Japanese Akita Inu: The Story of Hachiko, the Loyal Dog
A Brief History of the Japanese Akita Inu
Dogs are famously known for their devotion and loyalty to their owners. To describe a dog as "man's best friend" is cliché, but still well deserved. Among dogs that are known for their fierce and steadfast loyalty, Hachiko, a Japanese Akita Inu, is the most famous and known to most everyone in Japan.
Hachiko was an Akita Inu ("inu" means "dog" in Japanese), a breed of dog that originates in the Akita prefecture in northwestern Japan. Originally, Akita dogs were known as Odate dogs — Odate being the name of a specific region within Akita prefecture (now the largest city in the prefecture).
Recent DNA analysis has discovered that the Akita Inu is one of fourteen breeds of ancient dogs (others include, for example, Afghan Hounds, Chow Chows and Siberian Huskies) possessing the fewest genetic deviations from wolves. With the average height of 26 inches and weight of 90 pounds, Akitas are the largest dogs in Japan and were used to hunt big game, such as elks, boars and bears.
Together with other native Japanese dogs, Akitas share distinctive characteristics such as small, erect ears, short coats and curved tails. These features have been found on ancient Japanese relics, potteries, and scrolls, as well as mentioned in ancient documents.
What Were These Dogs Used For?
There were a couple of times when purebred Akitas faced the danger of dying out. During the Meiji era, dogfights were popular in Japan and Akitas were commonly crossbred with Tosa fighting dogs. It was in 1917 that the mayor of Odate established the Akita Dog Preservation Society to ensure the survival of purebred Akitas.
Despite being declared as natural monuments in 1931, Akitas faced a second round of near extinction when during the time of the Second World War, all dogs except for German Shepherds were killed for meat and for fur to line military uniforms. Currently, many efforts are being made to preserve this breed.
The Story of Hachiko
The story of Hachiko took place prior to WWII. Hachiko was born in 1923 in Akita and was brought to Tokyo in 1924 by his owner, Professor Hidesaburo Ueno, a professor in the Agriculture department of University of Tokyo. They lived in Shibuya, a district in Tokyo, where Hachiko would walk with his master to the train station each morning to see him off to work.
Every evening, at the precise time Professor Ueno was due to return, Hachiko would go over to the station to welcome his master and return home together. This went on, day in and day out, for 1 year and 4 months, when one day Professor Ueno didn't make it back home. Professor Ueno had died from a sudden cerebral hemorrhage while in a meeting at the university. Hachiko was thereafter given away, but would manage to continually escape and went back to his master's house.
After a while, Hachiko apparently realized that his master didn't live there anymore, so he would go to wait for his master at Shibuya station everyday. As months and years went by, commuters at the Shibuya station took note of Hachiko and would bring him food and drinks. Stories of Hachiko faithfully waiting for his master began circulating and one former student of Professor Ueno started publishing articles about Hachiko.
In 1932, one of the articles ran in Japan's largest newspaper, which instantly threw Hachiko into the national limelight. In 1934, a bronze statue of the dog was erected at Shibuya station. The statue remains a famous landmark today, especially as a rendezvous spot. Hachiko passed away a year later in 1935 at Shibuya station, still waiting for his master's return till his very last breath. Hachiko's remains are kept at the National Science Museum of Japan in Ueno, Tokyo.
We do not know for sure how Hachiko and Professor Ueno spent their time in the span of 1 year and 4 months that they were together. It is obvious, however, that a strong, unbreakable bond had developed between them that the dog would spend every day of his life—nine years total (something like six decades in human years?) —waiting for his master to come back. Hachiko's undying devotion, love and faithfulness is absolutely heart-wrenching.
In 1937, two years after the passing of Hachiko, an Akita inu was given to Helen Keller while she was touring Japan. That was the first Akita to America. Sadly, the dog (named Kamikaze-go) died shortly after, but the Minister of Foreign Affairs did arrange to present Helen Keller with another Akita, little brother to Kamikaze-go, named Kenzan-go. The Second World War broke out after that and it wasn't until the end of the war when many US servicemen took Akita dogs home with them that the Akita inu became a familiar dog breed in America.
This touching tale of Hachiko has inspired a movie to be made about his life with Professor Ueno in 1987. The Japanese film is called "Hachiko Monogatari". The Hollywood version of the movie called "Hachiko: A Dog's Story" was released in August 2009. There are also several children's books written about Hachiko. The movie and the books are especially recommended to dog lovers everywhere or for someone who wants an affirmation or reminder of the beauty of love and devotion.