When a blond-haired American approaches a booth at a Japanese trade show, the employees scramble to push the English-speaker of the team to the front table. I suppose the fact that I don't speak Japanese is written all over my face.
"This is placenta dog cookie," one polo-shirted gentleman said.
Japanese Placenta Dog Treats
The Japanese use the word "cookie" to describe something that I would normally call a biscuit, or a patty, or some other savory cake of edibles. But the word "cookie" isn't what's throwing me off here.
"Oh!" I say. The gentleman takes my shock personally, assuming he misspoke. He ushers a co-worker to assist us both.
"This is placenta dog cookie," the next gentleman says. "And this is placenta pill and placenta chew." He motions to the other products, all beautifully labeled, packaged, and presented.
I'd recently had a conversation with a pregnant friend about the benefits of placenta consumption. I had never heard of giving dogs this as a general supplement or treat, or of anyone consuming it, that was not their own.
"Whose placenta is that? I asked.
"It is pork placenta" he answered with a grin, observing my white girl confusion.
I knew I'd never get this cookie past customs, so I moved on.
Curiosities at the InterPets Trade Show
The InterPets trade show -- and the dog market in all of Japan -- is unlike anything I've seen or heard of in my 10 years in the pet industry.
Among the most popular pet items for sale were pet clothing and dog carriers. But, I know what type of clothing and carriers you're thinking of. This is different.
It's not just cute dog shirts with funny sayings or coats and jackets for short-haired dogs to wear in a Montana winter. Dogs who are lucky (or unlucky? -- your choice) enough to be Japanese get entire wardrobes. I'm talking dog pants (yes, pants), suspenders, even undergarments. Seriously, I saw a lacy black petticoat that is meant to be worn under a skirt with a blouse. Available in sizes 4XS-Large.
Dog Apparel and Dog Carriers
The dog carriers don't stop at the take-your-dog-on-a-plane carrier or even the take-your-dog-shopping carrier. There are Labradors and Bernese Mountain Dogs in strollers (and dresses). Dog-wearing is as popular in Tokyo as baby-wearing is in any town in America with a Whole Foods.
Doggie Social Media
Other popular up-and-coming products? A baby-monitor-inspired camera with facial recognition so you can watch your dog while you're away. A wifi-enabled cat toy that lets you point lasers and dangle feathers for your homebound cat from the convenience of your iphone. And my favorite, doggy social media. I know Sofia has her own Instagram account, but this network includes a fit-bit style activity dog monitor that allows you to compare your dog's activity to the activity of dogs of the same breed, schedule meet-ups for play dates, and get health tips from other dog owners.
As I walked around this pet trade show, observing some of the most curious pet products ever invented, I couldn't help but compare my own pet-inspired business with these. Am I like these people? No, surely not.
Sofia doesn't wear dresses!
But, she does have a denim jacket with a "Mama Tried" patch sewn on. And a winter sweater with a fur collar. And a life jacket.
But no, I'm not like these people!
Sofia doesn't have a dog stroller! Sofia walks on her own four legs.
But she has gotten a ride down a mountain in a backpack on multiple occasions, so maybe I'm doing her a disservice by not getting her a proper carrier with cutouts for her arms and legs and tail?
Maybe we're not so different after all. Maybe the thing that makes us bring a pet into our home and treat it like family is a universal thing. And while the ways we groom it and treat it and clothe it and speak to it may be different, the way they love us unconditionally, bring us joy every day, and make our lives complete is something that every pet owner on the planet knows very well. That love is very much the same.