Nihon-ken Hozonkai (The Japanese Dog Preservation Society) was formed to maintain and preserve six specific native Japanese dog breeds. This organization is similar to the American Kennel Club (AKC) in the United States, and they hold their own annual dog show as well. The six recognized breeds are Shiba, Kai, Hokkaido, Shikoku, Kishu, and Akita, and each has a rich, distinct history that sets them apart. There are also four additional dog breeds that were bred in Japan and imported to the United States. Let’s find out more about the unique characteristics of all ten of these Japanese dog breeds.
1. Shiba (Shiba Inu)
The Shiba Inu is the most popular companion dog in Japan. These small, foxlike dogs are well-mannered and sturdy, being bred originally as hunters. They have a double coat of thick fur and can grow to be 13.5-16.5 inches tall and weigh 17-23 lbs. Shibas have been around for thousands of years with the first ones dating back to around 300 B.C. They were introduced in the United States in 1954 and have been a recognized breed with the AKC since 1992. Their popularity has led breeders to create a miniature version called the Mame Shiba. These are popular for those who live in apartments and those who think they look even cuter! The male Mame Shibas only grow to be a foot tall and weigh around 10-14lbs.
Akitas are known to be a symbol of happiness and long life. It is a Japanese tradition to present an Akita figurine to new parents for their baby. These large dogs have a think double coat of fur that can be a variety of colors and a fluffy curled tail. They stand 24-28 inches tall and can weigh up to 130 pounds. These dogs make good watch dogs and have a history of being very loyal dogs.
There is a famous true story about one Akita, Hachiko, who waited at the train station day after day for his owner to come home. Unfortunately, his owner passed away and wasn’t going to be coming home anymore, but Hachiko still came back every day for the next 9 years! Now that is a loyal, sweet dog. There is a Japanese movie made about him called Hachiko Monogatari that came out in 1987. An American version based on the story came out in 2009 starring Richard Gere called Hachi: A Dog’s Tale. Both films did well at the box office due to the touching story of such a loyal dog.
3. Kai (Kai Ken)
The Kai Ken breed is sometimes called a tiger dog because if the brindle or stripe-like pattern of its coat. These medium sized dogs have a short coat that serves as camouflage in the mountain regions where they were bred to hunt. They are intelligent dogs that are very agile and have claws that allow them to climb trees. They are also good swimmers. Kai Kens are known to be loyal pets and are eager to please their owner. They can get to be 15.5-19.5 inches and can weigh between 20-40 pounds. Although it is on the protected list of six official Japanese dogs it is rare breed.
4. Kishu (Kishu Ken)
Kishus are medium-sized dogs that love to be active; they are athletic and full of energy. Their coat can be all white, red, or sesame, and they have thick but short fur. They have pointed ears and a curled tail. The males can be 17-22 inches tall and weigh between 30-60 pounds. Many Kishus are all white because of breeding. Hunters preferred white dogs because they were easier to see. Kishus came from a region of Japan called Wakayama. They were bred from mountain roaming dogs that were tough, and that trait served them well as hunting dogs.
5. Shikoku (Kochi-Ken)
The Shikoku, sometimes called the Kochi-Ken after the region of Japan it is from, is a strong, hunting dog known for its endurance. They were originally from the Kochi Prefecture where they were used to hunt wild boar. This strong breed was the breed of choice for traditional dog fighting that took place beginning in the 14th century. Shikokus are great pets for outdoor people and are affectionate with their owners. They can grow to be 35-55 pounds and stand about 17-22 inches tall. The most common coloration is a mix of black, red, and white, which is sometimes referred to as sesame. They have a thick coat of fur, pointed ears, and a curled fluffy foxlike tail.
Hokkaidos come in a variety of colors: white, black, red, and tan. They have longer fur than most other Japanese dogs but have similar pointed ears and a curled tail. They are a medium-sized dog weighing 44-66 pounds and are about 18-20 inches tall. These dogs are well trained and loyal to their owners. However, they need training and socialization from an early age because they can be wary of strangers. If you would like to see a Hokkaido, you will probably need to travel to Japan because they are very rare outside of the country. Hokkaidos were bred as hunting dogs and were valuable because they fared well in the brisk snowy climate in the winter. The Ainu people of Hakkaidos would depend on their dogs to help them hunt deer and bears. Today they are great pets that love the outdoors and have great stamina.
7. Japanese Chin (Japanese Spaniel)
Compared to the six official dogs of Japan, the Japanese Chin is tiny! It is also a long-haired breed that is definitely not bred for hunting. These are companion lap dogs that are popular in Japan and in America alike. The origins are debated, but it is clear that these dogs were favorites of Japanese nobles hundreds of years ago. The AKC recognized this breed back in 1888, so their presence in the West has a history as well. Japanese Chin, sometimes called Japanese Spaniels, are only 8-11 inches tall and weigh 7-11 pounds, about the same weight as an adult cat!
8. Japanese Terrier
Japanese terriers have many of the common terrier traits: they are feisty, independent, and tend to bark… a lot! These dogs have short hair and are slim, weighing between 5-10 pounds and are 11-13 inches tall. Many have a distinctive dark-brown head and white body. They are smart and affectionate but often choose to associate with one owner, being somewhat possessive at times. They are the first terrier type bred in Japan and began with a mix of English Smooth Fox Terrier and smaller native dogs. The Japanese Terrier is recognized by the Japan Kennel Club but not yet by the AKC.
9. Japanese Spitz
Japanese Spitz dogs can be described as little white fluff-balls. They have long fluffy fur and a curly tail that curls up over their backs. Spitz dogs are 12-15 inches tall and weigh around 10-25 pounds. They have a lot of personality and are considered funny dogs. They get along well with their family and with other dogs. The history of the Japanese Spitz is unknown because records were destroyed during World War II. It is thought that the breed started with the white German Spitz before 1920. Other Spitz were imported from Canada, China, the United States, and Australia. The Japanese Spitz is not yet recognized by the AKC, but it has been accepted by the Japan Kennel Club since 1948.
10. Japanese Mastiff (Tosa Inu)
In contrast to the little Spitz, the Japanese Mastiff (or Tosa Inu) is a large Japanese dog breed that grows to be 100-200 pounds! They can be 21.5-23.5 inches tall and are muscular, sturdy dogs. They have short coarse fur that can be a variety of colors and have markings of a black muzzle and darker ears. As pets they are good watchdogs and wary of other dogs, but they are very affectionate with their own family.
Dating back to the 14th century, Japan has a history of dog fighting. They bred their Shikokus to be tough fighting dogs. When Westerners started arriving on the island, they brought their own dogs and the Japanese found they had to compete with some bigger breeds. They began breeding these dogs (Bulldogs, Mastiffs, and Great Danes) with their native dogs to create fiercer competition. During dog fights the people honored Tosa Inu dogs much like sumo wrestlers with many similar traditions. In the United States, Tosas are friendly companion dogs that are not yet recognized by the AKC.
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