In the early 1990s, the number of Siberian huskies increased from a few hundred to 60,000 after one was featured in a popular television drama. Other popular breeds in Japan include golden retrievers, corgis, Boston terriers, pugs, miniature dachshunds, Scotties and Maltese.

For a while poodles were all the rage and it was difficult to buy one for less than $5,000. One popular salon in Tokyo invented a Teddy Bear cut to make the poodles look like stuffed bears.

Chihuahuas became popular in Japan after they were featured in a popular advertising campaign for a commercial loan company that charged 28 percent interest. In the ads the dog’s owner was forever taking out loans to indulge his pet (snowboarding trips, weddings). The ads were credited with softening the image of loan companies and were so successful that the dog became a major celebrity wit his own book and CD. Sales of chihuahuas fell after the company was reprimanded for using aggressive methods to collect on its loan payments. The price of a Chihuahua dropped ¥20,000 to ¥150,000 when the company was reprimanded.

There are a few pit bulls in Japan. In 2003, a Nagoya man was given a suspended prison sentence after his pit bull attacked three people in a three month period. His dog was confiscated.

There are 25,000 registered dog breeders in Japan and maybe triple that number unregistered ones. Many of these are causal breeders referred to as balcony breeders. Others are in it for the money and raise large quantities of sought-after dogs in “hell hole” conditions.

Good Websites and Sources: Japanese Dog Breeds ; Dog Breed Info (do a Search) ; Japanese Akita Inu Club ; Wikipedia article on Hachiko Wikipedia ; Shiba Dog Site ; Dog Reviews — Shibas ; Tosa Dog Fight Video ; Kochi (home of Tosas and Dog Fighting) government site Kochi government Welcome to Kochi Welcome to Kochi . Demonstration fights with the dogs are held at Katsura-hama Beach.


Japanese Dog Breeds

Tosa dog fighting ring
The Akita,Shinainu, Kaikan, Kishuken, Shikokoken and Ainuken breeds are Japanese dog breeds that were all declared national treasures in the 1930s.

The Japanese spaniel is very old breed. Long associated with royalty and the upper classes, it is pictured in old Chinese temples and ancient pottery and is believed to have arrived in Japan as a gift from the Chinese Emperor to the Japanese Emperor. Later the Japanese Emperor gave the dogs as gifts to Commodore Perry and to Queen Victoria.

According to American Kennel Club, “A Japanese Spaniel is a good companion, bright and alert. Naturally clean and game, too, he makes an ideal pet...He is sensitive, though with definite likes and dislikes, but rarely, if ever, does he forget friend or foe.” Most are black and white and have an aristocratic bearing. Only the smallest dogs are regarded as good enough to show.

The Japanese Spitz. is a relatively new breed. Bred from Spitz dogs from Germany, Russia and other countries in the 1920s, it has long hair and resembles other spitz dogs and is closely related to the American Eskimo. Both have thick white coats of hair. They are not seen very often in Japan.


The Akita is one of the most well-known dog breeds in Japan. A large dog, weighing 75 to 110 pounds and standing 24 to 28 inches at the shoulder, it has a square body, wedge-shaped head, short thick coat and a tail that curls up over the back.

Akitas are named after a region on Honshu in northen Japan. The are famous for their strength, ferociousness, stamina, intelligence, loyalty, stately being and seeming inner calm. The breed has been designated as a national monument, and the most famous Akita dog is "Chuken Hachiko," who earned a place in history for his unshakable loyalty to his master, even many years after the master's death.

Akitas are regarded as aggressive dogs. They zealously guard their territory when other animals are present and they react negatively to harsh punishment. There are reports of Akitas attacking wild bears. Even so they are very loving towards their owners. The Japan say the dog is “tender in heart and strong in strength.”

In October, 2009, a four-year-old boy was badly bitten and killed by two large dogs, one of them an Akita, kept at a vacation home in Nakagawamachi, Fukuoka Prefecture.

See Hachiko Below.

History of Akita

Genetic research performed at Tokyo University indicates that Akita dogs, along with the chow chow and Hokkaido breeds came to Japan from the Asian continent before the archipelago was separated from the mainland by the Sea of Japan. Other breeds such as the Shiba were brought later from China and Korea to the Hiroshima area.

