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WEIRD: Why are Japanese blessing dogs, cats instead of children at Zama Shrine?

At Zama Shrine, blessing ceremony drew attention as Shiba Inu dogs adorned in kimonos lined up for photographs

In Zama, Japan, a centuries-old tradition originally reserved for children has found new significance as pet owners, grappling with the nation’s declining birth rates, bring their dogs and cats to receive special blessings.

The Zama Shrine, with roots dating back to the 6th century, recognised the growing desire among pet parents to seek divine intervention for the well-being of their furry friends.

In response, the shrine established a dedicated prayer site for pets in 2012, offering Shichi-Go-San rituals, typically observed for children in mid-November.

Natsuki Aoki, a 33-year-old Chihuahua owner, exemplifies the devotion of pet owners as she flew her two dogs from Hiroshima to Tokyo for a unique blessing.

Expressing the scarcity of shrines welcoming pets, Aoki envisions more places adopting this inclusive practice. The Inuneko Jinja, or Dog-Cat Shrine, within Zama Shrine’s premises, witnessed a heartwarming spectacle as numerous pet owners ascended steep steps, donning traditional kimonos, with their beloved companions in tow.

Shichi-Go-San, translating to Seven-Five-Three in Japanese, traditionally marks a milestone in a child’s life. However, as Japan grapples with a persistently declining birth rate, the focus on pets has intensified.

Yoshinori Hiraga, a Zama Shrine priest, acknowledges this shift, emphasising the significance of providing pet owners with a space to express gratitude and seek blessings for their dogs and cats at the ages of three, five, and seven.

The event drew attention as Shiba Inu dogs adorned in kimonos lined up for photographs, reflecting the growing cultural phenomenon. With Japan’s birth rate hitting a record low in 2022, more individuals are redirecting their nurturing instincts towards their four-legged companions.

Priest Hiraga anticipates around 120 pets to be brought to the shrine this season, highlighting the deep emotional connection people have with their animal companions.

Masayo Tashiro, a 53-year-old caregiver, exemplifies the sentiment, describing her terrier and Pomeranian as “very important” and equating their significance to that of her children.

As she made offerings and prayers at the shrine, Tashiro expressed a heartfelt wish for the safety and health of her beloved pets, embodying the evolving dynamics of companionship in modern Japan.

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