war and generous trade agreements with the USA, and internal factors such as high education levels, cultural attitudes imbuing their business and governmental organizations with a shared sense of obligation and a strong work ethic, Japan experienced rapid economic recovery leading to its recognition as a major economic power by the 1980s (Reischauer, 1994). Japan has experienced an economic slump since the beginning of the 1990s (Bayoumi, 2001), but is considered to have been in recovery since 2002 (Goodburn, 2006). In the highly technological area of Japan’s mainstay industries, rapid advances in knowledge is considered critical, leading to strong support in the business community and the government for research and development (Morton, 1994).

Companion animals are the most protected category of animal group in Japan. In 1973 the Law for the Protection and Management of Animals was enacted which included a standard of proper feeding and custody of dogs and cats (Takeuchi, 2003). This was amended in 1999, with a name change to the Law for the Humane Treatment and Management of Animals and the standard changed from “dogs and cats” to home animals” which includes those kept at schools and in shelters (Takeuchi, 2003). Penalties for the unnecessary killing of an animal increased from a maximum of US$250 to US$8500 and/or up to 1 years imprisonment, while for animal abuse from US$250 to US$2500 (Takeuchi, 2003). The first felony conviction, for the torture and killing of a kitten, occurred in 2002 (Wikipedia, 2007).

Increasing pet ownership in conjunction with the cultural concept of ma has probably led to a more public disapproval of abuse to home animals, leading to the strengthening of the law combined with actual enforcement. There are changing population dynamics occurring in Japan that is increasing the interest in keeping animals (Takeuchi, 2003). The population of Japan peaked in 2005, it now has a total fertility rate of 1.29 (Motohiro, 2006). The standard arrangement for employment in Japan is that starting salaries are relatively low and many of the younger generations since the late 1980s have been pressing for change both in payment and how much of their time they have to devote to work (Morton, 1994). Many are opting for pets instead of having children (Motohiro, 2006) and those that do have children are concerned over youth suicide rates and bullying at schools (Matoba & Coultis, 2004). This has led to increased interest in pet ownership as a means to teach children to be more nurturing and respectful to other people as well as to enable discussions in schools about death (Matoba & Coultis, 2004). The above situations in combination with acknowledged links between animal cruelty and many serial killers has driven public concern and fueled political will to strengthen animal welfare law and enforcement for companion animals, unfortunately the same cannot be said for other animals.

The welfare of production animals is not a significant concern to the Japanese people except where it impacts on food quality and this is reflected in the pertinent legislation and its monitoring and enforcement. As stated earlier, the primary concern after WWII was to increase production, this involved the rapid proliferation of intensive farming methods obtained from the USA and Germany, often housing animals permanently within buildings (Kishida & Macer, 2003). Farmers may have some concerns regarding welfare, but primarily from a productivity point of view. Fear behaviors in young dairy cows from the milking methods used leads to a lower yield until the animals become habituated with age (Ishiwata et al.,2005). The Prime Minister’s office issued a guideline for rearing industrial animals in 1987, but of the 5 farmers interviewed by Kishida (2003) in 2002, only 1 thought he had heard of it and he didn’t know what it contained. Although technically production animals come under the auspices of the Law for the Humane Treatment and Management of Animals 1999 it has made no change to the ongoing farming practices (Kishida & Macer, 2003). Of the members of the public interviewed by Kishida (2003), just over half had concerns, mostly relating to food safety, less than 20 percent had concerns regarding welfare and most of these related to the fact the animals were raised in unnatural conditions. This may be due to them being more devout followers of Shinto and represent concerns regarding the kami of the animals. Buddhist priests are paid to read sutras to pray for the souls of the animals killed to provide food, despite the fact that this practice originated in Shinto, however this concern does not seem to engender any concern for the animals welfare while they are alive (Pulvers, 2006).

After poor communications caused problems dealing with BSE outbreaks in cattle, a Food Safety committee was formed in the Cabinet Office to facilitate communications between ministries (Jimba et al., 2004). This would be due to concerns for human health and the loss of faith in farm production shown by the public and unlikely to provide much if any improvement in farm animal welfare. After the first case of BSE, beef consumption in Japan slumped to 40 percent of previous amounts (Chiba, 2003). Food safety is also a concern with meat from wild animals.

