Living in Japan
If you are planning on moving to Japan and you want to bring your furry companion, this guide will help you prepare all the necessary documents you’ll need to ensure that you and Fido have a smooth transition to Japan.
The first place to start would be the website of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. The website contains a lot of vital information, clear and useful guides, PDF files of required paperwork, and even contact info to the many Animal Quarantine Service locations in Japan’s airports.
The main point to remember is to start your preparations at least 180 days before you arrive in Japan. This will prevent your dog from having to spend time in quarantine or worse be turned away at the airport.
The information in this guide is specific to bringing a dog from the United States, so please check with your local veterinarian if you are coming from a different country.
Implant your dog with a microchip.
When you have your dog microchipped, make sure that the microchip is ISO11784 and ISO11785 compliant. Your vet should scan and verify that it is the correct kind of microchip for it needs to be read upon entry into Japan by the Animal Quarantine Service office. If your dog has a different kind of microchip, you’ll want to let Japan’s quarantine office know and to bring a scanner that can read the microchip with you when you arrive in Japan.
Update your dog’s rabies vaccine.
The rabies vaccines will need to be either an inactivated (killed) virus vaccine or a recombinant / modified vaccine. If your dog is a puppy, make sure that it will get at least its second vaccine before arriving to Japan. If your rabies vaccine will expire before the 180 day wait and entrance into Japan, make sure you get another rabies shot before you leave.
Get a rabies titer test to verify immunity.
To verify your dog’s immunity to rabies, a Rabies Titer Test is required. Your dog’s blood will be drawn and its rabies antibodies tested in a laboratory for immunity, and after a few days, they’ll have the results and email them back to you. Make sure you receive the certificate, and that it’s the ORIGINAL copy (should have a sticker pasted on the form of your dog’s results). You will need this to show Japan’s Quarantine Service once you arrive. The date the blood was drawn for the test must be between 180 days and two years from the time you arrive to Japan.
Prepare your dog for the flight.
During the 180 day waiting period you should consider preparing your dog for your flight to Japan. Consider playing airplane sounds for a few minutes to an hour a day, starting with low volume and working your way gradually up to how loud it will be in real life. If you don’t already have one, purchase an airport-friendly crate and train your dog to become comfortable staying inside it. Eventually reach the goal of having your dog be able to nap in the crate with airplane sounds playing, without stress.
Confirming your flight with the airline.
When purchasing a plane ticket, make sure that you look for these criteria:
- Ideally, the flight is non-stop to Japan.
- Must not be too hot for your dog to fly if in cargo.
- Must land or arrive in a designated airport or seaport that allows animals. The list of airports can be found at www.maff.go.jp/aqs/english/contactus.html
- If your dog is a service dog or emotional support animal, make sure you provide the required paperwork or notifications as requested from your airport so that they can fly in cabin with you.
When you purchase your ticket call the airport and confirm the flight, and let them know that you’re bringing a dog in-cabin or in cargo on the flight. Make sure you get an email confirmation and follow up shortly before your flight to confirm everything.
Start filling out the paperwork.
There are quite a few forms you’re going to need to fill out and have looked over and verified before you can enter Japan. Luckily, all of them can be scanned and sent to Japan’s Animal Quarantine Service via email ahead of time to be checked over, corrected if needed, and confirmed. If you are arriving at Narita International Airport you can email your documents to the MAFF-AQS Narita 1st Baggage Inspection Division (their email is firstname.lastname@example.org). Their response time was very quick: less than 12 hours back and forth each time. When you arrive they will double check your paperwork, check your dog’s microchip and hand you a certificate showing that everything has passed clearance. Here’s a list of all the many forms you’re going to need filled out or gathered up together before departure:
- Notification for Import of Dogs – Filled out and sent to Japan’s animal quarantine service no less than 40 days before arrival to Japan. You will receive an Approval of Import Inspection of Animals if everything in the notifications form looks good; have it ready when you arrive in Japan.
- Form A and Form C – These forms should be filled out by you and your veterinarian (pref. the same vet who will do a full health inspection later on). Both forms will need to be endorsed by the government agency of your country. Be sure to have them checked over by Japan’s quarantine service before getting them endorsed so that the forms don’t have to filled out multiple times.
- Application for Import Inspection for Dogs – This form will need to be handed to quarantine when you land in Japan. It’s pretty much a summary of Forms A and C. Don’t forget to have it checked over by Japan’s quarantine service (via email) for proper consistency with all other forms.
