Tokyo sucks for dogs. At least dogs like mine who were born into a world where there were off-leash parks all over the neighborhood and one across from my apartment. My dog was born and raised in Toronto, Canada, and I lived in an area where I could walk my dog in the city atmosphere or go towards the lake and get some beach action. My dog is spoiled and knows what dogs in Tokyo don’t; life is green out there.
But now, I live in Tokyo in a tiny apartment, cement everywhere, and not many dog-friendly services around. I love my dog, who is a mix of Jack Russell Terrier and Beagle, but despite being a medium-sized dog, in Japan, compared to other dogs, he is a giant.
He is also quite crazy. We both came to Japan from Canada so I could teach English. He was 3 years old when he traveled in his crate in the luggage area for 14 hours from Toronto to Tokyo. He was not impressed when we met at the airport.
Alone, hungry, covered in feces and urine that he rolled around in while in his crate because he wasn’t allowed out during the flight, I could tell from the expression on his face and in his eyes that he was owed a lot of treats before he would even consider forgiving me.
Once in a while, I rent a car, drive outside of the city and bring him to off-leash parks so he can enjoy the fresh air and most importantly run free. He loves walks and I often use a bicycle so he can run alongside and get some good exercise. But what he really loves is being off-leash.
The second I unclip the lead from his collar, he looks at me with a glint in his eye, and then like a Japanese bullet train takes off. His back legs pumping so hard that sometimes his front legs can’t keep up and he crashes. But he enjoys every second. Panting, tongue hanging out, sniffing everything around, he is in heaven.
Unfortunately, those times only last an hour or so and it's back to the cramped city he goes. And since I rent a car I can’t even let him stick his head out of a window as we drive. He whimpers in his crate the entire ride home.
So for his birthday, I decided we were going to go on a fun adventure, just the two of us. I still had to rent a car, but I took my dog Maple for his first road trip to Mt. Fuji, the most famous mountain in Japan.
We drove on the highway and stopped at rest areas that had places where he could do his business and stretch his legs. Our goal was to get to a lake near the mountain called Lake Kawaguchi.
On the first day, we arrived at our hotel which was a dog-friendly Japanese-style hotel with a room where my dog could roam around in a Japanese-style kimono called a yukata. There was a public hot spring but dogs were not allowed so I made him his own small version in my room. You can see he loved it.
Food was actually a barbecue of meat and seafood which Maple and I enjoyed right outside our room in a private barbeque pit. While I cooked, Maple waited patiently and we shared a nice outdoor meal.
We slept in our room on the bamboo floor with futons and it was a memorable night as there were no television, internet, smartphone, or distractions that usually keep me from focusing on him. In the silent room, curled up next to me, I talked to him about life and the world. He was a great listener.
The next day we headed to an outdoor park amusement area that allowed pets. It was actually almost completely abandoned. Which was great for us because we could explore the entire park without much trouble. There were so many dogs runs, walking paths, and forests of bamboo so it was quite the experience for both of us.
Later in the evening, I rented an electric bicycle, and we rode around Lake Kawaguchi, checking out amazing views of Mt.Fuji and taking some memorable pictures. I like to think Maple will always remember that day as well.
He got to run around the lake, see the epic views of Mt. Fuji, breath some fresh air, mark his territory in a new place, and even got some good meals at the pet-friendly restaurants we visited.
Right at the edge of the lake, overlooking the mountain, with no one in sight, I released Maple’s lead and he had one of his usual sprints. I could tell it was one of the best days of his life. And I think it was one of mine too. I didn’t think about money, jobs, chores I hadn’t finished, my love life( or lack of), or any of the usual worries people have.
I decided to run around, chase Maple, throw a stick which he would fetch, and ran around in circles as he chased me. Both of us out of breath, lying on the grass, looking up at the sky, I finally realized what it must be like to be a dog off-leash at a park. Maple and I both shared an experience where both of us were pretty much equal. I was not his master. He was not my pet.
We were just two guys running around and playing.
That day Maple taught me how to live life. And though he had to get back on his leash, get back in his crate, go back to life in a small apartment in the city, he taught me that life is worth living as long as there is another off-leash park to visit.
Sometimes when I feel like I am on a short leash in a cramped space surrounded by all the stress and problems of the world, I think of our weekend. It reminds me that from time to time, you need to break away, run around, and lie in the grass looking at the sky to see that life is a big and vast park where we call all unleash and break free.