Owning a Dog in Japan – Welcoming Your New Best Friend

So you’ve settled in nicely in Japan and want a bit of companionship, but not necessarily looking for a romantic relationship. Have you considered sharing your life with a dog?

Please keep in mind that owning a dog is a lifetime commitment that requires money, time, and patience. If you think you’ve got what it takes or are simply curious about owning a dog in Japan, read on.

Is Your Place “Pet OK”?

The first step to dog ownership is making sure that your current place accepts dogs (犬可/いぬか/inu ka). As you search for pet-friendly accommodations, keep in mind that you may have to pay an additional deposit (equivalent to one or two months’ rent) to cover cleaning and damage repair when you leave. On top of this, do consider that when you leave, your initial deposit may not cover the entire cost of damages incurred

Where to Get a Dog

I am probably not the best person to say, “Stay away from pet shops!” as my dear dog, a Shiba named Kokuto, is actually from a pet shop.

On a lunch break one day in December 2012, I saw a black fluff ball in a pet shop window. I found it interesting that particular dog was “only” ¥30,000. I had the impression that dogs at pet shops were expensive.

When I inquired as to why that particular dog was so “cheap,” I was told that he was already 5 months old and that the Ueno shop was the third shop he’s already known in his short life. Apparently, he had just come from the Kabukicho location.

At that time I was living in Shinjuku, so while holding him, I playfully asked him if he wanted to come back to Shinjuku with me. He immediately came to life, licked me all over my face, and I knew I that he was “the one.”

I do think about what happened to the other dogs and cats in that shop and hope that they all found a loving home, but I know that many of them were not as lucky as my Kokuto.

For finding the perfect companion, you may want to consider ARK, Animal Refuge Kansai, an NPO founded by Elizabeth Oliver in 1990. ARK has dogs up for adoption in Osaka and Tokyo.


Now that you’ve found your buddy, it’s time prepare a space for your furry friend.

Things you’ll need at home:

  • Bed or crate
  • Food dish
  • Water bottle/dish
  • Food
  • Snacks
  • Shampoo
  • Grooming brush
  • Lint roller
  • Nail clippers
  • Newspapers
  • Pet sheets
  • Towels for clean up

Just because your home is cozy doesn’t mean you should keep your buddy locked up all day! For daily walks you’ll need:

  • Bags for picking up poop (please pick up your dog’s poop, even if it is in a grassy area and you’re sure no one is watching.)
  • Water bottle for rinsing off areas that your dog has peed on
  • Wet wipes for wiping off body/feet after walks
  • Tote bag for holding the above items
  • Collar/harness Lead

The Three Responsibilities of Dog Ownership

According to the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare (MHLW), a dog owner has three duties:
(1) To register their dog at the municipal office of their residence;
(2) To vaccinate their dog against rabies once a year;
(3) To fit their dog with tags designating registration at a municipal office and vaccination against rabies.


A dog 91 days or older must be registered at the same municipality in which the owner resides. A dog only needs to be registered once in his/her lifetime. Don’t forget to notify your municipal office when moving and to register your dog at your the municipal office of your new residence.

Once registered, you will receive a dog registration tag (犬鑑札/いぬかんさつ/inu kansatsu) in an envelope. Make sure that the number on the envelope and the tag are the same. Keep the envelope in a safe place with your dog’s vital records and attach the tag to your dog’s collar or harness. The fee for the registration tag is around ¥3,000, depending on municipality.

Rabies Vaccination

Japan is one of the few regions in the world along with Iceland, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji Islands, Hawaii, and Guam, which can claim to be free of rabies (狂犬病/きょうけんびょう/kyoukenbyou). To keep Japan rabies-free, two ministries, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (MAFF) and the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare (MHLW) work together to uphold the Rabies Prevention Law.

Generally, rabies vaccinations take place at a veterinary office. After you have settled your vet’s bill (around ¥3,000 for the vaccination), you will receive a vaccination certificate. Take the vaccination certificate to the municipal office where your dog has been registered. Once completed, you will receive the appropriate tag certifying the completion of your dog’s rabies vaccination (注射済票/ちゅうしゃずみひょう/chuuzaizumi hyou). The fee for this tag is around ¥550.

Be sure to keep this tag on your dog’s collar/harness or lead, especially if you plan to use dog runs. This tag is your proof of your dog’s rabies vacciation.

Some regions of Japan hold mass rabies inoculation events (集合注射/しゅうごうちゅうしゃ/shuugou chuusha) during April 1- April 7, Rabies Prevention Week (狂犬病予防週間/きょうけんびょうよぼうしゅうかん/kyuokenbyou yobou shuukan). They may occur sometime during the month of April.

The local municipal office organizes these events and provide an opportunity for owners to get their dogs vaccinated against rabies and receive the appropriate tag without having to make an extra trip to the municipal office. In addition, dogs may also be registered for the first time at these events and this will save you a trip to the municipal office as well.

Note: While rabies vaccinations must be done once a year, do not schedule a vaccination between January 1 and March 31. If you do so, your vaccination will be regarded as having been done in the previous fiscal year. You will have to get another vaccine for your dog and take another trip to the municipal office.

Ask me how I know this. Go on, I dare you.

Check out these posts on my Shiba, Kokuto:

From Pet Shop to Family – Kokuto’s Story – A Shiba’s Tale

Rabies Vaccine for Kokuto

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