Ultimate Guide to 6 Native Japanese Dogs


2021.01.21

NAVITIME TRAVEL EDITOR

The faithful dog, Hachi, the Akita Dog may have been one of the most well known Japanese dogs after the movie was recreated and portrayed by the famous actor in 2009. Yet, Akita is not the only Japanese breed. There are 5 more and 6 in total that are considered as Japan’s national dogs. Kishu Ken, Akita, Shikoku Ken, Hokkaido Ken, Kai Ken and Shiba Inu. All of these are called “Nihon-Ken” and have grown popular across the world. Some even fly over to Japan to just find their very own fur babies. Here is a guide to such 6 national Japanese dogs, all designated as natural monuments that might help you pick the best breed to find for your own.

  • 01

    Kai Ken Dog

    History

    The Kai Ken dog is a breed that was created over a long period of time through repeated natural crossbreeding and selective breeding as a hunting dog, based on medium-sized dogs that were indigenous to the Kai region. It was first discovered in 1929 by a man named Tadasuke Adachi, who was assigned to the Kofu District Prosecutor's Office, and has been the subject of preservation ever since. In 1932, Hirokichi Saito, Shunkichi Kobayashi, and others named the dog "Kai" after the area it inhabited, and in 1934, it was designated as a national natural monument. However, the origin of the Kai Ken dog is not clearly known, but dog bones that look just like the Kai Ken dog have been unearthed from the remains of the Jomon period (14500 BCE to 300 BCE). So it is thought that the Kai dog has been living with humans since then.
    After being recognized nationwide, illegally with other breeds designated as natural monuments, Kai Ken dogs were crossbred. As a result, it is hard to find pure Kai Ken dogs anymore as the number of breeders who still preserve the pure bloods have decreased in number.

    Physical Characteristics

    There are two variations to the Kai Ken dogs, the Shika-Inu type and the Shishi-Inu type. The former is known for its longer, thinner body and fox like face. The latter is stockier with a curled tail and is said this type has already been more less extinct. Compared to other Japanese dogs, Kai Ken dogs have slightly rounded forehead with triangular standing ears which are slightly tilted forward, and their eyes are round.

    Height:
    Between 47cm to 53cm (Male)
    Between 42cm to 48cm (Female)

    Weight:
    Between 12 to 18kg

    Coat:
    Double coat

    Color:
    Tiger

    Kai Ken Dogs are otherwise called the "Kai tigers" or "tiger-haired dogs" because their coat color changes like a tiger pattern as they grow, and this coat color is the most distinctive feature of the Kai Ken Dog. There are three types of coat colors: black tiger, red tiger, and tiger. The most common is the black tiger coat, which has a brownish-black coat with a tiger pattern.

    Personality

    Kai Ken dogs are sensitive to situations and are wary of strangers, dogs, and other animals, but they are as sweet and obedient as any other dog to their trusted and respected owners.
    It is no exaggeration to say that Kai Ken dog is one of the most cautious Japanese dogs with an alert nature. They will not easily wag their tails at non-family members, and will even show a threatening expression if you try to touch them casually.

    Notable Diseases

    Relatively speaking, Kai Ken dogs are strong and have less trouble getting sick, however they are prone to cataracts and skin diseases. They can suffer from pyoderma, which is mainly caused by bacterial infection, food allergy and atopic dermatitis. And also, otitis externa, an inflammation of the ear canal caused by bacteria and fungus.

  • 02

    Akita Dog

    History

    The ancestor of the Akita Dog/Inu is said to be the "Odate Inu," which was bred as a hunting dog in the Odate region of Akita Prefecture. In the Edo period (1603-1868), the lord of the Odate area, Satake, decided to start dogfighting, and the Odate dog, which had been a hunting dog, came to be used as a dog for dogfighting. The dogfighting culture continued into the Meiji era. However, since the Odate dog was a medium-sized dog, it could not win against strong dogs such as the Tosa dog. Therefore, improvements were made to make the Odate Inu larger, and it was crossed with other large Western dogs such as Great Danes and Mastiffs, in addition to the Tosa Inu. As a result, Akita Dog was no longer a pure Japanese dog. For this reason, they are sometimes referred to as a Japanese dog with Western blood. In 1916, dogfighting was banned in Japan and since then, dog lovers tried to register Akita Dog as a natural monument, however, because of its mixed breed, the process was difficult. It took more than a decade and finally in 1931, it was registered as a natural monument. However, with the breakout of the war, Akita Dogs were used as a military dog and preservation of this type became extremely difficult. By the end of the war, there were only 20 or so pure breeds left. The leftover breeds were used as the basis for the pure Akita breed, and research and efforts were made until the Akita Dog became what it is today. Some of the Akita Dogs were taken back to the United States during the war and made its original development under the new name, Japanese Akita or American Akita. Currently, they are registered as a separate breed from the Akita Dog in Japan.

