Owning a Dog in Japan: A Guide for Expats

Owning a Dog in Japan: A Guide for Expats

Thinking of bringing your pet dog to Japan? Considering adopting a puppy? Knowing the rules surrounding dog ownership in Japan will help you plan ahead and keep you and your buddy safe. 

According to the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare, dog owners in Japan have the following legal obligations: 

  1. Register their dog with the municipality in which they currently reside.

  2. Have their dog receive a rabies shot once a year.

  3. Attach a dog tag and a vaccination certificate to the dog.

While the legal requirements are brief, there's plenty to be aware of when living in Japan with pet dogs. We look at the essential topics and cover Japan's new microchip registration for pets, Shinkansen pet policy, what to do if your dog has hurt others, and more that pet owners should know about dog keeping rules in Japan. 

Registering a dog in Japan

Dog owners must register their dogs within 30 days of acquiring a dog 91 days of age or older. The purpose of dog registration is to identify the dog's owner and allow the municipality to inform dog owners in case of a rabies outbreak. Once registered, the registration is valid for life.

While registration happens only once in a dog's lifetime, if you move locations or if the dog dies, you must notify the city office so records can be updated. According to the Rabies Prevention Act, failure to register one's dog may result in a ¥200,000 fine.

Registration at a city office typically costs ¥3,000. However, some city offices, such as Minato City have waived this fee during the COVID pandemic. 

Most city offices have a page on their site where dog registration details can be found. Search for [your city] + 犬の登録.

MM 045 A Look at Pets v4

Image. According to Rakuten Insight in a survey of pet ownership, the average cost of care for dogs in Japan is ¥9,360 per month.

Rabies vaccination for dogs in Japan 

Dog owners must have their dogs receive a rabies shot. Typically, this occurs between April 1 and June 30 every year. The dog is then issued a tag which it must wear to show proof of vaccination. The rabies vaccine certificate fee is ¥550 per dog. 

According to the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, the last case of rabies infection in Japan occurred in 2006, when an individual incurred a dog bite in the Philippines. After returning to Japan, the individual developed rabies and died. Before this, the last known rabies case in Japan occurred in 1970. 

Pet clinics throughout Japan administer the rabies vaccine shot (狂犬病ワクチン = kyoukenbyou wakuchin). Go here for a nationwide directory of pet clinics to find one in your area. 

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Bringing a dog to Japan

If you are moving to Japan and plan to bring your dog, you must follow import procedures based on whether you reside in a designated or non-designated region.

Japan's Animal Quarantine Section provides detailed guidance in English on the matter. Click here if you are a dog owner in a designated region (Iceland, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji Islands, Hawaii, Guam), or here if you reside in a non-designated region (all other regions).

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Image. Step by step how to import your dog from a designated region to Japan, Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare.

How-to-import-pet flow non-designated

Image. Step by step how to import your dog from a non-designated region to Japan, Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare.

Video. "How to Bring Your Pets to Japan" by Eatyourkimchi Studio.

What to do if your dog hurts others or causes damage in Japan

If a dog has injured another person through the owner's negligence, the owner may be held legally liable under Article 209 of the Penal Code, subject to a ¥300,000 fine. 

Article 718 of the Civil Code also states, "The possessor of an animal shall be liable to compensate for damages caused by the animal to another person." 

If your dog bites another dog, the case would legally be considered the same as if it had damaged property. And the dog owner would be responsible for paying for damages, i.e., reimbursement for medical treatment and fees. Correct etiquette here is to offer your contact information so the injured party can follow up with you in the future. 

If you or your pet has been injured by a dog, you can file a police report (被害届 = higaitodoke) and report the case to your local city office so they can launch a rabies investigation. 

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Etiquette at dog runs in Japan

Japan has leash laws in place, which means that unless you are at a dog run or dog parks that allows unleashed dogs, your dog must always be on a leash.

Thankfully, there are many dog runs for your dog to enjoy. Dog-ful.com (Japanese site) lists dog runs, dog cafes, dog hotels, and dog salons for dog owners in Japan.

The following are dog-run etiquette points recommended by various dog sites in Japan.

  1. Allow your dog to take care of toilet business before entering the dog run. 

  2. Put a manner band on your dog if the situation warrants it. 

  3. Ensure your dog can follow basic commands, such as sit or come

  4. If your dog excretes in the dog run, clean it up. 

  5. Monitor your dog at all times while in the dog run. 

  6. Don't give treats to other dogs. 

These are general guidelines, and some dog runs will have their own requirements. Look up the dog run online to learn what rules to follow and prepare accordingly. 

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Are dogs allowed on trains in Japan?

Dogs are allowed on trains, provided your dog's total length, width, and height do not exceed 120 centimeters. Additionally, some train lines will charge a fee if you bring the dog on board.

If you use a JR East train, the rules for traveling with your dog are as follows: 

  • The animal's total length, width, and height must not exceed 120 centimeters.

  • The combined weight of the case and the animal must not exceed 10 kilograms.

  • The fee for personal effects is ¥290.

Guidance dogs are the exception to these rules and are allowed to ride free of charge. 

The following is a Google Translated chart of dog allowances for trains in the Kanto area. To see the original in Japanese and dog rules for train lines in other regions in Japan, go here.

Kanto Dog trains

Image. Dog carrier sizes and fees for train travel in Kanto by Rentio

Note: Most often, Shinkansen pet policy will follow the allowances of the lines they operate under. For instance, the Narita Express is operated by JR East, and, therefore will follow JR East's carry-on fee and size allowance

When you cannot care for your dog in Japan

In principle, dog owners in Japan are expected to care for their dogs until the end of its life (lifetime care). However, if you cannot keep your pet due to unavoidable circumstances, you should look into adoption possibilities for your dog. Many municipalities in Japan will have local resources that may be able to help.

What to do if a pet dies in Japan

When your dog dies, you must submit a death report  (死亡届 = shibou todoke) to the city office within 30 days of the death. You will provide your address, name, date of death, your dog's identification tag, and your dog's rabies vaccination certificate.

Some city offices throughout Japan provide cremation services for pets within a specific size. For example, Minato City will pick up and cremate a pet under 25kg for ¥2600. For pets that weigh more than 25kg, you must call a professional cremation service. 

Japan's new law concerning microchip registration for pets

Starting from June 2022, the revised Animal Protection Law will come into effect, requiring dogs and cats sold by breeders and pet stores to be fitted with a microchip.

The general practice will be for microchips to be implanted in the back of the neck, enabling digital access to the owner's information through a scanning device. This law will make it easier to identify the owner if the dog gets separated from its family. It is also expected to help prevent pet abandonment.

Pet sitters in Japan for dogs

Looking for a pet sitter if you plan on leaving Japan for an upcoming holiday? Looking for pet sitters who can take care of your furry friend and help with dog walking duties and more while you are in your home country?

PetBacker is a sharing-based service that connects pet guardians to local pet sitters and other services. For PetBacker, pet sitters are screened, and only 30% make the cut. We recommend reading past reviews on sitters and checking out their profiles to find a good match.  

Depending on where in Japan you live, you might have more or fewer options in your area. Keep in mind that there’s a limit to how many pets any sitter can take at one time (particularly if you will be gone for a couple of months).  

Price: From ¥2,500 to ¥5,000 per night

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