Ah, dogs. (Wo)man’s best friend! My profile picture is of Fionna hugging Cake the Cat, and I volunteer at a cat shelter on the weekend, but here’s the thing: I’m actually a dog person. So, why not write a post about dogs and Japan?
Without further ado, I present to you Japan’s most noteworthy dogs!
Hachiko the Loyal
Of course, no list of notable Japanese dogs would be complete without Hachiko!
Hachi was an akita-inu (秋田犬) born in Oodate in 1923. He had a bit of a rough start in life – as a puppy, he endured a 20-hour train journey to Tokyo, where he then joined the Ueno household.
Prof Ueno was a lecturer at the University of Tokyo, and he would commute there from Shibuya Station. Although he already had two other dogs, John and S, only Hachi bonded with him strongly enough to develop the habit of seeing him off every morning, and greeting him every evening, at the station.
When Prof Ueno passed away from a cerebral hemorrhage in 1925, Hachi was so distraught he did not eat for three days. Then, the house was sold and Hachi was given to new owners, but he kept escaping – back to the old Ueno house, and back to Shibuya Station to continue waiting for the professor. He would wait for almost 10 years, before finally succumbing to cancer and a worm infection in 1935.
Hachi’s trademark droopy ear was actually due to a skin condition. He became very popular after his story appeared in Asahi Shimbun – this was also when he started being called “Hachiko.”
By this point, of course, his loyalty had become legendary. In fact, he had become so popular that he, together with about 300 other attendees, was at the unveiling of his bronze statue at Shibuya Station the previous year. Actually, reminders of Hachiko are practically everywhere: his stuffed body is displayed at the National Science Museum in Ueno, there’s a yearly memorial service at Shibuya Station, manhole covers, murals… there’s even the Hachiko Bus!
Of course, you haven’t really made it unless someone makes a movie about your life, and Hachiko has got things covered on this point too. The movie Hachiko Monogatari (ハチ公物語, “Story of Hachiko”) was released in 1987, and the Hollywood version starring Richard Gere, “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale” came out in 2009. Tissues not included.
Taro and Jiro, the Survivors
Taro and Jiro were brothers that were born in Wakkanai, the northernmost city of Hokkaido, and are karafuto-ken (樺太犬) – a breed that is now effectively extinct.
Taro was a hardworking goofball, and Jiro was a highly-strung, spoilt child. There was also a third brother, Saburo, but he fell ill and died during training.
Taro and Jiro were among the sled dogs used when the Japanese began to explore Antarctica in the 1950s. These dogs were left chained at Showa base by the first team, who believed that the second team would arrive just a few days later on the icebreaker Souya (宗谷). But thick ice and horrific weather meant that they never got there, much to the first team’s horror – who then faced widespread criticism for leaving the dogs behind.
It was not until almost a year later, in 1959, before a third team arrived at the unmanned Showa base – and received a happy, slobbery greeting from Taro and Jiro. The other dogs were either still chained and frozen to death, or had wriggled free like Taro and Jiro, but had gone missing.
The brothers’ miraculous survival moved the nation and was, of course, perfect movie fodder: Nankyoku Monogatari (南極物語, “South Pole Story”) was released in 1983, and the Disney version, “Eight Below,” was released in 2006. There’s also the drama Nankyoku Tairiku (南極大陸, “Antarctica”), which aired last year.
Unfortunately, Jiro survived only to die on another expedition in 1960, and was stuffed and put on display at the National Science Museum in Ueno (he’s now BFFs with Hachiko). Taro managed to tough it out until he retired, and then spent the rest of his days at Hokkaido University – where he is also now stuffed and on display. (Hmm… I sense a theme here…)
If taxidermy isn’t your thing, there are bronze statues of the dogs in Nagoya, as well as at the base of Tokyo Tower. Taro and Jiro also feature on the 500-yen coin that commemorates the 50th anniversary of Showa base.
Gon the Guide
Unlike Hachiko, and Taro and Jiro, Gon’s origins are unknown. He was a half kishu-ken (記州犬), half shiba-inu (柴犬) stray that appeared near Kudoyama Station around 1985. Then, for shits and giggles, I guess, he started escorting people from the station to the the nearby Jisonin (慈尊院), the Buddhist temple that marks the start of the pilgrimage route to Mt Kouya (高野山, kouyasan).
By 1989, Gon had been so named because he loved the sound of Jisonin’s gong. He had also made himself comfortable at the temple itself, and had begun to guide pilgrims along the 24km long route between the temple and Daimon (大門), the main gate at the summit of Mt Kouya. He would do this everyday, only returning to the temple at dusk.
I think Gon looked a bit derpier than his statue would have you believe. Also, if you’re looking for a nice souvenir, the temple sells Gon o-mamori (お守り)!
Of course, declining health and increasing age caught up with him eventually, and he died in 2002. He was given a funeral service, and because he was also believed to be a reincarnation of the Great Teacher’s dog that lived 1200 years ago, a statue of him was erected on the temple’s grounds.
Heart-kun the Adorable
What’s that? Since when has cuteness been noteworthy, you ask? Hey, I am a lover of small furry creatures, so humor me (please).
Heart-kun is a long-haired Chihuahua with a heart-shaped pattern on his coat, whose cuteness exploded over the internets not too long ago. He’s now the de facto mascot of Pucchin Dogs, which is run by twin sisters that specialize in the breeding of small, indoor dogs.
Don’t let their cuteness fool you. Behind the scenes there is nothing but intense competition, for there can be only one! Or something like that.
However, Heart-kun is no longer the only doggie in town. Since his birth in 2007, Love-chan and Ai-chan have burst onto the scene – they too have heart-shaped patterns, plus they are younger and smaller, and therefore… cuter (there, I said it! Ugh).
Only time will tell, but already I feel an impending showdown…
So, are you a cat person or a dog person? Is there a notable Japanese dog I missed? Let us know in the comments!