TOKYO (AFP) - Some might describe the idea as barking mad but a shrine in Tokyo is offering blessings to pets to protect the fluffy creatures from a 'ruff' year ahead.
Pet owners have been flocking to the Ichigaya Kamegaoka Hachimangu shrine since it introduced New Year ceremonies for dogs and cats in 2000 - and numbers have gone through the woof in recent years.
"Well, they're part of the family," 43-year-old Yuki Mitsui told AFP, hugging two miniature dachshunds that were proudly sporting tiny fur-trimmed kimonos.
"It gives me peace of mind that these little fellas can also receive an amulet that will protect them for the year."
Visits are by appointment only. Over 500 visitors yearly bring pets dressed in brightly coloured finery to the shrine, where they make an offering to the gods in return for a blessing.
Local priest Masaki Kaji revealed that he hit upon the idea of offering the Shinto rituals due to high demand from animal lovers.
"Many people told me they wanted to be blessed along with their pets," he said as a steady stream of excited poodles, terriers and chihuahuas trotted past. "So we decided to make this the best place for pets to worship.
"This is the time of year when we have most visitors to the shrine and those numbers keep rising every year," Kaji added.
"It goes to show that pets are becoming more important to families."