Prepare some tissues, then prepare for change.

Back in 2012, when 12-year-old Chika Taniyama wrote her heartfelt essay titled 78 En no Inochi (78 Yen per Life), she probably had no idea of the impact it would still be having four years later.

In her writing, Chika recounts the story of a neighborhood cat she calls Kiki, after the character from Studio Ghibli’s Kiki’s Delivery Service. Kiki first appeared in Chika’s neighborhood as a little black kitten, her friendly nature quickly causing all of those living in the area to fall quite in love with her.


After a couple of years, Kiki gave birth to her own litter of kittens. Because Kiki was a stray, and she and her kittens had nowhere to go, Chika’s neighbor Ms. Suzuki took them in. Chika would go to visit the kittens nearly every day, growing to love them as if they were her own.


Until one day, when she went to visit them and found they were no longer there. Her head hung, Ms. Suzuki explained that she had taken the kittens to the animal shelter.

Not really understanding what that entailed, Chika assumed the kittens had been taken to a place where they could find new families and live happily with them. But the next day at school, when she relayed the story to her friend, that friend replied: “To the shelter? They’ll be killed there.”


Chika didn’t want to believe it, but as soon as she got home after school, she rushed to the computer to look up information about animal shelters, and was shocked by the horrors of reality. Dogs and cats, either lost or abandoned by their owners, would be held for a mere three days. If no one came to claim or adopt them, it meant their death. Ten animals at a time would be stuffed into a gas chamber, which would then fill with carbon monoxide. For minutes the animals would squirm and suffer before finally dying, and their bodies, like trash, would then be thrown into an incinerator and burned.

The cost to do away with each of those lives? 78 yen, or about 70 cents.

Sadly, Chika’s friend had been right, and it shocked Chika even more to find out that each year approximately 200,000 animals met this fate.

“They may be animals, but is it right for humans to so easily take away their lives?” she wondered.

The sound of Kiki’s meowing each day as she called out for her kittens brought back the images of what Chika had seen on the internet. Those thoughts kept her up at night for days on end.

One day, Kiki went missing too, and Chika imagined the worst until she reappeared, her stomach wrapped in bandages. Ms. Suzuki had taken Kiki in to be spayed so she would have no more kittens, and had decided to keep her as her own.

Chika felt relieved, yet jealous at the same time. She loved animals, yet didn’t feel confident she could take on that sort of accountability.


“Raising an animal is taking absolute responsibility for another life,” she wrote in her essay. “You can’t throw it away like a toy. What I learned is that if you don’t have the confidence to care for them until the very end, you shouldn’t have one.”

Chika’s heart-rending story went on to touch a number of people, including the judges at a competition Toyohashi City in Aichi Prefecture, where it was chosen as best written work. Even today it is being read by children in Toyohashi’s public schools as part of their Ethics curriculum. It has also inspired a group dedicated to eliminating the culling of shelter animals in Japan, who is making the essay into an easy-to-read picture book for children, as well as posters and pamphlets.

The group’s crowdfunding project has already reached 152 percent of its goal, with 1,530,900 yen (over $13,600) raised by 232 people, but with the fundraising continuing until 23:59 on March 31 there’s still time to donate here (sorry, site in Japanese only).

Anyone who’s lived in Japan for any amount of time can attest to the problem many areas have with strays — cats in particular. There are a number of groups and individuals working to ease the dilemma, but without a massive change in the way the population as a whole thinks, there likely won’t be an end in sight. With works like Chika’s essay being taught in elementary schools, and picture books for children being made available, there is hope that the change can begin with Japan’s younger generations.

Sources: YouTube/ プロジェクト 78円の命, grape, GREEN FUNDING
Images: YouTube/ プロジェクト 78円の命 via grape 

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