It’s no secret that Japan loves its pets: they even have cafes where you can pay for the company of canines and felines. The pet boom is likely to thrive for years, as more Japanese opt to have a pet instead of raising a child.

Already facing a rapidly aging population and an ever-falling birthrate, Japan is seeing an upsurge in pet ownership, with the number of registered dogs and cats combined at 21.3 million.

The population of pets in Japan has outpaced the number of children aged 15 and under in Japan since 2003, highlighting the downtrend in the country’s birthrate, which fell to a record-low 16.33 million as of April 1.

Many Japanese who lead busy lives prefer pets to parenthood, and pets in Japan are now considered part of the family. But some Japanese pet owners tend to spoil their dogs or cats, a trend that has fueled a $10 billion industry that includes pet hotels, pet cafes, pet saunas, pet fur stylists, and even designer clothing and gourmet food.

Japan’s total population is projected to shrink by 30 percent to just 87 million by 2060. By that period, people 65 and older will make up 40 percent of the country’s population. The forecast puts pressure on the government as the labor force also shrinks.

Analysts have come to blame the low fertility rate on Japan’s inadvertence when it comes to making babies.

“The most important reason for Japan’s declining birthrate is less sex,” says Dr. Kunio Kitamara, director of Japan’s Family Planning Research Centre.

Japanese women also struggle with taking care of children while seeking full-time employment, leading many to pursue their careers over domestic priorities.

By Maesie Bertumen

Image: Sebra /