GROUP: Northern Working Dog
Most of the native dogs of Japan are of the classic northern type. The Akita dogs have square bodies, wedge-shaped heads, small upright ears, short, thick stand-off coats, and the tail is curled up over the back. The eyes tend to be triangular and recessed, “suggesting the burning spirit within.” Their temperaments are always calm and considerate, with great dignity.
The Akita breed differences lie in the sizes, colors, uses and backgrounds, and a few other minor features. In fact, they are so much alike that in Japan, these native breeds are shown in one classification, divided into sub-groups: large (Akita), medium (Kai, Kishu, Ainu, Shikoku) and small (Shiba). Both the terms inu and ken translate into the word dog. Many of the Japanese breeds originally carried one of these terms after their names, but modern usage tends to drop the superfluous suffix.
In the late 19th century, when the National Isolation Policy was repealed, other breeds were brought into the country and, naturally, some crossbreeding occurred. The Japanese government became concerned over the impending loss of their native breeds and formed the Society for Preservation of Japanese Dogs, declaring all native breeds as national monuments.
The largest of these breeds is the well-known Akita from the Akita prefecture in northern Japan. The breed traces back many centuries to the polar regions when the spitz group found its way to the northern mountains in Honshu. The largest and most powerful Akita dogs were selected and bred with the type appearing about 300 years ago. Akitas were originally developed as fighting dogs, as popular in the Far East as they were in Europe. As that sport lost favor, the nobility found new uses for this brave breed in their hunts for deer, wild boar or even black bear. The Akita Dog has achieved praise as a bold hunter of large game, a guard and a loyal companion.
A huge statue of an Akita dog stands in the busy Shibuya Station in Tokyo, erected in the 1920s as a tribute to a dog who appeared daily to greet his master as he returned to the station from work, continuing ten years after the master died. The statue is named Chuken Hachi-ko> or Loyal Dog Hachi.
The Akita dig is a tough, robust fellow, needing firm, loving discipline. He can be obstinate and reacts against harsh methods. The breed cannot be forced but, once shown what is desired, he is quite cooperative. The Akita is aggressive with other animals and will defend its territory against all intruders, human or otherwise. Yet he is an affectionate companion to his family. The Japanese say he is “tender in heart and strong in strength.”
To preclude boredom and mischief, sufficient exercise is necessary. The Japanese spitz dogs are hardy and can endure extremes of climate. The breed’s popularity continues as a companion and guardian. He is sometimes called Shishi Inu, meaning large dog. The Akita dog is a favorite in Japan, and is fairly well known in the USA as well as in England and the European continent. As noted by Fujino Junko, “the characters of these dogs suggest ancient Japanese people austere, valiant, faithful, good-natured and gentle, highly affectionate and sensitive to the kindness of their masters.”