Japan Autumn 2019: Lake Biwa Shirahige Shrine, Kyoto Mameshiba Cafe + why I am wary of tourist activities involving animals

Japan Autumn 2019: Lake Biwa Shirahige Shrine, Kyoto Mameshiba Cafe + why I am wary of tourist activities involving animals

I saw Lake Biwa from the bus window on a previous trip to Japan and it really captivated me with its vastness and how blue the water was, almost blending in with the color of the sky on the horizon. So I pulled out my phone to pin this dreamy place on google maps and promised my self to go back there to explore one day. And so we did; although just for a brief moment this time. Without planning it, we arrived a little before sunset. Shirahige Shrine is kind of out of the way (and it was outside the tourist season) there was only a couple of people there getting ready to watch the sun set at the shore. We were all just watching in silence as the mood and colors of the lake changed. A dream…

The Torii gates themselves were only build in 1931 by an Osaka merchant however there are stories that claim another vast Torrii gate once stood in Lake Biwa before this one. The shrine itself is believed to be even 2000 years old although historical records note the oldest building on the temple grounds to be constructed around the year 1600’s. The shrine is dedicated to Sarutahiko Okami – the leader of the earthly kami, deity of the Japanese religion of Shinto. Lake Biwa itself ,besides being the biggest lake in Japan, is also a place that appears in quite a few Japanse legends and myths; such as in the origin story of Ryujin the Dragon God or the heroic tale of Tawara Tōda.

The easiest way to get to the shrine is by car; there is a small parking lot in front. To get a better look at the floating Torii gate one has to cross the road which at certain times of the day can be very busy. Be cautious.

address: 215番地 Ukawa, Takashima, Shiga 520-1122, Japan

It was evening by the time we arrived in Kyoto. The road there was very scenic and a pleasure to witness. We stayed in Hotel Monterey Kyoto ,which is located in the very heart of the city and has parking available for guests. Overall, the hotel experience was excellent and I’d highly recommend it while in Kyoto. Once there, we went for a little night stroll through the city after grabbing delicious eel & beef bowl. We proceeded to visit an arcade that also had a Games & Entertainment section where you could grab drinks and snacks as well as do various activities such as bowling, mechanical bull, hoops, rollerskating etc. We spend a good two hours there before heading back to our hotel. On our way back we visited a few of the ‘otaku’ shops that sell large selection of secondhand anime & manga merchandise and figurines. We were planning to just look around but I found some Disney Q-Posket in perfect condition that I couldn’t pass down on. I probably would never have bought anything Frozen related to join my collection brand new as I’m not the biggest fan of the film ~but~ the Anna figurine was so adorable I couldn’t leave her behind!

This part of the blog will be a bit of a rant. I feel guilty even admitting to giving this business my money. At this point of the trip we were missing our little-big fluff baby Xiao DouDou quite a bit so when we found out there is a cafe in Kyoto where you can have drinks and look at cute shiba inu doggies we decided to go and experience it. It was also of interest to us in particular as we frequently debated getting a black shiba inu puppy to join DouDou. As chow chow owners we have a huge soft spot for spitz dogs. Asian spitz dog’s temperament in particular is very much to our liking. In fact, I don’t think I could ever have any dog breed that’s not an Asian Spitz as their personalities just match my idea of the type of dog I love to be around (basically, a cat in a dog package ^.^’). At the time it looked like a good opportunity to experience the shiba inu breed for ourselves.

We have visited two dog cafes in South Korea before and the experience was very endearing. However, these Korean cafes functioned very differently – first of all – they were not breed specific. Second of all, most dogs at these establishment belonged to people who were visiting with their own pet so they could mingle and socialize with people and other dogs within a homely cafe setting. The pups that did live at those cafes were being rotated frequently so they could rest away from the crowd. They also went on regular walks to exercise and potty outside. Overall, it gave you a feeling that everything was done to make it as dog-friendly & ethical as possible. It’s not the case for this cafe. We were the first costumers at opening time to Meme Shiba Inu cafe (京都豆柴CAFE). The doggos are absolutely adorable but the whole experience is a bit depressing; we left feeling quite sad. It was just this feeling looming above our heads that something is very wrong here. We were honestly feeling down for the rest of the day. The cafe has two floors with four dogs on each one of them. We were directed upstairs with about six other visitors plus a staff member. One of the dogs was clearly unwell constantly licking the floor/ air and displaying other behaviors pointing to physical discomfort. More specifically, this usually means that the dog is experiencing digestive issues. Basically, the dog must have been feeling very nauseous. Now this could have been a one time thing, perhaps he ate something he shouldn’t the night before, but it can also indicate more serious issues like food sensitivities or even IBD and thus a need for a special diet and appropriate medicine. In cases like that a dog should not be put in stressful, stimulating situations as it can aggravate such conditions. The staff seemed to take no notice of this behavior which was very worrying to me.

