Animals Receive Blessings in Place of Children in Aging Japan
A traditional ceremony for children in Japan is growing popular for animals there as well.
Natsuki Aoki recently flew with her two Chihuahua dogs from the western city of Hiroshima to Tokyo, the nation’s capital. She took the trip so the little dogs could receive a special blessing at the Zama Shrine, a Shinto holy place.
Aoki noted that few religious centers are open to animals. “I think it would be great to see more places like this," the 33-year-old said on Tuesday.
The Zama Shrine dates back to the 6th century. It is about 25 kilometers southwest of Tokyo. The religious center established a prayer area for animals in 2012. It now hosts Shichi-Go-San ceremonies where animal owners can pray for the health and happiness of their dogs and cats.
The ceremony, which means Seven-Five-Three in Japanese, is traditionally celebrated in mid-November for children reaching those ages. Parents dress their girls and boys in kimonos and bring them to a Shinto holy place for the ceremony.
On Tuesday, several people led their animals up the steps of the Inuneko Jinja, or Dog-Cat Shrine. They prayed and received a blessing from a Shinto clergy. Six Shiba Inu dogs wearing kimonos lined up for pictures at the event.
Shinto priest Yoshinori Hiraga conducts a prayer for pet dogs during a Shichi-Go-San blessing at Zama Shrine in Zama, Kanagawa Prefecture, near Tokyo, Japan, November 14, 2023. (REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon)
Japan's birth rate ｄropped for a seventh straight year in 2022 to a record low, while deaths increased to an all-time high.
"The number of children is decreasing each year, and as a result, more and more people are pouring their love into their dogs and cats," said Yoshinori Hiraga of the Zama Shrine.
"We want to offer the pet owners a place at Zama Shrine for them to thank the gods when their dogs and cats reach the ages of three, five, and seven," said Hiraga. The clergy estimated about 120 pets would be brought to the shrine this season.
Among them was Masayo Tashiro, who brought two dogs, a terrier and a Pomeranian to the center as she made offerings and prayers.
"They are very important to me, like my own children," said the 53-year-old caregiver. "I came here to pray that they will have a safe and healthy life with us together."
Words in This Story
blessing - n. a short prayer
kimono - n. clothing with wide sleeves that is traditionally worn on formal occasions in Japan.
pet - n. an animal, such as a dog or cat, that people keep mainly for pleasure