- Health Certificate – You will need to have this filled out, notarized before departure. It cost about $150 to have my dog fully checked and the Health Certificate filled out. It cost another $70 or so to have it mailed out to New York City via overnight express mail, notarized by a USDA Certified Veterinarian, and mailed back via overnight express mail.
- Rabies Serological Test Results – This is the rabies titer test results. You should have the original and preferably a copy in hand when you arrive in Japan. This piece of paper verifies that your dog is immune to rabies, and that he’s safe to enter Japan’s rabies-free land.
- All records of your dog’s rabies vaccines – Make sure to keep all your dog’s rabies certificates together, especially since you need every certificate with you to match your dog’s records in his paperwork. Your vet’s office should be able to print out copies of the certificates if they were done in that office.
What will you feed your dog in Japan?
If you feed your dog a raw diet there are plenty of places that sell fresh and frozen meat and organs in both small batches (~100g or 3oz) and large (~1kg or 2.2lbs). If you feed your dog raw, you definitely want to start learning the katakana characters and kanji symbols for things like:
- pork – 豚
- chicken – 鳥
- beef – 肉
- fish – 魚
- horse – 馬
For those that feed kibble, you’ll be happy to learn that Japan sells the more “popular” brands from the US such as Science Diet, Eukanuba, Merricks, Purina, Natural Balance, Blue Buffalo, and Avoderm. If you feed higher-end food, you can order brands such as Acana, Nature’s Instinct, and Orijin off Japan’s Amazon website. I suggest stocking up if possible and bringing some bags of food through your check-in luggage. For raw feeders, buying freeze-dried or dehydrated food, such as The Honest Kitchen, Sojo, and Stella and Chewy’s, will make feeding your dog much easier when you first arrive in Japan.
Familiarize yourself with Japanese etiquette.
You just have to have your dog kept in a kennel or carrying case (if small enough) any time you plan to take public transportation, and your dog must be kept on-leash at all times when outside – no exceptions. You’ll also want to make it a habit to carry a water bottle with you during walks so that when your dog pees, you can wash it away. Japan doesn’t have public trash cans except for those meant for recycling plastic bottles purchased from vending machines; find a good poop spot near your house as soon as possible so you’re not carrying a bag of poop with you during the whole walk. Be sure to register your dog at the nearest wards office and purchase an ID (about ¥3,000) to stick on your dog’s collar. You’re going to want to bring the same paperwork you showed to the Animal Quarantine Service to your district’s ward office. I was told that my dog would be required to get another Rabies vaccination from a Japanese vet clinic, but since I was armed with my Rabies titers test paperwork and the Animal Quarantine Service’s certificate of approval, I didn’t have to. I also had a three-year rabies vaccine that was only six months old, so that could have also influenced the wards office employee’s decision to let it slide. With this ID, you’ll be able to gain membership in the many parks in Tokyo. Some require proof of vaccination, registration, and a fee, but it’s worth it to let your dog socialize with Japanese dogs in a wide-open off-leash dog run!
Give your dog time to prepare, too.
Remember that your dog didn’t make the decision to live in Japan: you did. That means it’s your responsibility to make the check-in process, flight, trip to your home, and new life in Japan as smooth as possible! Dogs can have jet-lag too, so be prepared for a potentially grumpy dog, and plan accordingly. Look for a high-value treat, such as something freeze-dried, chewy, stinky, meat-flavored, and low in sugar. During the flight, provide an unwashed crate mat/pillow and blankets (if they allow blankets). Your and his scent will help a lot with coping with the unfamiliar environment. If you have space, packing his favorite toys will help immensely once you arrive at your new home. It may seem strange, but packing an unwashed t-shirt or pants and then wafting them around the room a bit can help your dog feel like the new house is yours. Expect your dog to not want to pee or poop for a few days, or even refuse to eat. Change is scary, especially for a dog. If changing the location of your furniture can unnerve a dog, imagine how horrific changing your entire house is! This is going to be a new environment filled with new experiences and a new routine. If possible, try to keep your routine and environment as familiar as possible. Use your 180 days to focus not only on your own preparations but also on your dog’s emotional state before and after this trip. Remember that if he acts up during the first few days, he’s not trying to give you a hard time; he’s just having a hard time himself. Please consider using a “positive-reinforcement” approach when dealing with a fearful and upset dog. Most important of all, have fun together with your time in Japan!