Purchasing the latest fad breed of cat or dog is big business in Japan with puppies at Japanese pet shops selling for about ¥300,000 to ¥500,000 each. When you walk past and see the fluffy bundles in the window, what you don’t see are the puppy mills out in the countryside where breeding dogs are confined in terrible conditions and unsold animals are disposed of.

Because of puppy and kitten mills, irresponsible owners, and elderly owners, there is an increasing number of unwanted pets looking for new homes. The neglect is not always intentional. For example, elderly pet owners suffering from dementia might forget to feed their animals or to take them to the vet when they’re unwell. As a result, there are plenty of opportunities to adopt a pet in Japan, rather than buy.

What you need to know

laser cat wifi router internet
Photo by iStock/Andrey Zhuralev

Before falling in love with the first doe-eyed puppy picture you see, you have to sit down and think if it is even possible for you to open your home to a feline, canine, or more adventurous friend.

Things you need to consider:

  • Living space: The sad truth is that many apartments in Tokyo do not allow pets, so it’s vital that you check your contract before investing too much time
  • Size: Before you celebrate after reading the “pet consultation” clause of your apartment, you need to consider that most places only allow for “small pets” (usually under 30 cm in height)
  • Trial period: Some shelters will require you to spend a few weeks with your new addition before agreeing to the adoption
  • Fees: Not all pets who need a home are free. You have to account for vet bills, pick-up, and transportation, and that’s just the beginning!
  • Rejection: Most places won’t tell you why they rejected your adoption application but it could be for a number of reasons. Some places won’t allow couples planning on having children or on the opposite end, singles. They could be worried you’ll leave town on short notice and leave your adoptee behind—who would do such a thing!?

Note: If these prerequisites seem like too much hassle—or near impossible—consider donating or volunteering at the organizations listed below instead.

Online pet adoption services

Endless pages of kittens and puppies melting your heart will have you crossing your fingers that Tokyo miraculously becomes more pet-friendly.

Pet Home

With over 1,500,000 monthly users, Pet Home is one of the most used adoption websites in Japan. Its user-friendly layout makes the hunt for your new best friend almost effortless—even if your Japanese isn’t up to scratch, you can still decipher what’s going on—and with clear search fields such as specific breeds and location, you can really catch them all.

There is a healthy mix of shelters and individuals posting animals which allows you to also find shelters willing to come to your area, such as the ones below. All parties must have some form of contract before the adoption takes place, be it from an NPO organization itself or the website’s own pledge. So, rest assured.

Animals available: Cats, dogs, small animals, fish, birds, reptiles, and almost anything else under the sun.
Extra fees: Fees vary depending on the animal and usually include vaccination and sterilization. Luckily, there are strict limitations from the website to make sure the poster isn’t subtly “selling” them.

Visit the website at www.pet-home.jp or get the app.

Other

  • JMTY: A bulletin website similar to craigslist. They have an extensive pet section but there are limited regulations so make sure to research thoroughly.
  • Anifare: You don’t need a home visit as the pet is dropped off at a veterinary clinic near you. They ask for a pretty steep donation in exchange.

Rescue shelters

ARK

An organization that does a fantastic job with rehousing rescued dogs and cats is ARK. They started as Animal Rescue Kansai but now mainly go by ARK. Although much of the support network, in terms of foster families and adoptions, is in and around Tokyo, most of the animals are sourced from Kansai or the countryside.

Dog using a computer
ARK dogs are multi-talented | Photo by Gregory Lane

Once you’ve found a pet that suits your preferences and lifestyle, inquire with ARK and request an interview. This may happen at one of their adoption events which also give the dogs or cats an opportunity to inspect you. Often an animal might look good in theory, but chemistry is chemistry—if you don’t get on, then it won’t be fun for either party. If you’ve decided you would like to adopt an animal, there is then, usually, a two-week trial. After this, you can decide to adopt the cat or dog, or you can go your separate ways.