The Akita traces its origins back to some Spitz dogs that found their way into the mountains of northern Honshu. The were traditionally used as hunting dogs, especially in northern Japan where mated pairs were used to track game such as deer and wild boar and black bear. The dogs were trained to hold quarry at bay until hunters arrived. In the Edo period they were valued by samurai and pitted against one another in fights.

The largest and strongest dogs were bred as fighting dogs. The Lord of Odate Castle in what is now northern Akita Prefecture is known to have been a devotee of dog fighting. A demand for larger and strong dogs lead to crossbreeding of Akitas with other breeds resulting in the Tosa breed.

Between 1899 and 1924 many Akita were lost to rabies epidemics. Crossbreeding, inbreeding and competition from foreign breeds such as German shepherds led to a decline in Akita numbers. Concern about the purity of the breed led to the creation of the AkitaInu Preservation Society and the declaration of the breed as a national monument in 1931.

The first Akitas to be introduced to North America were brought back by the famous blind and deaf activist Helen Keller, who was given an Akita puppy named Kamikaze-go during a speaking tour in 1937 after she was endeared by the Hachiko story. She called her puppy “an angel in fur.”


Hachiko statue in
Shibuya, Tokyo
Perhaps the most well known animal in Japan is Hachiko, an Akita that died in 1935 and is now stuffed and displayed at Japan's National Science Museum. "Chu-ken Hachinko, or "faithful dog Hachiko,"was the pet of a Tokyo University professor, Hidesaburo Ueno. Every morning the professor and Hachinko would walk together to the Shibuya station, where the professor would take the train to work and each afternoon at 3:00pm when the professor came home his dog was waiting at the platform to meet him.

Then one day in 1925 the professor suddenly died from a stroke at work. Hachinko waited at the station that afternoon but her master didn't return. She waited again the next afternoon. And the next and the next and kept coming back to the station, every afternoon for the next 10 years.

Efforts to give Hachiko to adopted owners failed. He continued to go to the station and spend his nights sleeping on the steps of the late professor’s house. Even when he was old and lame he continued to show up at 3:00pm at the station. He was cared for by the professor’s gardener and a stationmaster at the station, often begging for food from the numerous street vendors in the area.

Hachiko was written about in Japanese newspapers. His favorite resting place reportedly was the baggage room at the station. Station workers and passengers were very fond of him. According to the Shibuya Folk and Literature Shirane Memorial Museum Hachiko was found dead near a bridge over the Shibuyagawa river earlier that day, and his body was brought to the station. Hachiko was 11 years old when he died. [Source: Shigetaka Mori, Yomiuri Shimbun, June 18, 2012]

Hachiko's devotion caught the imagination of the world. Articles were written about him inside and outside Japan. The Los Angeles Friends of Animals was so moved it raised money for a statue of the faithful dog that was erected in Shibuya Station in 1934, a year before Hachiko died. Replicas of the statue were given to schools all over Japan. Though his body was put on display at the National Science Museum near Ueno Station in Tokyo his bones were interred with those if hit master in Aoyama cemetery.

Hachiko Legacy

Everyone in Japan knows Hachiko. Children are read bedtime stories about the faithful dog and teenagers in Tokyo often say "Hachiko “mae de”!" ("Let's meet at Hachiko"), a reference to the teenage hangout and entertainment district of Shibuya, where the dog used to meet his master.

In 1936 the Hachiko story was included in the moral education textbooks for primary school as an illustration of loyalty and fealty to a master, encouraging loyalty to Emperor Hirohito. During World War II, Japan's military dictators made Hachiko's story mandatory reading in school even though they ordered her statues melted down so the metal could be used in shipbuilding.

Jesse Glass, a professor at Meikai University in Chiba, told the Daily Yomiuri: “The story of Hachiko is particularly appealing to the Japanese because the high value that Japanese culture traditionally places on fealty to the group, boss or master — even if the mast master is absent in death.” Cynics speculate that maybe it was handouts from yakitori vendors not loyalty to his master that may have kept of Hachiko coming back — a number of wooden skewers were found in his stomach after he died.

