Fashionable Hamsters and Street Cats: Pets in Japan
This is Rook.
He's a nice guy. He was in the seat next to mine on the shinkansen back to Tokyo last Thursday. His companions insisted on keeping him inside a rolling carrier thing while he was on the train, but he was allowed to poke his head out to chat with me a bit.
During this trip, I've seen quite a lot of Japan's animal population. However, while dogs and cats are both common house pets, most of the cats you'll see in Japan are the "noraneko" - homeless cats that live in the shadows. These cats are seen quite often in anime; many of you have probably seen one drawn on top of a fence or strolling through an alleyway. We spotted this one in an alleyway near Hamamatsucho station snacking on some seafood leftover from someone's bento box.
This guy is a resident of the flower shop in front of Akita station. As a non-stray, he has a good number of fans in the area who stop to shoot pics of him with their cell phone cameras. In my old neighborhood near Osaka, the local photofinishing and digital goods shops have a cat named Mi-chan that lives in the shop as well. When I asked the owner about why the photo shop has a cat, he referred to him as a "living maneki neko", referring to the cat statues that are said to bring good luck. It's no exaggeration either: everyone in the neighborhood knows and loves Mi-chan.
In recent years, anime had one very significant influence on Japan's pet population. During the peak of popularity for the Hamtaro series, the number of Japanese families keeping hamsters as pets skyrocketed. A few people drew attention to the negative results of the "hamster boom" as it was happening. Still, lots of hamsters were able to find homes thanks to Hamtaro and his friends, and it's highly likely that we'll see a similar boom again in the future.