Japanese Dog Breeds And How To Get Them

Despite only owning a cat, I’ve always considered myself a dog person. More specifically, a Japanese dog person. Yes, I’m totally dogist against non-Japanese dogs (okay, Chow Chows and Malamutes are alright). On top of that, small dogs freak me out (so puntable). There are a couple of problems with loving Japanese dogs, though. First, many breeds are very rare even in Japan, which makes them expensive and, well, rare. The other problem is that if you can’t find one in the country you live importing them is full of its own problems. In some cases it’s impossible.

So, for now I’ll just have to share with you my love for Japanese dogs via the internets. Yes there will be some puppies. Hopefully in the future I can grace you with real life puppy videos after I retire and become a Shikoku Inu breeder / tea farmer.

The Japanese Dog Breeds Map

Native Japanese dogs are “Spitz” type dogs, meaning they tend to have thick fur, pointed ears, and muzzles. Their tails are also curled like a little spring. In Japan, many of the native dog breeds are named after the area in which they came from. For example, the Hokkaido-inu is from Hokkaido. The Shikoku-inu is from Shikoku. The Shiba-inu (perhaps Japan’s most well known dog thanks to the Shiba-inu cam) isn’t really from anywhere in particular, but it’s still very cute.

japanese dog breed map

This little map should give you a little bit of an idea of where these dogs came from. Let’s look at them a little more closely.

Native Japanese Dog Breeds

Japanese dog breeds are some of the most ancient in the world. If you want an “old world” dog, most of the native Japanese dog breeds will do the trick. Have you noticed how many of them look pretty wolfy? That’s a pretty good sign in terms of how old the breed is, I’m guessing.


shiba inu

Almost certainly the most well known Japanese dog.  You may know of this type of dog from the Shiba-inu puppy cam that took the world by storm.

They’re a medium sized dog, have a thick double coat, and has pointed ears with a curly tail (it’s a spitz, after all). They’re one of the  oldest dog breeds, so they tend to be harder to control and don’t do great with children and other dogs without good training. Also, they’re fairly independent and are also known to enjoy running away.

Still, they’re particularly nice dogs and keep themselves nice and clean. I wouldn’t mind having a Shiba-inu if Shikoku-inus and Akita-inus didn’t exist.


akita inu

There are several different types of Akita-Inu, including a fairly distinct looking American Akita breed. It has the traits of the Spitz breed, but is one of the larger Spitz dogs. They actually almost went extinct during WWII when soldiers would kill them for their warm coats. An interesting book on this subject is “Dog Man.” It’s about the guy who brought the Akita back from near-extinction. Also, this was the dog in “Hachiko: A Dog’s Tale” starring Japan’s favorite actor of all time, Richard Gere.

The Akita is a combination of dignity, courage, alertness, and devotion. It is however fairly territorial and may not be good with strangers. That being said, it’s also known for “having an affinity for children, just as retrievers have an affinity with sticks and balls,” so, uh, I guess just make sure you don’t toss your child across a field when an Akita is around.

Just like a Shiba, they’re also very clean even licking themselves and cleaning their face after eating, making them my ideal dog.

Hokkaido Ken


Photo by Yukun615

This is a medium sized dog, kind of like a Shiba-inu. It is known for loving its owner, bravery, and its thick coat (it is from Hokkaido after all). Most unusually, it is able to fight the Hokkaido Brown Bear by attacking the bear’s back, holding on to the bear’s neck until the bear runs off. It’s also a good hunter so… not a great farm dog if you want your chickens to stay alive.

Oh, and if you’re wondering where you may have seen this dog before, maybe it’s from reading about these Softbank commercials?



Photo by Yamabouzu

The Kai-ken is an interesting breed. It’s a medium sized dog  with a harsh feeling coat. It’s known for its tiger-stripe fur. They’re definitely very wild looking. They’re intelligent, agile, alert, and brave. They’re hunters and guard dogs, and do well with their owners but are reserved around strangers without good training.

Shikoku Inu


Photo by Elektra96

A little bigger than a Shiba, more wolfy, and from the Shikoku area of Japan. The thing that differentiates this breed from Shiba-inus is that they’re a lot less aloof and a lot more alert to what’s going on. That’s pretty much the reason why I like these dogs the most, though they’re harder to come by. They’re loyal, cautious, brave, and are known to chase wild boars for fun. They’re good for more active people since they need to run a lot, so don’t get one and let it sit around in your apartment all day long.

Kishu Inu


The Kishu-inu is usually white, has a thick coat, and is a one person / family kind of dog (aka they’re super loyal). They’re good hunters and like to chase prey, but will usually do fine with other dogs if socialized properly. Because of all these things, you’ll want to be an active owner if you own one of these dogs. They need to runnnn.