Today Japanese can choose from hundreds of books, movies, compact discs, statues and plaques honoring Hachiko. He has been commemorated on a postage stamp. Department stores sell a $50 Hachiko necktie with "Wan Wan" printed on it and a $58 wristwatch with the English message on the dial: "The most heartful and Japanese, a dog. He goes to station to meet.” In 1994, the Year of the Dog on the Chinese lunar calendar, the Culture Broadcasting Network broadcast a newly discovered recording of Hachinko's bark. [Source: T.R. Reid, the Washington Post]

A 1935 photo taken shortly after the death of Hachiko Taken on March 8, 1935 was donated to Shibuya Folk and Literature Shirane Memorial Museum in by its owner, a woman living in Suginami Ward, in June 2012. The photo is believed to have been taken in a baggage room in Shibuya Station. It shows Hachiko lying on his side with his eyes closed amid station workers and other people holding their hands together in homage to him. [Source: Shigetaka Mori, Yomiuri Shimbun, June 18, 2012]

Akita Nearly Die Out

During World War II, the government confiscated most Akita for their furry pelts, which were used as lining for the jackets of Japanese soldiers. Food shortages led to dogs being killed for food or left to starve because nobody could feed them and people who did feed them were viewed as holding canine life above human life. After World War II Akitas that survived the war were often crossbred with German shepherds when they became popular pets with U.S. soldiers stationed in Japan. Their numbers were depleted further by a distemper outbreak. At one point only a dozen or so pure bred Akitas were left.

“Dog Man, an Uncommon Life on a Faraway Mountain” by Martha Sherrill is compelling book about Morie Sawataishi, who spent more than 60 years raising Akitas in the “snow country” of northern Japan and is credited with savings the breed from extinction. Cathleen McGuigan wrote in Newsweek, “Dog Man” is “one of those small but rich books on a seemingly arcane subject...that is ultimately about something much greater...the search of enduring values and the determination to live life on one’s own terms.”

After serving in the navy in World War II, Morie moved to with his wife Kitako, a cosmopolitan Tokyoite, to the remote mountains of northern Japan. He obtained his first Akita puppy in 1944 and had to keep it hidden to prevent it from being taken for its fur. He went on to breed and show more than 100 Akitas

Morie worked as an engineer for Mitsubishi while pursing his passion for Akitas, who represented to him a sturdiness and courageousness that was disappearing in modern Japan. He never sold any of his puppies even though they became quite value. One was stolen and sold a considerable amount of money to a man in Osaka.

The death of his favorite Akita, Samurai Tiger, broke his heart and evoked a sobbing that his wife had never heard before. His funeral was presided over by a Shinto priest. “They say you only get one dog in a lifetime like Samurai Tiger,” Morie said. “He was so natural, raw and unspoiled. For me, he was everything I could ask for in a dog. And he had all the traits I hoped to someday see in myself.”

Book: “Dog Man, an Uncommon Life on a Faraway Mountain” by Martha Sherrill (Penguin Press, 2008)

Akita Governor Gives Akita Dog to Vladimir Putin

In June 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported, Akita Governor Norihisa Satake gave Russian President Vladimir Putin an Akita puppy in the hopes of strengthening economic exchanges between his prefecture and Russia and possibly easing diplomatic tensions between Tokyo and Moscow. According to the prefectural government, Satake sounded out the Foreign Ministry about the plan in April after learning that Putin loved dogs and had two as pets, including a Bulgarian shepherd. "Japan and Russia have some diplomatic problems, but I hope the puppy helps to strengthen bilateral ties," Satake said. "I also expect it will help expand exchanges between my prefecture and Russia." [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, June 21, 2012]

“Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda told Putin of the planned gift during their bilateral talks on the fringes of the Group of 20 summit meeting held in Mexico. Putin accepted the offer. The female puppy was born in Akita Prefecture in late April. The prefectural government asked the Odate-based Akitainu Introduction Foundation to select a puppy. The puppy will be flown to Russia in late July or early August, when it is big enough to be transported by plane.

Tosa, the Japanese Fighting Dog

The Tosa is a mastiff-like fighting dog from Kochi prefecture. It has similar roots as Japanese dogs such as the Akita but has been breed over the years with European breeds such as the mastiff, Great Dane, bull terriers, Saint Bernards, and bulldogs to increase their strength, size, speed, courage, tenacity and fighting ability. The largest Tosa stands about one meter at the shoulder and weighs 110 kilograms. The breed gets its name from Tosa, an island off of Shikoku.

Tosa make formidable watchdogs. Because of their breeding they can be potentially dangerous around other dogs and are regarded as particularly aggressive when fed around another dog. Despite this, Tosa make loyal and patient pets. They are quiet and don’t drool despite their heavy jowls.

