Guide to Japanese Dog breeds

Many breeds of dogs have originated in Japan and some of them are even popular overseas. If you visit you will likely see some of these kinds of dogs going for a walk with their owners.When I was a child, I had dog named Hooch who was half Akita( a native Japanese dog breed) and was one of smartest and most loyal dogs I have even known. I will talk more about Akitas in the rest of the post. I divided the post between native breeds and ones that are mix between European and Japanese breeds.You will see Ken and Inu in the majority of dog breed names listed, they both simply mean dog in Japanese. They are interchangeable.

Native Dogs Breeds

There are six native breeds of dogs of Japan officially, unofficially there might be a few more. These are breeds that originated in Japan and were not mixed with breeds from outside of the country. They are all Spitz dogs. All six all are known for their loyalty and independent nature.

Shibu Inu

The most popular dog breed in Japan is the Shiba Inu. Shibu Inu are often a subject of memes overseas(e.g.Doge) so you likely have already seen them before. Shiba Inu are medium size dogs that were used to hunt game. They have been arounds for thousands of years in Japan. They are loyal to their owners but they also can be stubborn and aloof especially to strangers. They are independent and their personality is often said to be cat like. As they were originally hunting dogs, they don`t do well with small animals. They are also known to wander off from their owners to explore. I once had to dive to the ground to grab the leash of a black Shiba Inu who ran off from it`s owner. But they have many positive qualities, they are cute, rarely bark, and are very attached to their owners. What I like most about them is that they look like foxes and that their independent/stubborn nature can lead to very comical situations. One time, I was in a mall in Japan that allowed dogs in a certain section and I saw a Shiba walking with his owner suddenly decide he had enough of walking and was going to take a nap right in the middle of the crowded walk way. The owner desperately tried to get the dog to get up but it refused and he ended up having to pick it up to move it out of the way.

Photo of Shiba Inu
Naturpuur, CC BY 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Akita Inu

The next breed is the Akita Inu. These are large dogs originally breed to hunt bears .They originated from northern prefecture of Akita, that’s where they get their name. Akitas are also very popular in America, but the American Akita differs a bit in personality and physical appearance. Japanese Akitas tend to be weary of strangers but are fiercely loyal to their owners.Akitas are very popular in Japan and Akita Prefecture uses them as a mascot to entice people to travel to the prefecture. I w once went to an Akita festival in Tokyo, where they had Akita dogs there for people to see and pet.There is even a whole museum dedicated to them in Odate city,Akita. The most famous Akita is Hachiko who would wait for his owner every day at Shibuya station in Tokyo. His owner suddenly died at work but Hachiko waited at the station every day for nine years. Hachiko is a perfect example of the loyalty of Akitas. There is a statue of Hachiko at Shibuya station commemorating this loyal canine.

Hokkaido Inu

Hokkaido Inu is a medium size dog from Hokkaido prefecture. Because of the cold temperatures , they have thick fur,large paws, and small ears. The Idigenous Ainu people would use these dogs to hunt bears. The most famous Hokkaido Inu is Kai-kun who starred in commercials for the Telecommunications company SoftBank for seven years.

Kai Ken

Kai Ken is a rare medium size dog that was also used for hunting. The breed originated from the former Kai providence , now modern Yamanashi prefecture. They are often called Tora-Inu or tiger dog because of their brindle fur.

Photo of Kai Ken
Canarian, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Kishu Ken

Kishu Ken is named of the Kishu region that is now Mie and Wakayama prefecture. The breed is quiet and is still commonly used to hunt wild boar to this day.White is the most common color. This medium sized dog is rare in Japan and virtually non-existent abroad.

Photo of Kishu Ken
Canarian, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Shikoku Ken

Shikoku Ken is larger than a Shiba but smaller than an Akita.They are intelligent and not as stubborn and independent as the other native breeds. They are known for their wolf like appearance. They come from Kochi prefecture, which is on the island of Shikoku. They are the rarest of the native breeds.

Photo of Shikoku Ken

Non-native breeds

Here are breeds of dogs that either came from another country but become synonymous with Japan or were created by breeding native Japanese breeds with European ones.

Tosa- Inu

Tosa-Inu is a breed of dog that is still used in legal dog fighting in Japan. They are very large dogs that can weigh up to 200 lbs. Dog fighting in Japan is similar to Sumo wrestling and the dogs dress like sumo wrestlers. Dog fighting is only illegal in 5 of the 47 prefectures in Japan but it seems to be a dying sport. Tosas are the only breed used in Japanese dog fighting.The goal is for a Tosa to bring it`s opponent to the ground by biting and clawing . It is not uncommon for dogs to be injured or killed during these fights. Tosa-Inu were created from Shikoku-Inu being mixed with bigger European breeds of dogs to create a powerful breed for dog fighting.The breed originated in what is now the prefecture of Kochi. There used to be the Tosa Fighting Dog Center in Kochi which served as an arena for fights and had a museum dedicated to Tosas but it closed in 2017. As Tosa-Inu were breed for fighting , they can be aggressive and you have to exercise extreme precaution if you choose to have one of them as a pet. They are banned in many countries and even if they are allowed in your country, home insurance companies may not cover homes that have them.

Note: I do not agree with dog fighting whether it is legal or not and believe that the practice of dog fighting should be allowed everywhere. For the sake of the dogs well being. I hope Kochi Precture will ban the practice of dog fighting and instead simply use the dogs as mascots like Akita does for tourism. The dogs should be allowed to have a peaceful life where they can play, eat their favorite food, and spend time with their owner.

Japanese Chin

The last breed is the Japanese Chin. This a small lap dog that is thought to have come from China in the 8th century. Much like the pug, these were lap dogs for royals since their only purpose was as a companion unlike the other Japanese breeds which were breed for fighting or hunting. They are feline in appearance and personality, they like to use their paws to clean their face and they like to rest on high up places. They are perfect for apartment life and that probably accounts for why they are still popular in Japan. They are also very friendly with strangers and other dogs.

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