Although hunting is not strongly supported in Japan, some occurs and that raises concerns regarding its safety. Hepatitis E was contracted by people who ate wild boar meat that was later tested and found to contain hepatitis E viral RNA (Li et al., 2005). Kellert (1993) found that the Japanese generally opposed hunting and attributed this to the Buddhist tradition of not killing or eating terrestrial animals. Although this no longer seems to apply to production animals and never did to marine animals; the hunting of whales and other cetaceans developed after the establishment of Buddhism in Japan in the 6th and 7th centuries and particularly after the conversion of the Imperial Court (Morton, 1994). Kellert (1993) found that 46 percent of the Japanese public reported having purchased whale meat within the last 5 years. The aesthetic of purity defining a minimalist view of beauty allows them to admire cetaceans as creatures while disregarding the suffering they may go through when being killed. Grenade harpoons need to strike a restricted target area to immediately immobilize and presumably render a minke whale unconscious (Knowles & Butterworth, 2006). The Japanese tend to ignore, consider irrelevant or judge unappealing factors that fall outside their valued aesthetic and symbolic boundaries (Kellert, 1993). This focuses their love for nature to specific things in isolation rather than nature as a whole.

Concerns for the welfare of wildlife in Japan therefore tend to be limited to select species with either aesthetic appeal or cultural significance, although it would seem that for an animal to have gained cultural significance in Japan it would need to have an aesthetic appeal to do so. This enables the government ministries and other organizations to formulate policies with relation to wild species without regard to animal welfare, not needing to worry about public response; Kellert (1993) reports that less than two percent of Japanese are members of a conservation or animal-related organization. At the Maruyama zoo in 1996, at least the bears, elephants and chimpanzees were housed in enclosures and cages with bare concrete floors (Morimura & Ueno, 1999), displaying them in tune to the aesthetic of purity for the publics pleasure rather than with regard to their welfare. Besides the government’s well publicized actions to enable the resumption of commercial whaling through the IWC, along with South Africa they are leading the push to lift the ban and resume trade in ivory through CITES (Ecologist, 2006). Japanese macaques, which are listed by the IUCN as endangered, may not be hunted, but if local governments receive claims from farming communities for damage caused by the macaques they may grant permission for them to be removed, 53,000 have been collected since 1993; the animals taken may then be killed, transferred to a preservation park or sent to research facilities, who currently pay US$1400 for them (Cyranoski, 2000). It can be presumed that most will therefore have gone to research facilities.

Laboratory animals are probably the least protected animals in Japan; where the Japanese public are likely to come in contact with companion animals and have the possibility of viewing both wild and farm animals, it is improbable that they will come in contact with laboratory animals. A case of out of view, out of mind seems to apply, in keeping with their selective attitude towards nature, although the relatively small animal rights and animal welfare groups are trying to bring the issue of laboratory animals’ welfare into the public arena. Their lobbying for regulations to control animal experiments are being opposed by researcher groups such as the Science Council of Japan, a coalition of scientific societies, who advocate for voluntary guidelines instead (Cyranoski, 2005). The current animal protection law, although covering research animals, includes neither a penalty for offenders nor a mechanism for enforcement (Cyranoski, 2004). This reflects the importance the government places on research and development for the economy and the researchers feeling no pressure of giri (social obligation) to counter their ninjo (personal desires) with regard to how they carry out their research.

In conclusion, while animal welfare law and attitudes are advancing for companion animals due to increased pet ownership and concerns over child development, little has yet been done to improve the lot of production animals, wildlife or laboratory animals. If animal welfare groups in Japan could enlist the support of well-known, popular and respected figures in Japanese society to promote animal welfare issues it might engender at least the appearance of concern over animal welfare in the public through the operation of ma; that would oblige the government to enact stronger laws and businesses that utilize animals to instate more welfare conscious standards.


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