It is said that there was
movement of people between Europe and Japan when the two areas were not
separated by The Sea of Japan. It is believed that dogs were then introduced
Dog paw prints found in Jomon period (8000 to 300
B.C) pit houses suggest that dogs were raised as pets inside homes as early
3,000 years ago. The paw prints measured 4.3cm to 5.7cm long and suggest that
the dogs were of medium size. Dog bones were commonly found in graves of this
The Japanese Akita Inu originated in the Tohoku area of Japan. This is the
most northerly region of mainland Japan, adjoining the Chubu and Kanto
regions. It sits below the Hokkaido (island) region and comprises of six
prefectures; they are: Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima, Yamagata
and of course Akita.
The ancestral home of the
Akita is Odate city and its surrounding countryside
in Akita prefecture. Records of this can be found well back in history. Odate has long been known as a 'Dog Town' in the Tohoku
Several names have been used in describing the Akita breed. They were known
as 'Odate-Inu' and 'Kazuno-Inu'
in their respective areas of northern Akita Province. They were also known as
'Nambu-Inu' from the name of the district as itr was known in the Han period (202BC-16AD).
Collectively they were known as the 'Regional Dog'. Of these regional dogs,
those living in towns and used for fighting were known as 'Kuwae-Inu' or 'Kuriya-Inu' in
the local dialect, while others that were used for hunting in the countryside
and mountains were known as 'Matagi-Inu. The dogs
themselves were more or less alike. They were all Japanese dogs, which had
been bred in these areas since ancient times. These were the ancestors of
Dr Toru Uchida, concludes in his book 'The Book of Dogs' that; "The
Akita is morphologically different from other dogs including native Japanese
dogs, Saghalien dogs, Laikas,
and Samoyeds. One must assume this dog to be the one bred before recorded
history, rather than a product if subsequent human improvement." Dr Shozaburo Watase states:
"Japanese dogs can be categorised into the following three strains,
which are: the far-northern, the mid-northern and the southern.
Of these, the far-northern strains, which arrived with humans, have a thick
coat, much substance and a thick tail curled over the back. The
representative of this far-northern strain is the Akita. Mr Hirokichi Saito, a noted Japanese dog researcher, writes
in his book "Japanese Dogs and Wolves": "The Akita descended
from a middle-sized Japanese dog crossed with a dog of the northern strain as
well as a large sized dog from China. The same strain includes: the extinct nambu-Inu of Rikuchu (present
day Iwate prefecture), the Kouyasu-Inu of Uzen (present day Yamagata prefecture), Iiyama-Inu of Shinshu (present day Nagano prefecture) and
the Gou (a large sized dog from China) in the Dazaifu
area in Kyushu." General opinion seems to confirm this and a shared
opinion that dogs such as the Gou were brought from Bokkai
(a country once occupying Northern Korea and the eastern tip of China) and
crossed with native Japanese dogs thus producing the ancestors of the Akita.
Rice cultivation began during the Yayoi Era (300 BC to 400AD), but
productivity was low due to the climate and environment of the region. This
re-affirmed a dependence on hunting and fishing as a means of obtaining food.
Furthermore, even after the agricultural lifestyle became more dominant
around Odate, hunting still remained an integral part
of naitive life well into the modern Meiji era
(1868-1912) Some individuals made their living from hunting and there were
villages of hunters called Matagi villages. Matagi villages in the prefectures of Akita, Iwate and
Yamagata were all said to have had the same hunting methods, manners and
customs. Matagi-Inus were raised in these areas
until very recent days. According to Fudoki
(description of the area's natural conditions such as climate, topography and
geology) and other sources, the Tohoku district was divided by the Ou mountains, into the Sea of Japan side and the Pacific
side. The Odate area was separated from the rest of
the district by the mountains to the east and by the climate to the south.
Access to the south during the coldest part of the winter was not possible
either by land or by sea, thus limiting development of the region. (it seems that this may account for the distinct
differences in the modern Akita).
Old history books such as Kojiki (712AD) and Nihon Shoki (720AD) contain references to dogs. In the Kamakura
era (1195-1333) fighting dogs are written about.
Dog fighting was considered to be quite popular in the Tokugawa era
(1612-1868). It was during this era, around 1630, that a medium sized dog
used for hunting, an Akita Matagi (bear hunting
dog) and sometimes referred to as Matagi-Inu,
became known in the Tohoku Area. Akita Matagi is
believed to be the origin of todays Akita-Inu.
These dogs were owned only by the Shogun, the Imperial leaders, and used to
track large game and hold it at bay until the hunters arrived to make the
kill. The types of game tracked included Elk, Antelope, Wild Boar and the
Eight Hundred Pound Yezo bear, giving rise to their
legendary tenacious character.
