Japanese Perceptions of Animals: The Inside-Outside Model
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In the United States, one can purchase a custom engraved granite memorial for $80.00 with the image of a beloved pet and a favorite verse in memory of a pet.'s life. Engraved Reflections prides itself on providing custom engraved, personalized memorial tablets and stones to be put on a pet's grave, in the garden or kept inside the house. The company stresses that each option is custom and personalized, and that it has options for both inside and outside: Fido can be remembered any which way you please. This is not quite the case in Japan. In Japan there is a debate about where Fido goes on the family altar. The altar is an important part of the home, showing respect for the ancestors, and setting the altar follows strict rules. However, the rules seem to be unclear on the position or even inclusion of pets. Most Buddhist clerics recommend that if an animal memorial tablet is to be included in this family altar, it should be placed in the left comer of the lowest shelf-a spot on the family altar but without doubt a spot that indicates its position in the hierarchy. Some clerics acknowledge that in small apartment homes the altar may only be one shelf, in which case everything is piled together. Ho~ever, it is then recommended that animal memorial tablets be put on a small, separate altar. There is not to be too much mixing. To understand Fido's spot on this altar, and why these clerics cannot agree, we must understand the central Japanese concept of inside-outside and how this concept relates to their relationship with animals. This division of inside and outside groups is seen in Japanese folktales and religious practices as well as in its agricultural practices and modem attitude toward pets. Japanese folktales often feature animals as characters and contain lessons about proper behavior, from humans and animals alike; this proper behavior often includes how to treat outside groups such as animals. Two major religions of Japan, Buddhism and Shintoism, give reasons that animals deserve respect but carefully preserve the distinction between the two groups. By looking at the history of Japan's agricultural practices, especially the switch to livestock farming and subsequent extinction of the Japanese wolf and the current trends in pet-keeping, we can see how this concept of inside-outside has remained central despite changing situations.