Animals available: Dogs and cats.
Extra fees: ¥20,000, which covers some of ARK’s costs for things like desexing, vaccinations, and microchipping.

Japan Cat Network

The Japan Cat Network proves that cats do land on their feet—with a little help of course. They run two uncrowded no-kill shelters, in Tokyo and Kyoto, and previously provided rescue for displaced animals during the Tohoku disaster. Having honed a community of cat lovers and enthusiasts, they also have a “network” of cats in foster care.

two tokyo rescue cats
Photo by Ali Shearer

While their website could do with a little updating, they are prevalent on social media. Trust me when I say their posts make your day. They understand that the key to creating a society filled with happy and cared for animals is down to the community. This is why they advocate for “Trap. Neuter. Return.”, a method of reducing unwanted cats in our neighborhoods.

Animals available: Cats.
Extra fees: An adoption fee of ¥20,000.

Visit their website, social media, or fill in this form to become a foster or adoptive parent.

SPA (Society for the Protection of Animals)

SPA’s rescue “stores” may look similar to the morally ambiguous pet shops around the country but they are a fully NPO (non-profit organization) with just a penchant for pristine shelters. They often hold transfer parties that allow you to meet the animals from their shelters in Omori and Ikegami.

Their app lets anyone browse through the toothy grins of the downtrodden fluffy orphans available, and although you cannot directly choose one (you’ll have to fill in a form or visit the store) you can stare at the screen and dream. You’ll receive a lot of support, especially if you are a first-time owner.

Animals available: Cats and dogs.
Extra fees: An adoption fee of ¥60,000.

Visit their website, download their app, and why not join their 30,000 followers on Instagram.

Heart Tokushima

Heart Tokushima is a shelter on Shikoku Island but allows for the transportation of animals to other parts of the country. Started by Canadian Susan Mercer in 2006, they have since gone on to rehome thousands of unwanted and stray animals. I commend the photographer of Heart Tokushima for their stunning photos. (Don’t tell anyone but I shed a tear or two at their rehomed gallery.)

There is a three-step adoption process that involves a questionnaire, home check (through pictures if a visit is not possible), and contract signing. All dogs and cats are vaccinated, neutered, and microchipped before joining your family.

Animals available: Dogs and cats.
Extra fees: ¥20,000 for dogs and ¥15,000 for cats to cover fees.

Other

  • Lifeboat has saved over 20,000 animal lives with their shelter and accompanying veterinary clinic in Chiba
  • Minashigo has many shelters over the country with a dog and cat cafe for rescues in Setagaya-ku
  • Find more cat cafes that are promoting their felines for adoption here
One of the more unpleasant pet stores. Yes, that’s a large owl for sale in the window. | Photo by Gregory Lane

What are the running costs?

The day-to-day running costs of a cat or dog in Tokyo are relatively low. Food and toilet materials (depending on the animal) should cost no more than ¥1,000 per week. (Check out this article for a full cost rundown of keeping a cat in Tokyo.)

Two significant costs that you will have to face are vet fees and pet accommodation fees if you decide to leave your beloved behind when you go on vacation. Although it’s rather obvious, pets aren’t covered under your health insurance, so you’ll have to pay for 100% of any vet fees. If your pet has a serious accident or illness, then vet bills could exceed ¥100,000. Rescue dogs tend to be a bit older and if they’ve been neglected, then medical issues can be quite common.

Kennels are known as “pet hotels” in Japan. This seems appropriate as the fees sometimes exceed those of human hotels. Prices of ¥5,000 per night with all the dogs kept in a small room are not unusual. To be fair, most will take the dogs for two daily walks and you’ll be able to monitor your pooch or kitty via a webcam. Our local pet hotel gave our dog a trim on the day of pick-up and provided a memorial photo with a seasonal backdrop of autumn leaves or cherry blossoms.

You could try pet sitters instead which are much more cost-effective and allow your pet to relax in the comfort of their own home.

This article was first published on August 31st, 2020, and was substantially updated on February 16th, 2022.

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