Buddhism was officially introduced to Japan in the 6th century CE. A central teaching of Buddhism is ahimsa, or nonviolence towards all living things, and its proscriptions against killing animals and encouragement of vegetarianism were highly influential in several periods of Japanese history.
In 675, Emperor Tenmu banned the consumption of meat (with exceptions for fish and wild animals) due to his devout Buddhism, though the ban seems not to have been well-observed.
Meat was reintroduced when Christian missionaries from Portugal and Netherlands arrived in Japan (beginning in the 16th century with their omnivorous diets.
The ban on eating meat was reinstated in 1687 under the Buddhist Tokugawa shogunate. Killing animals was made illegal as well, though a black market in hunted meat emerged. The taboo against eating meat once again disappeared when Emperor Meiji began eating meat publicly at dinners with Westerners in the late 19th century. The consumption of animal products has since become the norm in Japan, and has increased dramatically since the introduction of intensive animal farming in the 1950s.
Japan's main animal welfare law is the 1973 Act on Welfare and Management of Animals. The law makes it a crime to kill, injure, or inflict cruelty on animals without due cause, and creates a duty of care in owners and keepers of animals to maintain their health and safety and raise them in a manner according to their species and behavior. The law lists cattle, horses, pigs, sheep, goats, dogs, cats, domestic rabbits, chickens, domestic pigeons and domestic ducks, or other animals which have an owner and are mammals, birds or reptiles as protected, meaning that fish are not protected. The penalty for killing or injuring an animal in this category is a fine or imprisonment up to one year; abandonment and cruelty by neglect are punishable with fines.
Farm animals besides fish are protected by the anti-cruelty and duty of care provisions. Slaughter is to minimize pain and distress (though appropriate methods are not specified and stunning is not required). There is no legislation specifically addressing farm animals, and livestock are excluded from the law's Regulations on Animal Handling Businesses.
The anti-cruelty and duty of care provisions also apply to animals in research (except fish). In addition, the law stipulates that alternative methods and the reduction of the number of animals used be considered, and methods that minimize pain and distress be used as much as possible. Animals used in experiments should be killed in such a way that minimizes pain and distress. The law was amended in 2005 to crate new basic guidelines for experimentation based on the Three Rs (refine, replace, reduce) for animal testing; the law still relies heavily on self-regulation, however.
In 2012, the law was amended to impose stricter regulations on sellers of dogs and cats; create measures for animal welfare during disaster; more clearly define animal abuse; and expand duty of care, stating that "every person shall maintain the environment and health of animals, shall feed and water animals properly by taking into account their natural habits and giving consideration to the symbiosis between humans and animals."
In 2014, Japan received a D out of possible grades A, B, C, D, E , F, G on World Animal Protection's Animal Protection Index.
Veal crates, gestation crates, and battery cages are legal in Japan, as is cutting off tails, beaks, and fangs without anesthesia.
Cow production increased from 142,000 tons in 1960 to a peak of 602,000 in 1994, down to 490,000 tons in 2015. Poultry consumption rose from 74,000 tons to 1.375 million in 2015, an increase of nearly twenty-fold. In 2015 Japan had 1.185 million farmed cattle, and 17.15 million farmed swine. Over 823 million farm animals were slaughtered in Japan in 2010.
Between the 1960s and 2000, Japanese total meat consumption increased fivefold.
Japan is the second-largest fish and seafood importer in the world, and the largest in Asia. However per capita consumption of fish and seafood declined from 40 kg in 2007 to 33 kg in 2012, partly due to a rise in meat and dairy consumption.
In a 2014 survey by the Japanese organization Animal Rights Center, 4.7% of respondents were vegetarians (including vegans).
A 2009 survey found a total of 11,337,334 animals being maintained in Japanese laboratories. Cruelty Free International estimates that Japan ranks second in the world (behind the United States) in the number of animals used in experiments.
Testing cosmetics on animals is legal in Japan; in fact, law requires that "quasi-drugs" like skin-lightening products, suntan lotion, and hair growth tonics be tested on animals when new ingredients are added. Shiseido, Japan's largest cosmetics manufacturer, announced in 2013 that it would stop testing cosmetics on animals. In 2015, Humane Society International began leading a Be Cruelty-Free campaign to pressure the National Diet to ban testing cosmetics on animals.
The Taiji dolphin drive hunt is a dolphin drive hunt that takes place in Taiji, Wakayama in Japan every year from September to March.
The hunting is done by a select group of fishermen. When a pod of dolphins has been spotted, fishing boats move into position. One end of a steel pipe is lowered into the water, and the fisherman aboard the boats strike the pipe with mallets.
This is done at strategic points around the pod, in an effort to herd them toward land. The clamor disrupts the dolphin's sonar throwing off their navigation and herds them towards the bay which leads to a sheltered cove. There, the fishermen quickly close off the area with nets to prevent the dolphin's escape.
As the dolphins are initially quite agitated, they are left to calm down over night. The following day, fishermen enter the bay in small boats, and the dolphins are caught one at a time and killed. The primary method of dispatch was for a long time to cut the dolphin's throat, severing blood vessels, and death was due to exsanguination.
The government banned this method and now the officially sanctioned method requires that a metal pin be driven into the cervical region ("neck") of the dolphin, severing its brainstem, which causes it to die within seconds, according to a memo from Senzo Uchida, the executive secretary of the Japan Cetacean Conference on Zoological Gardens and Aquariums.
According to an academic paper published in 2013 in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science titled A Veterinary and Behavioral Analysis of Dolphin Killing Methods Currently Used in the 'Drive Hunt' in Taiji, Japan, those killing methods involving driving a rod into the spine and using a pin to stop bleeding that is used by the Taiji Japanese creates such terror and pain that it would be illegal to kill cows in Japan in this manner. Several veterinarians and behavioral scientists evaluated the current Taiji Japanese killing method and concluded that "This killing method….would not be tolerated or permitted in any regulated slaughterhouse process in the developed world."
According to its website, the Animal Rights Center (founded 1987) works on issues involving the welfare of stray animals, and opposes animal testing, fur farming, and meat-eating through demonstrations, lectures, and the distribution of educational material.
The Japanese Animal Welfare Society (JAWS) UK can be traced to an organization founded in Tokyo in 1945 by British expatriates. Its original aim was to improve the welfare of dogs used for experiments, whose were kept in poor conditions and used in unregulated, in vivo tests. Officially founded in the UK, JAWS UK continued to assist efforts to help these dogs and other animals, eventually helping to found a JAWS based in Japan. Its current activities include funding vital animal welfare equipment such as veterinary drugs and humane cat traps, providing general funds for local animal welfare groups, and promoting the Five Freedoms for Japanese animals.
According to Honjo (2014), Japanese animal welfare organizations focus on companion animals, paying little attention to farmed animals.