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Source: Gaijin Pot

Pets in rich countries are increasingly pampered and treated as prized family members. On the streets of Japan, this contemporary phenomenon manifests daily in the form of people pushing a stroller occupied by one or more furry family members wearing warm sweaters and perhaps even diapers.

This almost human treatment has progressed so far that pets are being afforded funeral rites previously limited to human beings within the last couple of decades.

Is there not something within the doctrines of the native religion Shinto, or else the imported but more dominant religion Buddhism, that might explain this more “humane” treatment?

Shinto and animals

Photo: iStock/ Eloi_Omella
In Shinto, deer are sacred messengers of the gods.

Some of the earliest Japanese myths introduce the kami of hunting and fishing. There is also a kami that protects humans from animals. Occasionally animals appear as messengers of the kami. In short, in Shinto, animals are either food, foe or they work for you.

Even today, there are literally tens of thousands of shrines dedicated to the worship of these animal controlling deities. If you have ever visited a Suwa Shrine, you have contributed to the upkeep of the kami of hunting. Most foreign visitors have seen the seven gods of good fortune and noticed that one, Ebisu, has a big fish slung over his shoulder.

Maybe you have stopped at Ebisu in Tokyo and toasted your good fortune with his eponymous beer. In short, according to early native Shinto mythology, animals are not friends. They certainly don’t rate human treatment. So if there is a Japanese religious reason to offer pets funerals, it doesn’t come from the Shinto tradition.

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