Animal cruelty is a serious issue worldwide, but each country plays its own role in how they allow citizens, institutions, and companies to treat the nation's animals. One nation with some significant pros and cons in its attitude and treatment towards animals and the protection of their rights is Japan.

Japan fluctuates greatly in its standing on animal cruelty, depending on the aspect under scrutiny. Their overall animal cruelty ranking under the Voiceless Animal Cruelty Index (VACI) is in good standing as the fifteenth least cruel nation. However, their laws regarding animal testing are incredibly lax.

If you're curious about where Japan lies as an individual nation and on a global scale regarding animal cruelty, then you need to read on here. We'll discuss some of the nation's legislature, practices, and mindsets on the subject to provide an in-depth picture of how rampant animal cruelty is in this country.

Japan is Considered an "Adequate Performer" Under the VACI

A positive starting note is that Japan has a relatively decent standing on a global scale regarding minimal animal cruelty levels, as determined by the Voiceless Animal Cruelty Index (VACI).

VACI was created by the animal protection institution, Voiceless. Their index ranks 50 countries worldwide according to their standards of animal cruelty, which consists of three defining categories:

  • Producing Cruelty: this "assesses countries based on farm animals that are slaughtered each year for food."
  • Consuming Cruelty: this "assesses countries based on their consumption of farm animals by combining the ratio of plant-based protein to farm animal protein consumed with the number of animals consumed, in each country on a per capita basis."
  • Sanctioning Cruelty: this "assesses countries based on their societal and cultural attitudes to animals, as reflected in the quality of the legislative and regulatory frameworks that are in place to protect animals."

With all of these categories considered, Japan's overall ranking was the 15th least cruel nation towards animals out of the total 50 nations. With Belarus ranking as the most cruel.

Individually they had a "Producing Cruelty" ranking of 14 and both "Consumer" and "Sanctioning" cruelties ranking of 23.

The most significant facts within these categories are that Japan only slaughters around 7.8 land-based animals per person/year. Although this is still a significant sum, it is much lower than the global average of 9.7.

Sadly, this is slightly offset because the Japanese diet is relatively high in animal products. The average person's diet comprises of 43.9% land-based animal protein, which is higher than the national average of 35.2%.

Japan really loses points for the Voiceless index from their "D" rating under the Animal Protection Index (API) due to their lack of official legislature protecting animal rights and their even lesser efforts to enforce the laws they do have.

For the full list of countries that are still cruel to animals today, read on here: What Countries Are Cruel to Animals in 2021?

As a Country, Japan Does Not Recognize Animal Sentience

This is an interesting fact that some might deem insignificant in the broader picture of animal cruelty in Japan, but it actually plays a vital role in its people's mindsets.

The concept of animal sentience is often at the root of animal rights. It argues that animals are entitled to "protection from unnecessary treatment" because they are sentient beings that can feel pleasure and pain.

A vast number of resources scientifically support this fact, and yet, Japan, as a nation, refuses to legally recognize that animals are sentient beings.

Although they have recognized some elements of animal sentience in their most recent version of The Act on Welfare and Management of Animals, this legislature only goes so far as to prohibit individuals from injuring, destroying, or inflicting cruelty on animals.

However, the reasoning behind this is not because they can physically and mentally suffer from this mistreatment, but merely because they are living beings.

Only a select number of animals that the government officially recognizes can feel pain and distress. They all fall under the category of "domesticated animals," such as dogs, cats, horses, and so on.

The government's failure to recognize all animals as sentient beings can play a significant role in the nation's degree of animal cruelty cases. This includes their lax laws regarding animal testing. Japan ranks third in the world for the most amount of animal testing used.

It does not set a clear ideology to Japanese citizens that all creatures can feel pain and distress and, therefore, should be treated humanely.

Nor does it set legal repercussions for those who abuse or mistreat an animal that is not considered sentient under Japanese law. 

If you’re wondering which countries fall into the top 10 list of countries that use the most animal testing, you need to read this article (spoiler – the USA in the top 3): 10 Facts About Animal Testing You Need to Know (2021)

Japan's Animal Cruelty Laws Do Not Meet OIE Standards

When it comes to laws against animal cruelty, Japan wins points for at least having laws to deter the public from enacting this behavior, as legal restrictions against animal cruelty are not present in every nation.

However, a serious con for Japan is that their animal cruelty laws don't meet OIE standards.

The leading Japanese legislature against animal cruelty in the nation is the Act on Welfare and Management of Animals, created in 1973. This act has been amended and modified, most notably in 2014, and strictly prohibits:

  • Infliction of cruelty or injury on an animal without due cause;
  • Killing an animal without due cause;
  • Refusing to maintain the health and safety of an animal in your care; and
  • Refusal to raise an animal per its behavior and species.

If a citizen is proven to have enacted some form of animal cruelty, they can be subject to fines or imprisonment up to one year.

On a global scale, the number of restrictions and regulations for animal cruelty in Japan is minimal. There are few regulations, to begin with, and those that do exist pertain solely to domesticated and farm animals.

What is even more distressing is that these laws are so poorly created and upheld that the nation fails to meet OIE's Animal Welfare Standardswhich have a particular focus on animal:

  • Transport
  • Slaughter
  • Production system
  • Population control of stray dogs
  • Use of animals in research and education
  • Working equids

Although Japan has made some strides to meet OIE standards with their previously mentioned legislature, the minimal regulations and few animals protected by law are insufficient.

There are no regulations for animals that are not considered farm or domesticated species. The nation lacks any stray population control, killing animals for disease control, provision on transporting animals, and more significant issues.

Additionally, there is little to no implementation of OIE standards throughout Japan, and the laws they do have on animal cruelty are haphazardly enforced.

The Number of Animal Cruelty Cases in Japan Are Rising

An unfortunate side effect of Japan's minimal legislature on animal cruelty and lax enforcement, particularly on the local level, is that the number of animal cruelty cases in the nation has risen substantially.

In 2019, the number of suspected animal abuse cases formally investigated by Japanese police peaked at a record-breaking 105 cases. Remember that, legally, the only animals protected against animal cruelty are domesticated and farm animals, so this number could be much higher when all sentient creatures are included.

Unsurprisingly, the majority of cases involved cats and dogs that were subject to abandonment or neglect. There were at least 20 cases where the animals were subject to such horrific cruelty that it resulted in their death.

According to the National Police Agency, the number of animal cruelty cases in the nation has been consistently rising since they started tracking these cases in 2010.

To deter this rise in cases from continuing, harsher penalties for animal cruelty were incorporated into Japanese law, permitting individuals who kill animals cruelly to face up to five years in prison or require a ¥5 million fine (the equivalent of 32,885 pounds). This more than doubles the previous penalties.

Hopefully, this is a sign that Japan is endeavoring to protect animal rights more seriously.

It’s important to note that not all countries treat their animals so poorly – some have banned animal testing altogether. Here’s what you need to read for a positive pick-me-up: These Countries Have Banned Animal Testing (2021)

Final Thoughts

On a global scale, Japan is far from the worst nation when it comes to animal cruelty. There are certainly significant strides they should take to improve their legislature and enforcement, but at least there are some laws in place for animal protection.

Considering Japan has made multiple amendments to their legislature in the past decade to improve their laws prohibiting animal cruelty, we are hopeful that they will one day reach a point where they meet OIE standards.

It would also be ideal for Japan to recognize and include more sentient animals in their laws, not just those residing on farms and in homes.

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