Japan is a cookie-cutter country where conformity is a long-standing, high-value cultural tradition, and space is always at a premium.
So how do you stand out?
One way is to get a canine freak -- a tea cup chihuahua, a dog of a strange color, a dog with two noses. As The New York Times reports:
Care for a Chihuahua with a blue hue?
Or how about a teacup poodle so tiny it will fit into a purse — the canine equivalent of a bonsai?
The Japanese sure do.
Rare dogs are highly prized here, and can set buyers back more than $10,000. But the real problem is what often arrives in the same litter: genetically defective sister and brother puppies born with missing paws or faces lacking eyes and a nose.
There have been dogs with brain disorders so severe that they spent all day running in circles, and others with bones so frail they dissolved in their bodies. Many carry hidden diseases that crop up years later, veterinarians and breeders say.
Of course, the push for conformity never stops, which means in Japan there are a lot of fads -- folks "being different" in exactly the same way as everyone else. We have the same thing here in the U.S., but in Japan it's all in hyper-drive.
These illnesses are the tragic consequences of the national penchant in Japan for turning things cute and cuddly into social status symbols. But they also reflect the fondness for piling onto fads in Japan, a nation that always seems caught in the grip of some trend or other.
“Japanese are maniacs for booms,” said Toshiaki Kageyama, a professor of veterinary medicine specializing in genetic defects at Azabu University in Sagamihara. “But people forget here that dogs aren’t just status symbols. They are living things.”
As in the U.S. the drive for canine affection is fueled, in part, by a rising number of childless couples -- either young people choosing not to have children, or older adults whose children have move out and away:
As the number of childless women and couples in Japan has increased, so has the number of dogs, which are being coddled and doted upon in place of children, experts say. In the last decade, the number of pet dogs in Japan has doubled to 13 million last year — outnumbering children under 12 — according to Takashi Harada, president of Yaseisha, a publisher of pet industry magazines.
“Households with few or no children are turning to dogs to fill the void,” he said. “For a dog to be part of the family, it has to be unique and have character, like a person.”
Put it all together, and what you have are all the fixings you need for puppy mills, where extreme types are created through heavy inbreeding. And is that going on? You bet!
Inbreeding is a quick way to bring out recessive traits, as dogs carrying the gene are repeatedly mated with their own offspring, enhancing the trait over successive generations.