Hachikō — or Hachi for short — is one of the most famous dogs in Japan. The epitome of loyalty and fidelity, Hachi waited for his human companion at the train station every day after work, even after his owner’s untimely death. Hachi is the perfect example of the incredible bond that can form between humans and their canine companions. His story continues to inspire people all over the world today. But what kind of dog is Hachi? Let’s take a closer look at this loyal and heroic Japanese superstar!
The Incredible Story of Hachi
Hachi was born on a farm in Ōdate, in the Akita Prefecture, Japan, in November 1923. The following year he was taken to Shibuya in Tokyo, where he became the canine companion of Hidesaburō Ueno. Each day Ueno took the train to and from the Tokyo Imperial University, where he worked as a professor. At the end of the day, his dog Hachi would meet him at the Shibuya Station to walk him home.
Sadly, Ueno only had Hachi for a year or so when the Japanese professor passed away from a cerebral hemorrhage on May 21, 1925. Although Hachi waited at the Shibuya station that evening, Ueno never came home. For nearly ten years following Ueno’s death, Hachi valiantly came to the train station each and every day at the exact time that his master’s train would have arrived.
How Hachi Became a National Icon
One of Ueno’s former students, Hirokichi Saito, caught sight of the dog amid the chaos of the train station one day and followed him to the home of Kozaburo Kobayashi. Kobayashi was Ueno’s former gardener and shared Hachi’s incredible story with Saito. Saito was impressed by Hachi’s incredible dedication and loyalty and continued to visit the dog from time to time. Saito even wrote and published many articles about the dog and his unwavering loyalty. In fact, one of his articles published in 1932 in one of Japan’s major newspapers brought Hachi’s story to the public eye. After that, visitors started bringing Hachi food and other treats while he waited at the train station each day.
Endlessly loyal and devoted, Hachi continued to wait at the train station for Ueno to return until his death. Hachi died on March 8, 1935, at 11 years of age. He was cremated and reunited with his beloved owner at the Aoyama Cemetery. Even after his death, Hachikō’s legacy lives on not only in Japan but throughout the world. Many statues have been created in honor of the bond between Professor Ueno and his dog. A famous statue of Hachi stands at the Shibuya Station near the “Hachikō-guchi” or “The Hachikō Entrance/Exit.” In addition, many people honor Hachi’s memory with an annual ceremony there on the anniversary of his death.
In addition, there are memorial statues in Hachi’s hometown in front of the Ōdate Station, the Akita Dog Museum in Ōdate, and at the University of Tokyo. There is even a statue at Rhode Island’s Woonsocket Depot Square in the U.S., where the 2009 movie Hachi: A Dog’s Tale was filmed.
What Kind of Dog Is Hachi?
Hachi was a Japanese Akitainu, or Japanese Akita. This iconic spitz breed can be traced all the way back to the Matagiinu, a group of dogs that Matagi hunters in northern Japan used for tracking and hunting. These dogs were fierce guardians, prized for their unflinching bravery and loyalty. The Matagiinu could track and take down large animals like bears and boars with persistence and fearlessness.
In the 1800s, some of the wealthier people in Japan began breeding Matagiinu to guard their property and valuables. The dogs were also crossbred with the Tosa fighting dog for watchdogs and for dog fighting, especially in the Akita region of Japan. These dogs became known as Shin Akitainu (or new Akita dog).
Restoring the Japanese Akitainu Breed
By the early 1900s, the original Akita breed had almost completely vanished from Japan. In fact, do you remember Ueno’s student who wrote about Hachi in the paper — Hirokichi Saito? Well, Saito had developed a passion for the rare Akita breed and did extensive research on these dogs. He even did a census of Akitas in Japan and discovered that only 30 purebred Akitas were left in the entire country, including the beloved Hachikō from Shibuya Station!
Over the next several decades, many people — including the newly organized Akitainu Hozonkai (AKIHO) — worked to restore the Akitainu breed. This was further supported by the Japanese government’s decision to make the Akitainu a national monument and by Hachikō’s amazing story of love and loyalty.
Not only did Hachi’s story inspire those in Japan, but it also left an impression on many abroad. American Helen Keller visited Japan in 1937 and was deeply moved by Hachikō’s story. She quickly developed a strong love for the Akitainu dog breed. The Japanese government gifted her two Akita puppies — the first Akitas to ever step foot in the United States! The first, a tiny furball named Kamikaze, tragically passed away shortly after arriving in the U.S. The second puppy was Kamikaze’s brother, a pup named Kenzan-go, although Keller affectionately called it “Go-Go.” From their very first day together, Go-Go and Keller were inseparable. Even though Keller had many other dogs, Go-Go always held a very special place in her heart.
Japanese Akita: Appearance
Over the years, selective breeding in both Japan and the U.S. has led to two different Akita breeds: the Japanese Akitainu and the American Akita. Japanese Akitas are slightly smaller than their American cousins, ranging in size from 23 to 25 inches tall and weighing 55 to 90 pounds. American Akitas, on the other hand, are usually 24 to 28 inches tall and weigh 100 to 130 pounds. Japanese Akitas are also less muscular and have a more “fox-like” appearance. American Akitas are thought to look more “bear-like” in comparison.
Japanese Akitas are powerful dogs with a substantial build and heavy bones. They have large heads with unique triangular ears set at a slight angle. Their small, deep-set eyes also have a triangular shape, adding to their overall striking appearance. Akitas have thick double coats and strong, cat-like feet that allow them to take on colder environments with ease. In fact, Akitas typically love spending time in the snow!
However, one of the most iconic features of the Akita is their tail, which gently curls over the top of their backs. What makes them even more unique is that no Akita tail ever looks exactly the same!
Japanese Akita: Behavior
Akitas are extremely intelligent dogs that are easy to train with positive training methods. However, they get bored very easily, so training sessions should be short and varied. In addition, Akitas have a very strong-willed nature, so they do not always perform on cue — instead, they tend to do things on their own time. In addition, these dogs are not only large and powerful, but they are also extremely independent — so they definitely need experienced owners. Furthermore, Akitas can be very territorial and protective. They are often reserved around strangers and can be aggressive around other dogs (especially ones of the same sex). Thus, Akitas need early socialization to help with their aggressively protective natures.
However, with proper training and socialization, an Akita can be a wonderful canine companion! In fact, hundreds of Akitas are registered as certified therapy dogs and regularly spread their love and affection in hospitals, nursing homes, libraries, and schools. They do have a very strong prey drive, so plenty of enrichment, as well as physical and mental challenges, are necessary to keep them happy and healthy. At home, Akitas are fiercely loyal and kind, although always alert — much like Hachikō. These dignified dogs are fastidious about cleanliness, and can often be spotted cleaning their paws after dinner and even carefully cleaning their kennel mates!
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