The Akita is the largest of the six Japanese spitz-type dogs. For several hundred years, these dogs were used in male-female pairs to hold game such as bear, wild boar, or deer at bay until the hunter arrived. They have also been used to retrieve waterfowl as they have a soft mouth. They were usually kept by the aristocracy or wealthy people.

At the end of the 19th century, the Japanese crossed this large dog with non-native dogs (such as the Tosa Fighting Dog, German Shepherd Dog, St. Bernard, Mastiff) to develop a dog of increased size and strength for pit fighting. The Akita gradually lost its popularity as a fighting dog because other breeds proved more efficient fighters (and dog fighting had been outlawed).

In 1919, concerned by the Japanese breeds’ potential extinction, the Japanese included the large spitz-type dog (by then called the Akita after a prefecture on the northern part of Honshu Island) in a list of natural monuments to be preserved. At that time, many of the Akitas resembled the crossbred fighting dog. It was not until 1931, after searching the relatively isolated villages where the Akita was still used for its original hunting purposes, that enough dogs that resembled the current idea of a purebred Akita were found. It was at this point that the Akita became the first of the Japanese native dogs to be declared a natural monument.

During World War II, the breed was nearly lost because many Akitas, especially those in the cities, were killed for food or for their pelts. After the war, the breed was re-established in Japan from the best of the remaining dogs. Although the first Akita to come to the United States was the puppy given to Helen Keller on her visit to Japan in 1937, breeding stock did not arrive until Akitas were brought here in some numbers after WWII by servicemen stationed in Japan. They were probably not used as guard dogs by the military as both US and Japan military used German Shepherd Dogs at that time.

Best suited as a companion now, some Akitas also work as sled, police, therapy, guard and hunting dogs. Several have herding titles, and several are trained companions of hearing- and sight-impaired people. Akitas are also involved in obedience trials and tracking, however their high intelligence and dominant nature can present quite a challenge to their trainer. In general they are discerning guardians of their families. Because of their hunting background, Akitas can appear aggressive as they may consider smaller animals to be game.



In 1920 Dr. Ueno was a professor at the Tokyo university, from where he used to commute by train to his residence. Together with his dog "Hachiko", he would walk to the Shibuya Station. Like clockwork, Hachiko would return to meet his master at 3 p.m. as he returned on the afternoon train. Tragedy struck on May 21, 1925, when Dr. Ueno did not return because he had suffered a stroke and died at the university.

Loyalty of the Akita has no bounds, and over the next ten years Hachiko would return each morning and afternoon in search of his master. People were so moved and impressed by the dog’s faithfulness that they took to feeding him and giving him water. News travelled and soon people were coming expressly to Shibuya Station to feed and pet and to have the privilege of saying that they had seen and touched Hachiko.

Years rolled on and Hachiko became crippled with arthritis and barely able to walk, but he continued to make his daily pilgrimage to the station until March 7, 1935, when Hachiko was found dead at the station on the spot where he had kept vigil for so many years.

Hachiko’s memory was immortalized in an exquisite small bronze statue which was erected on the site where he died. Due to the war, all statues were confiscated and melted down for use in weaponry, including Hachiko’s. However in 1948 a son of the original sculptor, whose name was Teru Ando, was commissioned to create a replica which was then placed on the original site.

Almost seventy years have elapsed since Hachiko’s demise but visitors continue to visit the spot and remember and pay tribute to this great dog so aptly named Chuken (loyal dog) Hachiko.

This page was last updated on 04/11/2012
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