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Here’s how to import your pet cat into Japan

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TOKYO — So you’re about to move to Tokyo and want to bring your cat. Where do you begin?

Japan is a nation of cat lovers: Cat cafes are everywhere; 3D cats live on billboards; lucky cat charms wave in storefronts. This is the country that gave rise to Hello Kitty.

But bringing a cat here is tricky. Like most island nations, Japan is hyper-cautious about the spread of rabies.

Fret not, however: It is possible, with enough planning and a well-padded savings account.

The Washington Post has compiled this guide after extensive field research. Our process took 13 months to complete, but it is feasible within eight. Here are 28 easy steps to import your neko-chan from the United States to Japan.

1. Find an experienced, U.S.-based vet to guide you. Preferably one who gives you a mix of forewarning and optimism, like our vet, who said: “This will be complicated, but we can make it happen.” (If you’re moving to Japan first without your pet, have a partner and/or friends who can take your pet to appointments for you. This step may take longer than eight months.)

2. Fall into a subreddit rabbit hole researching tips from others who navigated the process.

3. Get overwhelmed, then request a quote from a pet moving service. Receive a quote for $5,400 to move both of your cats. Shake your fist at capitalism, and decide to figure it out on your own instead.

4. Schedule your cat for a rabies shot, rabies booster and rabies antibody titer, which measures whether your cat will produce an immune response against rabies. Check with your vet to make sure their lab is on the approved list from the Japanese government. Your cat’s rabies antibody level must be equal to or greater than 0.5 IU/ml. Look up “IU/ml” on Google.

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5. Ask your Tokyo housing agent to help you find an apartment that allows pets. This will greatly limit your housing search because there aren’t many options for foreigners with pets.

6. If you have multiple cats, decide which one will travel first (airlines usually allow one cat per passenger). The choice becomes easier when it’s between Liddy, a super chill cat, and Penny, who has severe anxiety and reacts to major life changes by peeing and pooping outside of her litterbox, and who repeatedly poops in your husband’s bed after you moved to Tokyo without her. (Penny’s note: I can’t help it.)

7. Pro tip: When your cat has a bad bout of anxiety and soils your husband’s bed seven times in one weekend, order him a funny “World’s Best Cat Dad” item online. It’s not ha-ha funny, but it will add some levity.

8. Make sure your cat has an ISO-compliant registered microchip.

9. Wait 180 days for your cat to be cleared for travel to avoid quarantine upon arrival.

10. Cope with your loneliness by fostering cats through organizations such as Animal Refuge Kansai, which serves foreigners waiting for their pets or who want to take care of animals while working short-term in Japan. (Meanwhile, foster two kittens: Mimosa and Piña, who are from a litter named after alcoholic drinks and rescued from Tokushima, in southern Japan. Take Piña to the vet because she has an eye infection. Struggle to give her eye medication, and then find out that Mimosa caught it from Piña. Take both cats to the vet. Internalize the shame from the vet’s disappointed look. Successfully help them overcome their eye infections, and get them adopted into a loving home. Then replace your curtains, which the kittens climbed on and tore apart on their way down.)

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11. After your cat is cleared for travel, call your airline to find out their international pet travel policy.

12. After a 30-minute hold with United Airlines on an international call, find out that you need to call ANA because it is an ANA-operated United flight.

13. After another 30-minute hold with ANA, add your cat to your reservation, and find out that pets traveling internationally must fly in the cargo hold.

14. Search Google for safety risks of international cargo travel for older cats. Have a minor panic attack upon finding out that Penny, 12, has a nonzero chance of dying.

15. Frantically buy items online to help your cat feel as comfortable as possible, including but not limited to: calming spray, calming collar, pee pad, water dispenser and an ANA-approved crate.

16. Japan requires a notification to the Animal Quarantine Service at least 40 days before arrival, with documentation of the highflying feline’s rabies antibodies. Load the online portal, but find out it’s not working. Glance at the fax number on the website, and briefly consider it. Instead, ask your Japanese-speaking colleague to call Narita International Airport to ask for an email address for their Animal Quarantine Service. Email them.

17. Receive a response from the Animal Quarantine Service agent notifying you that you made multiple errors on your form, including writing “cargo” to indicate your cat will be in the cargo area. You were supposed to write “hand luggage.” Don’t ask why, just modify the form and resend it.

18. Take your cat to the vet for the International Health Certificate, which must be issued within 10 days of departure. Due to a delay at the U.S. Agriculture Department, schedule your appointment as close to the 10-day mark as possible.

19. Purchase a UPS overnight form to increase the chances of USDA mailing it to you on time.

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20. Take your cat to her pre-departure check for intestinal parasites within four days of departure. Ask the vet for anxiety medication.

21. Test the anxiety medication before travel to make sure she responds well.

22. It’s departure day. Arrive at the airport an extra hour earlier to check in your cat. Ignore the smell when you realize she peed in her crate because she’s anxious. (Penny’s note: Again, I can’t help it.)

23. Show your cat how to use the water dispenser inside her crate by putting her nose on the dispenser and saying: “Look, this is how hamsters drink water. If they can do it, you can do it, too. It’s there if you get thirsty.”

24. Take your cat to the Transportation Security Administration check for cargo items. Feel helpless watching the agent zip-tie a green net around the crate. Wish her the best on her first trans-Pacific trip.

25. Pick up your cat at Narita Airport’s animal pickup desk at baggage claim. Hold her close during the import inspection.

26. Take your cat home in her first Japanese cab ride. Realize she pooped on your white carpet as soon as she left her crate because she’s anxious. (Penny’s note: I told you, I can’t help it.)

27. Clean it up and pet her. At last: She’s home.

(28. If applicable: Repeat this process for your second cat. Your turn, Liddy.)

Congratulations, you have survived your first brush with Japanese bureaucracy, and it will not be your last.

Don’t forget to celebrate Japan’s National Cat Day on Feb. 22, known as Nyan Nyan Nyan Day (“nyan” is “meow” in Japanese), when the country’s heartwarming display of love for cats will make you almost forget what it took to bring your feline pal here.



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