Another puppy kept looking for a spot to hide and would ultimately just cower quietly in the corner of a room as people took selfies with him. The dogs have no place to retreat at their own will! They are forced to stay around a group of strangers gwaking and awww-ing at them with no place to get away from it all. The staff was friendly but didn’t manage people’s behavior inside the cafe enough to ensure comfort to both dogs and visitors. Visitors frequently broke the rules and would grab dogs, pet them on top of their heads etc. with no reaction from the staff. As an owner of an asian spitz myself with similar temperament to shiba inu I question now whether a cafe like this can even function in a way that’s good for both dogs and people… It’s just sad. This cafe uses dogs as money makers while the the dogs are an after thought. If you love dogs I encourage you not to make the same mistake by visiting this awful place. I have also took the time to read more reviews of this place with many visitors reporting behaviors such as dogs peeing all over the tatami mats. This is unacceptable to me. I know accidents sometimes happen with pets but this seems to be a patterns ,which tells me these dogs were either not properly potty trained or are just not taken on walks frequently enough! I will side more with the latter as spitz are incredibly clean dogs. They usually need very little to no potty training as puppies as they are not happy reliving themselves in places where they eat & sleep. Asian Spitz are also single family dogs. Meaning, they get very attached to one individual or one family. This is quite important for the dog’s behavioral well being. I saw that the cafe has rows and rows of stacked crates hidden behind blankets ,which tells me that it’s unlikely that these puppies go home with any one at the end of the day and instead they probably have to deal with groups of strangers all day just to be put in a crate at night. To me that’s as sad as it gets without straight up and hands on abusing the dogs.

This cafe also apparently works with the famous ‘owl-cafe’ – chain which is known to have no regard for what the owls natural rhythm is like. I feel like an idiot for not doing proper research before coming here and I’d encourage everyone reading this to think twice before visiting any animal cafe’s. I am not an animal rights extremist by any means. I haven’t been vegan for the last 4 years or so. I don’t hate zoos. In fact ,if a zoo is dedicated to improving and perfecting the condition, habitat and enrichment for their animals I think these can be splendid centers for education about animals. I believe, with certain types of animals it could be possible to create something lovely. Usually key here is that 1. The animal is not an exotic or wild animal but a domesticated one. So no owls, otters, hedgehogs etc. – i know these are freaking cute and we would all love to interact and take cute pictures with them but please look into the illegal trade and smuggling of Asian Otters, for example, it’s absolutely devastating and so unethical it hurts to think about. 2. The animal’s temperament is carefully considered. 3. The animals are not forced to interact with visitors. All their basic needs and enrichment is provided as well as plenty of rest to ensure the animals well being. Basically, it should boil down to animal welfare and well being first and than everything else.

Some other links on the subject:

Lastly, I’d like to mention that as much as I love Japan – the country’s treatment of animals is still rather poor for such a highly developed and sophisticated nation. Besides animal cafes ,places to be wary of are ‘animal villages’ that cram a bunch of animals of the same species together in a small space. Usually it’s animals that have no business living in groups within a small territory. That includes the bear village in Takayama and the famous fox village (Miyagi Zao Fox Village, also known as Kitsune Mura in Miyagi) made popular by paid off j-vloggers taking cute promotional videos and selfies making these places seem like adorable animal friendly wonderlands. I’m not interested in telling people what to do or preaching to people because I’m not perfect as evident by all that I have disclosed about myself and my mistakes and shortcomings above. I wont’t judge you or write you off as a bad person for visiting these places. But I have to at least try making people a bit more aware. I think for a lot of us when faced with it – a cute selfie is not worth animal suffering. I know I wasn’t aware of a lot of the issues involving animal cafes ,even cat cafes, before getting a bit more educated on the subject. I’d like to finish this blog post by posting this excellent YouTube video “Why Animal Cafes aren’t Cute at All” by a user named Erica Lion.

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