“Imported Into Japan” Breeds

There are a number of breeds that are considered “Japanese” but were obviously imported. You can tell because they’re as not awesome anymore.

japanese chinJapanese Chin

Ugh, here’s where my dogism shines through. This dumb looking dog is small, has long hair, and is supposedly pretty calm despite being a tiny dog. They were originally brought over from China though Japan created their own distinct version of the breed. Noble houses would keep this breed as a companion / house pet, as it had no actual useful function beyond this. Seriously, though. What a derp-fest that face is.

Japanese Spitz

The Japanese Spitz is a fluffy small to medium sized Spitz breed dog that was developed in the 1920s by mixing various spitz dogs together. They’re active, loyal, and fairly smart. They’re good with children, too. One thing that makes them stand out is their longevity. These dogs live 10-16 years, making them one of the longest living dog breeds.

Japanese Terrier

The Japanese Terrier is a small dog that’s “lively and cheerful” in character… aka, it’s probably yappy and annoying. They were brought over via Dutch merchant ships in Nagasaki. They became popular lap dogs in their time, though now they’re a fairly rare breed in Japan.

tosa inuTosa Inu

Some would call this a Japanese breed, though it’s a bit in between. It’s a mix between the Shikoku-inu and European dog breeds (such as the Old English Bulldog, Mastif, St. Bernard, German Pointer, Great Dane, and Bull Terrier. So, there’s many different kinds and they don’t look like Native Japanese dogs, though they are half. This breed is somewhat known to be a “dangerous dog,” though I’m sure with proper raising it’s just as nice as every other dog everyone’s afraid of. It was also raised to be in dog fights back in the day, so, well, yeah, that.

Sakhalin Husky

Not sure if this is really a Japanese dog or not, but it is related to the Akita inu. They were used in the ill-fated 1958 Japanese Antarctic research expedition. The dogs were left behind due to the researchers thinking a relief team would come to save them, but no relief team ever came. These dogs are very rare in Japan right now, probably because they were all left in Antarctica.

Getting A Japanese Dog


No matter what the breed it’s definitely harder than easier to get one outside of Japan. The Shiba-inu is probably the most  common outside of Japan, but everything else is somewhat rare. Akitas and Shikoku-inus aren’t impossible to find, but then you run into the Kai-ken and Hokkaido Inu, which are really really tough to find. If you look around you’ll find breeders for a lot of these dogs, but just be prepared to travel a few hours to get to them unless you’re lucky. If you’re unlucky you won’t find any breeders at all. Some of these dogs are Japan-only because they’re “national treasures.”

Importing a Japanese dog from Japan has its own challenges as well. You’ll have your work cut out for you in terms of finding a breeder first of all willing to export their dog overseas, let alone to someone who’s not Japanese. They’re Japanese dogs so many Japanese breeders want to keep them in Japan. The dogs are so rare already.

No matter what you do be prepared to pay up the nose. The most common type of Japanese dog, the Shiba, is probably the cheapest. Still, that will run you ~$1000+. It basically goes up from there. Shikoku-inus will run you a couple thousand. And, if you’re planning to import from Japan be prepared to pay an extra $1000+ to get them shipped. Even if you do it yourself via the airline it’s a few hundred dollars, and there are many hoops around this you’ll have to jump through.

So, basically it’s really hard to import. It’s also hard to find many of these breeds in your own country. It’s not impossible, but if you want a Japanese dog be prepared to spend a lot of money and run into a lot of obstacles.

Any of you have native Japanese breed dogs? I’m guessing it’ll be Shibas and Akitas all around, but would be really interested to hear if anyone has any of the other types of dogs out there. Please don’t tell me you have a Japanese Chin, though. Please, for the love of all that is good and holy please…

P.S. Did you notice the “inu” and “ken” thing after each dog’s name? They’re both readings of the kanji for dog: . The kun’yomi reading is いぬ (inu), and the on’yomi reading is けん (ken). Sometimes they can be switched and that’s okay, so you’ll see DOG+ken and DOG+inu a lot. Just know that if you see either it probably has to do with dogs, not Ken dolls.

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  • Bella

    Since I’m moving to Japan in two months, I’m planning on getting a Japanese breed in the future. Obviously not until I’ve got a stable income and know for sure I can stay there. Akita’s you can find here – Sweden – but good luck in finding any of the others… So yeah, lucky me I won’t have to tug the Japanese dogs away from their home country.