In the shogun era, daimyo hosted dog fights before battles to raise the moral of their samurai and offer examples of courage and fighting skill. Betting has never really been part of the sport. Dog fights using Tosa are still held today. Only male dogs fight. Females have traditionally served as watch dogs. Fighting dogs weigh 70 to 95 kilograms and sell for around $30,000. The enter the ring wearing a kesho mawashi, a belt and decorative apron similar to ones worn by sumo wrestlers.

Tosa fight in a ring. Most fights last a few minutes. The dogs usually clamp onto each other with their mouths. The fight ends when the loser whelps or whimpers. A referee waves flag in front of the dogs noses to separate them at the end of the fight. For training Tosa are walked six miles a day and taught to remain quiet when they fight.

Tosa Attacks

Tosa along with pit bulls have been labeled in Britain as a particularly dangerous dog, In June 2008, a 56-year-old town official in Kitakyushu was killed by his a Tosa that was his own dog. The official was found in the dogs cage with bite marks all over his body. The victim’s 81-year-old father and two other men tried to rescue him but they were also attacked. The father suffered serious injuries to his face and arms. The official is believed to have been attacked while he was taking care of the dog.

In May 2001, the Mainichi Shimbun reported: “A man drowned after falling unconscious into a pond following an attack by his fighting dog, police said. Takao Ebisawa was found floating dead on a pond next to the kennel where he kept his Tosa fighting dogs. His body was covered with bite marks that came from the pet he dearly loved. Ebisawa's dog returned to its kennel late Saturday. The 55-year-old construction company president had taken it for a walk in the early hours of the day, but had failed to return. Relatives alerted the police of Ebisawa's disappearance. Police then found his body in the pond. Ebisawa's dog bit him several times on the body and face. [Source: Mainichi Shimbun, May 14, 2001]


The Shiba inu is breed of dog from Japan that is becoming increasing popular abroad. Bred for hunting in dense undergrowth, it is small dog with pointy ears, and a curled tail. Most weighs less than 20 pounds and stand between 34 centimeters and 42 centimeters tall. The name shiba inu had been translated as “little ground dog” or “little brushwood dog.” They come in a variety of colors but most have reddish hair and look sort of like little foxes. Some look so much like foxes their owners make sure they stay inside during the hunting season.

The Shiba inu is a very old breed. It is believed to have arrived in ancient times from Southeast Asia with the first settlers of southern Japan. Bones of shiba-like dogs have been found in Stone Age sites. Drawings of dogs with pointy ears and a curled tails dating from the Bronze Age have been found. In historic times, shibas were associated with the mountains and were bred for hunting small game but were occasionally used to hunt wild boar and deer. In 1936 after they had become threatened by crossbreeding with non-Japanese breeds they were declared National Treasures.

Shiba Characteristics

Shibas are the most common dog in Japan and live well in a country with little space and lots of apartments. They are tough, resilient and rarely get sick and are independent enough so they can be left alone. They are clean, don't bark much, don't need a lot of room to move around, and are regarded as being especially sensitive to their owner’s emotions and feelings.

An American Kennel Club’s description of the breed reads: "Alert and agile with keen senses, he is also an excellent watchdog and companion. His frame is compact with well developed muscles." A shiba owner told Reuters, "They are very confident. The are not dogs that have a lot of insecurities. They don't understand their size. They just have no notion that they are small dogs." However they generally get low marks in obedience.

Shibas command great devotion from their owners. Seattle Mariner outfielder Ichiro Suzuki owns one. When asked the most difficult thing about adjusting to playing the United States, he said "I miss my dog."

Kai Ken

The Kai Ken is the rarest of Japanese dogs. Resembling a black shiba, it originate from the valleys between Mt. Fuji and the Japanese Alps and was used by bow-and-arrow hunters to pursue game such as wild boar and harass and distract prey during the time it took several arrow to bring the animal down. For a long time Kai Ken were considered too wild to be pets and were not officially recognized as breed in Japan until 1934.

The Kai Ken is a medium size dog. Larger than a shiba but smaller than an Akita, it stands about 20 inches at the shoulder and weighs around 20 kilograms. It has a thick neck and is very muscular. Its tail goes straight up, which sets it apart from other Japanese breeds with curled tails. Many Kai Kens have a spotted tongue and a double coat with a soft, dense undercoat and a rough, straight outercoat. They are known for being very loyal to their owners.

Image Sources: Japan Animals blogspot

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated January 2013

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