During the Tokugawa period, in 1783 (Tenmei era),
there was a famine; so bad, that it claimed 7000 lives in Akita-han alone. It was known as the 'Rabbit Year Starvation'
this brought about a revolt; with which came unstable social conditions and
caused much anxiety among the residents of the area and forced them to
prepare for self-defence. The first step was to acquire a guard dog. This
meant using the Matagi-inu for a different purpose
The primary requirement for a good hunting dog is its ability to perform the
required hunting tasks. For guard dogs, however, an imposing appearance is
probably more important. It is assumed that the preference for larger and
more substantial dogs influenced breeding, thus resulting in a gradual
increase in the size of the dogs. This laid the foundation of a large sized
Japanese dog called the Akita.
Since that time it has been traditional for people in this area to keep dogs.
Matagis kept hunting dogs while wealthy farmers and
influential families kept guard dogs. In the areas surrounding Odate, some families started using their dogs for
fighting. Exactly when this began is unknown. According to oral traditions,
most families owned one or two fierce dogs. Renowned old families in
particular, raised dogs all of the same colour from generation to generation
as if they were family crests. These dogs were known by their colour and the
owner's name. Such as 'White of Adachi' , 'Brindle
of Benzousama' and ' Black of Izumi'. After public
events attended by large numbers of people were adjourned, owners of these
strains would take their dogs to a different location to take part in dog
fighting and would celebrate the winners by shouting, "Your dog
won!" and other cheers to that effect. The importation of dogs from the
continent was also a prosperous business during the Tokugawa era, and a new
word, 'Kara-Inu' was coined.
In Akita-Han, a kind of prefecture in the feudalage
and a former governmental unit of Akita prefecture, construction of castles
and the possession of weapons were strictly prohibited by the Tokugawa
government. Dog-fights were recommended as a way of preserving the fighting
spirit of the Samurai warrior. At the beginning of the Meiji era (1868
-1912), around 1870, under the Satake Clan breeding
of the breed to promote dog-fights was encouraged and continued to be popular
throughout the Meiji era. At this time Akitas were called 'Odate' Dogs or Odate-Inu
because of their hometown name.
Odate-shi suffered several fires during the Meiji
era and no records are known to have survived from those days. The only
remaining documentation of Odate-Inus is from
around 1870 in a book by Mr Susumu Ono, a teacher at the Odate
Junior High School. The book 'Talking about the Dog Scene of the Dog Town Odate' includes a round-table discussion by the elders.
What the elders, who were born in the Anshei and Bunkyuu (1854-1863) eras, remembered most was a dog
called 'Naka-no Tera-no Moku', raised in the Jououji Temple. The story may be a little exaggerated,
but according to them, Moku-go's height at the withers
was about 35.4" (85cm). He was pinto in colour and his coat was quite
long. He was so strong that two children or one adult could ride on his
back, and even two or three dogs could not over power 'Moku-go'.
was Hayaguchi-mura in Kita Akita County. He was
born as an only puppy, at the end of the Ansei
period (late 1850's), and lived through out the Man'en,
Bunkyuu, Genji and Keiou eras (1860's). He was killed in 1871 by the spear
of an unknown Samurai. Well-known dogs after 'Moku-go'
were all fierce fighting dogs. Those mentioned include 'Saku'
of Niisaawa-mura, 'Jiku'
of Matou-mura, 'Aka' of Misonai-mura
and 'Goma' of Benzousama. The specifics of their
conformation are not known.
Sometime around 1897, Tosa fighting dogs were
introduced into Akita prefecture, at that time, Tosa,
now known as Kochi prefecture, was one of the two most popular dog fighting
areas. At first, the Odate breed was stronger than
the Tosa. However, gradually the situation
reversed, with the cross-breeding of the Tosa with
European breeds. Many different breeds were used for cross breeding, of which
some where, the medium sized Japanese breed Shikoku
Mastiff, German Pointers, St,Bernards
and Great Danes; plus others. It would also appear that during this period the
Odate breed was crossed with an extra
large dog with hanging ears thought to be a Mastiff, owned by a German
mining engineer invited to the Ani copper mine in Kosaka,
Akita Prefecture. Another was a very large dog, thought to be a St.Bernard of mixed breeding. He was purchased over-seas
around 1904 by Mr Kenkichi Mogami
of Kakumagawa-machi in southern Akita, most likely
in response to Odate being visited by a troupe from
the Tosa Fighting Dog Society. The heretofore known
identity of pointed ears and ringtails, which were originally characteristics
of Odate-Inus was lost.
This cross-breeding was the first of two setbacks for the Japanese Akita
during the late 1800's.
As previously mentioned, at about this time dogfights were extremely
popular and had been turned into organised public events rather than merely
being a hobby.
In 1899 an organisation for dogfights was established in Odate.
Its name was 'En' yukai'
which literally means 'Garden Party'. An arena was constructed in Shintomi-cho and admission fees of 5 sens
and 3 sens were charged for adults and children
respectively. At the height of popularity, some 100 dogs participated in each
event and programs for the matches were distributed.
What made dog fighting, in Odate, even more intense
was competition with the Tosa Fighting Dog Society.
