When the Japanese embrace a craze they do so with a fervour and extravagance that can baffle outsiders.
So while the country’s growing trend for dog ownership might seem innocuous enough, it has spawned an £8 billion-a-year industry that offers adored pooches the sort of over-the-top luxuries usually reserved for the wealthiest humans.
Families increasingly regard pets as an alternative to having children – and are lavishing all manner of privileges on them, including dog kimonos, fake fur coats, £1,000 Hermes leather tote bags, £230 designer jeans and even school uniforms.
Pooch Cassidy: This canine cowboy takes its inspiration from Toy Story's Woody
And if such pampering gets too much, there are yoga classes, ‘lotions and potions’ and hot spring resorts to help the frazzled pups destress.
Even in death, no expense is spared. A deluxe funeral package with full Buddhist rites and mini-temple can be bought for £7,000.
As one observer admits: ‘I’ve seen owners cry more for the loss of their pet than they do for a parent or grandparent, because to many people their pet is the child they don’t have.’
If becoming a fully fledged dog ‘parent’ is a little daunting or expensive – a miniature dachshund or Pomeranian can cost £4,000, even before the vital accessories – there is always the option to rent one for an hour’s walk. Customers are supplied with a leash, some tissues and a plastic bag should the animal need to do a spot of business along the way.
Typical of the new breed of owner is 50-year-old Toshiko Horikoshi, a successful eye surgeon who lives in an upmarket area of Tokyo. Along with her stylish apartment and a Porsche in the garage, she owns two dogs, Ginger and Tinkerbell, who have their own wardrobe with a lavish collection of summer and winter clothes.
Browsing for hound-ware: A Japanese shopper surveys the vast range of accessories on offer
Cool dogs: One pooch sports a bib and sunglasses (left) during the Osaka fashion show while another wears an Adidas hooded top (right)
But there is a serious point behind this showy extravagance.
The Japanese are becoming increasingly obsessed with dogs because, even with designer accessories, they are a more affordable substitute for children in difficult economic times. And that is leading to a demographic time bomb, a documentary for the BBC’s World Service revealed last night.
There are now more pets (22 million) than children (17 million) in Japan, and if trends continue the country’s population could be reduced from 128 million to 85 million over the next century – which would have a devastating effect on the country’s already struggling economy, analysts warn.
Government spokesman Ryuichi Kaneko says the implications are terrifying. ‘If the population is shrinking then the workforce is also shrinking and we need young people to support our elderly who are living longer.’
Keeping with tradition: Dogs were even spotted wearing specially-made kimonos as they had their pictures taken
‘At the same time the libido of young Japanese men is also steadily lagging – 32 per cent of them admit they’d rather avoid sex because they believe it will interfere with exam success. Women are also shunning marriage – a prerequisite for having children in Japan, which does not bode well for a baby boom.’
Dr Horikoshi admits she became a dog owner for the sake of her career. ‘My boss told me that if you want to become a good doctor then you should avoid having a child as that will ruin your career,’ she said. Jiro Akiba, a 42-year-old TV cameraman, said his miniature dachshund is a substitute for a child – and has even named it First Little Boy.
‘I would like a baby but my girlfriend doesn’t want to have one because it is very difficult to have a job and be a mother and she wants to keep her job,’ he said.
‘Our salaries have not increased, everything is very expensive and it makes more sense for us to have a dog rather than a baby which would mean having a larger home and a bigger mortgage which we can’t afford.’
But one dog owner admitted the canine companions are a poor substitute for a baby, saying: ‘No matter how many designer clothes you buy and no matter how cute you make them look, man’s best friend can be no substitute for man himself.’