Several breeds of dogs are typically associated with particular areas of Japan. They include the Akita, Hokkaido, Kishu, Shiba, Kai, and Shikoku. (In Japanese, the word for dog is “inu.”)

In general, Japanese dogs are believed to have special characteristics associated with the concepts of spirit, obedience, loyalty and bravery. Of the Spitz  breeds of Japanese dogs, the Akita is the largest in size and weight. These dogs have the typical Akita face, erect ears and a curled tail.

The most famous Akita is the Chuken Hachiko, which means “loyal Hachiko” but is usually simply known as Hachiko. A statue of Hachiko was erected in front of Shibuya station on Tokyo’s Yamanote train line in 1934. Then, during World War II, the statue was melted down to help the Japanese military effort. A new statue was returned to Shibuya station in 1947.

Although not so well known, even to most Japanese, another Hachiko statue sits in front of the JR Odate station. The Odate statue was erected in 1935. It, too, was melted down during World War II and was re-erected in 1987.

Odate, in the northern part of Akita-prefecture, is Hachiko’s home town. Hachiko was born here in 1923 but moved to Shibuya, Tokyo, when he was two months old. Hachiko is most well known for faithfully waiting for his master at Shibuya station every evening, even after his master’s death in 1925. The touching story of his remarkable loyalty was reported in the Asahi newspaper.

The ancestors of the Akita breed are said to have come to Japan before Japan and the European continent were separated by the Sea of Japan. Many thousands of years later, some of their progeny worked as hunting dogs to assist bear hunters who worshipped nature. Some people said the cross-breeding of these dogs with the Hokkaido breed and other breeds resulted in the current Akita. In 1931, the Akita breed was first designated as a Japanese Natural Treasure.

December 2014
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