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The Most Loyal Dog from Japan – Story of Akita Inu

2018.05.11

There is a very famous meeting point in Tokyo:  “In front of Hachiko” at Shibuya Station.  It is a modest bronze statue of an Akita Inu dog.

What is Hachiko’s story; and why is it so famous?

Akita Inu – Pedigree from the North

The Akita Inu is a breed of dog that originates in the Akita Prefecture in Northern Japan.

In the Edo period, the warlord Satake of the Oodate area, now Akita prefecture, was very fond of a dogfight.  He took local Matagi hunting dogs and bred them to achieve a well-balanced body and great fighting spirit.  This is the foundation of the Akita Inu pedigree.  The crossbreeding with larger European dogs, such as German Shepherds and Great Danes, became common after the Meiji Restoration in 1868, in pursuit of stronger dogs.  It continued until the dogfight was banned in Japan in 1916.

At this point, the owners became alarmed by the potential extinction and started a programme to retain and restore the pedigree. Their final goal was to register them as a National Natural Monument.  Although the early attempt in 1919 was unsuccessful, due to the extensive cross-breeding, the effort finally bore fruit in 1931, and nine pedigree Akita Inu were recognised as worthy of protection.

The Story of Ultimate Loyalty – Hachiko

Hachi, known as Hachiko, was born on 10th November 1923 in Oodate City – home of Akita Inu.  When he was three months old, this pedigree puppy came to Tokyo to live with Professor Ueno. The professor loved Hachi and often walked with the loyal pet from his house to Shibuya Station in the morning, and back in the evening.

Tragically, this companionship did not last long.  In 1925, Professor suddenly passed away at work and never came home.  Hachi did not give up and was often seen waiting for the beloved owner at the station.  Even when he was moved to Professor Ueno’s relatives’ home in the other side of the city, Hachi never settled and attempted to reach Shibuya.  Eventually, Professor Ueno’s gardener, who lived near to Hachi’s original home, took the dog in so that the routine could continue.

In 1932, a newspaper ran a story on Hachi – the most loyal dog.  After this, people treated him with care and respect.  The staff occasionally allowed it to stay in the station overnight.  In 1934, the bronze statue of Hachi went up.  The story appeared in elementary school textbooks as the best example of ultimate loyalty.  Hachi passed away in 1935, ten years after his beloved owner.

This famous story touched Helen Keller when she visited Japan in 1937, and she asked to take one Akita Inu back to the USA, as the first of its kind to live abroad.  Two movies were produced based on the story; one in Japan in 1987 and the other in the USA in 2009, Hachi: A Dog’s Tale.

Dark Effect of World Wars

The shadow of the wars affected the Akita Inu and their owners.  Their thick fur was suitable for military clothing.  There was not enough food for large pets in any case.  Even the bronze statue of beloved Hachi was melted down for ammunition.  To protect them, the Akita Inu had to be cross-bred with German Shepherds – the army’s only official dog, or hidden in the mountains to avoid cross breeding.  At the end of the World War II, there were only 20 pedigree Akita Inu left.

After the war, the preservation group worked tirelessly to keep and increase the number, and it peaked at over 40,000 in 1972.  But after economic growth, people did not have much time and space to look after the mid/large dogs as pets.  The Akita Inu needs a lot of exercise, over one hour per day of walking.  The sensitivity towards unknown people and surroundings makes them difficult to look after – such was the case for Hachi.

In 2011, the registered number of Akita Inu was just 2,038.

Helen, Vladimir, and Alina – Akita Fans from Overseas

The trend has reversed recently, following the release of the second movie, and there are nearly 7000 of them registered in 2017.  The increase mainly came from abroad.  In 2016, Akita Inu living abroad overtook those in Japan (over 4000 of the registered 6671).

High-profile owners helped to attract worldwide interest as well.  An Akita Inu puppy, Yume, was presented to Russian President Vladimir Putin in return for his support following the Great Japanese Earthquake in Northern Japan.  The most recent high-profile owner is Alina Zagitova, the rising star of figure skating.  She asked her parents for an Akita Inu puppy, while striving for a Gold Medal, and after falling in love with a dog while training in Japan.  She did in fact get the gold medal, and she is now the happy and proud owner of an Akita.

With their beautiful fur, sturdy body, and triangular ears that stand proudly upwards, the Akita Inu is indeed is a great looking companion, especially when they are raised from a puppy with affection.  The loyalty they return is priceless, wherever they are.

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