  • Bobby

    Can any one help me on how to get Shikoku in the uk / were as I’m traveling soon

  • thijs

    I thought it would be as you say but its not so I’m afraid. I cycled around shikoku during golden week and went to the fighting centre and saw the champion. he was in a small glass cage, all torn up from his fights, they lie when they say the skin doesnt tear.
    No matter how much you dress up a dogfight, its still a fight, with injuries.
    I just hated how they kept him locked up like that, youd think hed deserve more respect, at least a bit more space.
    Dogfighting is just wrong.

  • Daren

    I have a 12 year old Kai-Ken, black brindle. She is my soul dog. Very independent and very loyal. And, I believe, the most intelligent dog I have every had the honour to meet.

  • Saimu-san

    Damn, now I’m being pulled in all directions by awesome dog breeds I could get someday when I move out!

    I always loved German Shepherds and Dobermans (my mum had a mix between the two when I was a baby and my great aunt’s got a beautiful creme white female of the former) but I’m also keen on a Prague Ratter, Tamaskan Hound and now those lovely Kishu, Shikoku and Hokkaido Inu!

    And even before I make a bid for independence, our jack russell is a bit lonely since his brother died last year so he needs a new brother or sister to play tug of war with and chase.

    My sister’s saving up for a chihuahua but there’s no way one could keep up with him. Guess we can’t get a dog that’s too big, though considering that he sneaks into my parents’ bed during the night and it wouldn’t be fair to leave the other one out because they couldn’t fit. Lol.

  • Deidra

    Almost 14 years ago, a friend’s daughter in Tucson, AZ came home with what we think was a 3 week old puppy. I made the statement of, “I will take her until we find a home for her.” After bottle feeding her for almost 2 weeks, she was found in my Doberman’s bowl of food. I had no idea what she was for the first 2 years of her life. Vets just called her a spitz mix. Then I found out about Shibas (wish I knew about the temperments earlier! Would have helped with training) and decided that must be what she was and was just a bigger one. Then I finally found information on Hokkaidos. She is a dead ringer. Unknowingly, the best breed of dog for my personality found me. She was absolutely defiant with me as a puppy and growled all the time. I was a full time college student with a full time job, so I had to learn quickly how to be alpha with her. Unfortunately I did not socialize her enough, although she and my Doberman got along brilliantly and she never fought with other dogs at the park. Until she was about 7 years old, she could be aggressive towards strangers, although she was immediately wonderful around small children. Maybe it was because they were closer to her level, and she can read their innocence. But until she knew that we were both safe, she was very guarded. As a single woman most of this time, I never let it bother me too much. She has been my protector for all of these years, and I wouldn’t change a thing. A few times she has gotten out of a fence, but when I go looking for her she would be on her way back to me on the sidewalk. And as she has gotten older, she doesn’t like being around other dogs who get in her face and want to play. Her fur is my nemesis, but I just try and brush her as much as possible and have her bathed every few months (and tip the groomer!) This breed isn’t for anyone, and I was lucky to form a bond with her as a young puppy. I am saddened to hear that I will have troubles finding another one, but I seriously doubt I could ever replace my Mia anyway. She is still going strong, but sleeps on my couch or bed about 20 hours a day now. Oh, and I used treats to train her to come to me and kissing noises. I could always trust her off the leash as long as she didn’t get too far away from me so she could act “deaf”.

  • Wendybird

    They’re dogs, they have teeth. Of course the skin will tear. But Western fights are to the death, the surviving dog may require stitches or surgery after a match, and they’re completely unnatural.

    When two dogs fight, naturally, all they try to do is get the other dog to submit. Laid back breed will do this as a form of play, competitive breeds do it aggressively and bite,Boxers fall somewhere in between. All the Japanese are doing is putting two competitive dogs together to perform their natural ritual. And that is NOT a “small glass cage”. It looks to be the size of a pretty average kennel for a dog that large, perhaps even a bit generous in proportion if all the dog is doing is resting there, go too a boarding kennel and the place they keep their dogs will be about that size. It is glass because he is on display as the victor. Also probably because as a guard breed he would be agitated if he couldn’t see what was going on.

  • damien byrne

    I have a shiba named keiko and is honestly the best dog in the world she is so quiet and friendly with her own personality and agendas super clean and beautifully Japanese dogs are the best

  • http://thedailydemagogue.blogspot.com/ CaptBuck

    I have an Akita Inu I got while living in Japan, I am a Japanese dog guy for life now!

  • Anon

    OH for crying out loud, some people like certain dog breeds, let them be you asshole

  • Njhhfuhjjjk

    How can you get a Shikoku Inu in America.