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A Mixture of Animal Welfare and Animal Use

09.03.2012
Masayuki Manabe from Waseda University in Japan discusses the changing relationship between humans and animals.

The detailed regulations for enforcement of the Act on Welfare and Management of Animals were revised in January 2012, and the revision of the Act itself is likely to go before the diet later this year.

The revision includes various points for discussion such as week-age regulations and animal experimentation regulations, on which a wide range of opinions were received in public comments at the end of last year. With so many different opinions, the way in which human society relates to animals is complex. People who denounce the abuse of cats and dogs simultaneously and unquestioningly eat the meat of cattle and pigs, wear the furs of foxes and rabbits, or use drugs and makeup developed through animal experimentation. But a look back at the history of the complicated and challenging relationship between humans and animals reveals even further complexity and variation.

Eating of dog meat by the Japanese

Take dogs, for example. The majority of Japanese these days feel repelled at the thought of eating dog meat, and yet it was a common food in Japan from the Yayoi period right up until the Edo period. During the Jomon period there were many examples of careful burials of canine hunting partners, but hardly any such burials took place in the Yayoi period. The spread of rice cultivation made hunting less important and so dogs became less useful, coupled to which the custom of eating dog meat was introduced from the continent, and so they became a food source. Archeological excavations of the ruins of the residences of feudal lords and the like have revealed large quantities of bones of dogs that were clearly used for food, showing that the custom of eating canine meat continued into the Edo period. It is likely that this meat was not only eaten by humans but also used for feeding falcons. The custom of eating dog meat seems to have survived for some time in the Meiji period, too, as Roka Tokutomi writes in Mimizu no tawagoto [Gibberish of an Earthworm] about his grief for his pet dog Obuchi who was eaten by Satsuma troops during the Satsuma Rebellion.
On the other hand, numerous woodblock prints and other paintings clearly show that many dogs were cared for as pets from the Edo period. The shogun Tsunayoshi Tokugawa’s Edicts on Compassion for Living Things hardly needs to be mentioned, and during the time of the eighth shogun Yoshimune Tokugawa people were executed for eating dog stew. At the sites of residences of feudal lords, the bones of dogs probably used for food have been found as well as the bones of dogs that have been buried with care.

Animals and war

In the modern era, animals have also been forced onto the battlefield. In particular, the stories of Kongo and Nachi, war dogs who achieved an “honorable death in battle” in the Manchurian Incident, appeared in textbooks as heartwarming tales and were widely known among the Japanese public at that time. Other animals well-known for being on the battlefield include warhorses and war pigeons (carrier pigeons), but the issue of whether they can be called “animal weapons” or “animal warriors” is complicated. Regarding horses, for instance, the book Bajiteiyou [Outline of Horse Matters] (1914) says that “Horses are living weapons. They are also the driving force of the army,” whereas Juugun Heishi no Kokoroe [Knowledge about campaign soldiers] (1938) states that “Horses are silent warriors.” We can still find monuments called “warhorse memorials” throughout the country. Recent studies indicate that while the inscriptions on most warhorse memorials from the Sino-Japanese War and Russo-Japanese War give the actual number of horses provided to emphasize the contribution made by the person who supplied them to their country as a man of great renown, the purpose of most warhorse memorials of the Showa period is to commemorate the horses’ departure to war or to comfort the spirits of the dead warhorses. In other words, horses have come to be regarded more and more as warriors than weapons, which would appear to be backed up by the many affectionate descriptions of horses in written accounts of World War Two. Many participants in that conflict also kept pets whose company provided a degree of comfort from the harshness of military life. Soldiers on the Chinese front tended to keep cats or dogs whereas further south they kept monkeys. Some even kept a leopard as a pet (Hyou to heitai [The leopard and the soldiers] by Masahisa Naruoka). But at the same time that animals were being treated increasingly by humans as comrades-in-arms, in Japan many animals in zoos across the country were being poisoned to death as the course of the war deteriorated. Even the above-mentioned leopard, which had been moved to Ueno Zoo along with the transfer of its military unit, was poisoned about a year later. Furthermore, in contrast to the touching tales of war dogs in textbooks, the cats and dogs kept by ordinary people were bludgeoned to death one after another so that their furs could be delivered to the government.

History of animal welfare

Japanese animal welfare organizations can be traced back to the Group to Prevent Cruelty to Animals, formed in 1902. Although people tend to imagine that most objects of animal welfare in current Japan are cats and dogs, in the Meiji and Taisho periods there were more voices calling for the protection of horses and cattle. During the Meiji period, not as many homes kept cats or dogs as pets compared with now, whereas many people had a very close relationship with cattle and horses which were often used as a means of transport by Japan’s large rural population. Nowadays, by contrast, we are surrounded by pet cats and dogs but have few opportunities to get up close to cattle and horses, resulting in a change in the focus of our kindness. But we cannot say that there is no longer any cruelty to cattle and horses. It just remains out of sight of ordinary people.

In the history of animal welfare, we have to mention Nazi Germany. Notorious for the genocide of Jews, the Nazis did, on the other hand, introduce animal welfare laws strictly prohibiting cruelty to animals. It is well known that the Fuhrer doted on animals, particularly dogs. He was also so sad when his canary died that he shed tears (Animals in the Third Reich by Boria Sax). Such contradictory cases are not necessarily limited to the past. A situation arose in California in November 2008, for example, where homosexuals were deprived by a referendum of the right to marry one another on the very same day that chickens were granted valuable rights in the way that they are raised in chicken coops. (The deprivation of the right to same-sex marriage was later judged to be unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court.) Similar cases have been seen elsewhere, too. However, the fact that this judgment was made by a democratic direct ballot and not by a dictatorship is a noticeable indication of a change in the times.

Changing relationship

Looking at human society through the history of animals often makes people more aware of aspects of human society that they would normally not have noticed. Examining the complex and changing history of the relationship between animals and people can also lead us, through our animal counterparts and our past history, to the relativization of how human society or we ourselves should actually be.

After the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011 and the subsequent nuclear accident, people were very active in trying to rescue their pets. But we do not hear so many comments about how people are helping animals in spite of their own troubles, as was heard during World War Two. Perhaps that shows how much animals have come be treated as members of society. On the other hand, it is a fact that issues like animal experimentation remain difficult to reach agreement on. And yet, although the relationship between humans and animals is a complex one, we have seen how it can change. Only we humans can determine just what kind of relationship we will form with animals in the future. How will the state of our current relationship with animals be viewed in history in the eyes of people 100 or 200 years from now?

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