In 1901, a troupe of the Tosa Fighting Dog Society
toured through western Japan's Kansai and Kantou
districts. Toward the end of the year it visited Odate
and held matches against Odate-Inus. Odate-Inus, being larger and heavier, were said to be
As they have some connection with Odate/Akita -Inu
here is a brief explanation of the origins of the Tosa
Fighting Dog. Records show that Tosa Fighting Dogs
are not native to Japan, but were the result of cross-breeding Tosas (known today as Shikoku; as seen in this picture)
and foreign breeds, to produce a strong fighting dog. This occurred in the
Meiji era (1868-1912).
In 1909, Masataka Mori, the then governor of Akita
Prefecture, enacted an ordinance to prohibit Dog fighting was prohibited and
public opinion gradually favoured preserving this breed; among professors and
learned people. In 1919, the law for the preservation of natural monuments
Early in the Showa era (1925-1989), the Odate town
manager; Mr Shigeie Izumi, was very anxious about
the cross-breeding of Odates with other dogs, the
Akita name wasn't given until 1931. In an effort to preserve the purity of
the Odate breed, he established the Akita-Inu
Preservation Society in 1927.
In 1931, Nine or so original dogs were designated as natural monuments and
the breed became widely popular. On its designation, the Akita was so named
for the first time as a Japanese dog.
In the Asahai newspaper of 1932, the faithfulness
of Hachi-Ko was reported, and the reputation of
Akitas (as they were known) became well known all over Japan. Hachi-ko was born in 1923 in Odate
and owned by Professor Eizaburo Ueno, who was a
lecturer at Toyko University. At the age of two
months Hachi-ko moved to Toyko.
Each morning Hachi-ko accompanied the professor on
his walk to Shibuya train station and waited each afternoon to accompany him
on the walk home. One afternoon, in May 1925, the professor did not return.
He had had a fatal stroke while at work. Hachi-ko
waited that night for his master to return, and was eventually taken into
shelter by friends of the professor. After persistently running away from
relatives who tried to care for him and returning each day to the station, Hachi-ko was eventually fed and cared for by the
professor Ueno's gardener. For ten years he continued to wait and mourn for
his master and during this time he became a living legend and a national
hero. A statue of Hachi-ko was erected at Shibuya
station in April 1934. Hachiko passed away one year
later on March 8th 1935 at the age of 12 years and 5 months. The news of his
death brought many visitors to the Shibuya station who covered Hachi-ko's statue with flowers, and a national day of
mourning was declared. The smoke of burning incense was said to have turned
the sunny day cloudy.
Because Japan was almost constantly involved in wars, including world war one
& two, during the first half of the twentieth century there were very few
Akitas and three types of dogs were generally included under the name
'AKITA'. These were the Matagi-Akita which was the
original hunting dog; the fighting Akita which was a mixture of Matagi and several other breeds including Mastiff and
Great Dane; and the so called German Shepperd Akita
which was the result of breeders trying to save their dogs from confiscation
by the government as a source of fur for military garments, as German Shepherds
were the only breed exempt from the cull as they were used as military dogs.
Following the onset of World War II many owner/fanciers bred their Akitas to
German Shepperds in order to escape the cull. Some
tried to escape the order by sending their dogs to the Matagis
and farmers in the mountains, or to the apple orchards in Aomori Prefecture
to be used as guard dogs. Some tried to confuse the dogcatchers by naming
their dogs with names typically associated with German Shepperds.
Also a great amount of continued cross breeding was thought to have taken
place. It is thought that this explains why so many sires and dams of post
war akitas were called "Peace",
"Long", "Carl" and "Mary". Regardless of this,
it was an extremely unfortunate period for dogs and their owners and
Prior to World War II:
The famous author, lecturer and humanitarian, Helen Keller has been
attributed by many to have taken one of the first Akitas to America. Miss
Keller, who was blind and deaf, was touring Japan in 1937 studying the
physically handicapped. After hearing the story of Hachi-ko,
she asked to be introduced to the breed. She was shown a two month-old puppy
belonging to Mr Ogasawara, a member of the Akita area police department, and
immediately feel in love with him. His name was
Kamikaze-go and Mr Ogasawara agreed to give him to Miss Keller as a present.
When Miss Keller returned to the United States two months later she took
Kamikaze-go with her. Unfortunately, within one month, he died from
distemper. It was then arranged for Kamikaze's litter brother, Kenzan-go to be shipped to the USA where he quickly
became a close friend and protector of Miss Keller. She described him as her
'Angel In Fur' and he remained with her until his death in the mid-forties.
History brings us to the restoration of The Japanese Akita-Inu, although the
original breed survived and continued to perform its intended task; it is
clear that this breed had been superseded in the show ring by the larger,
heavier fighting Akita.
Much debate has been centred on the origins and restoration of the breed and
it is not the Club's intention to take you down one line of thought or
another. Suffice to say that it is evident from the folklore and writings of
the ancient Japanese "The Japanese Akita-Inu is a direct descendent of
the Matagi-Inu who's roots are firmly established
in the prefectures of Akita, Iwate and Yamagata.
Excerpts of The Breed History are reproduced with the very kind
permission of JAPAN KENNEL CLUB.