    Physical Characteristics

    Height:
    Between 64cm to 71cm (Male)
    Between 58cm to 66cm (Female)

    Weight:
    Between 39 to 59kg (Male)
    Between 27 to 50kg (Female)

    Coat:
    Double coat

    Color:
    Sesame, red or tiger


    Personality
    Akita dogs are extremely intelligent, smart, and alert, making them a great watchdog. They are said to be loyal and obedient, obeying orders and being close to their owners. However, if they are not trained properly, their nervousness may come out, and may bite or act out, causing injury to those around them. They can become aggressive if they are not recognized as their owners, even by family members, so families with small children need to be especially careful when training them properly.

    Notable Diseases
    Akita dogs tend to be born with weak skin or are prone to hip dysplasia, which is common in large dogs.
    When they are puppies (babies), there are more cases of eyelid entropy seen than in other breeds.This is a condition in which the eyelids are tucked inward and can easily become irritated by the eyelashes, resulting in corneal disease.

  • 03

    Shikoku Dog

    History

    Shikoku Dog is an indigenous dog of the Shikoku region. Originally called "Tosa Inu", it was renamed "Shikoku Dog (Inu)" to distinguish it from the Tosa Fighting Dog. In the mountainous regions of Shikoku, there lived a wild dog called the Yamainu, which was domesticated by hunters and is said to be the origin of the Shikoku Dog. The Yamainu is said to be a descendant of the Japanese wolf, and is the reason behind the Shikoku dog having a wolf-like coloration. It is believed that the Shikoku Dog was bred to be an excellent hunting dog that chases boars and deer by repeated breeding based on hounds raised from Yamainu puppies.
    Of the three regional lineages of Shikoku Dogs, the Awa, the Honkawa, and the Hata lineages, the Honkawa lineage, which was bred on the border between Kochi and Ehime (Mt. Ishizuchi), has retained the purest bloodlines. In recent years, the number of pure-bred Shikoku Dogs has been decreasing due to a noticeable increase in the number of dogs mixed with the Hata line.

    Physical Characteristics

    Shikoku Dogs are a little longer in length than in height, and have a straight back. They have an impressive slender figure, but as hounds, they are muscular and toned.

    Height:
    52cm (Male)
    49cm (Female)

    Weight:
    Between 16 to 25kg

    Coat:
    Double coat but overall short haired

    Color:
    Red, black or sesame

    Personality

    Since Shikoku Dogs are still used as hunting dogs, they are strong-willed and can be aggressive. However, they are not difficult to train because they are smart. Although they are obedient to their owners, they may not listen if an owner does not give them firm instructions or lack leadership skills. They also have a temperament that does not like people other than their owners. Recently, Shikoku Dogs are being kept as household pets, and it is possible for the whole family to train them from puppies so that they can learn to be sociable.

    Notable Diseases

    The Shikoku Dog is characterized by its basic stamina and a robust body that can withstand even a rough diet. In addition, the Shikoku Dog is relatively free of disease, as no serious genetic diseases that have been seen in many dogs in recent years have been reported. However, as their living environment has changed from mountainous areas to urban households, Shikoku Inu may develop diseases specific to Japanese dogs or diseases caused by aging, such as skin diseases and neuralgia.

  • 04

    Hokkaido Dog /Ainu Dog

    History

    The origin of the Hokkaido Dog is believed to be the Matagi dog, a hunting dog that came to Hokkaido from the Tohoku region. In Hokkaido, they were also kept by the Ainu, an indigenous tribe, as hunting dogs for deer and bear. In 1902, when the Hakkouda Snow Marching Incident occurred, the dog became famous for its ability to withstand the cold and play an active role in the search. At that time, they were called Ainu dogs, but in 1973, when they were designated as a national natural monument, the breed name was unified as Hokkaido Dog (Inu). They have a similar physical appearance to the Shiba Inu, but the bodies of Hokkaido Dogs are stronger and can withstand the cold of Hokkaido.
    Otherwise known as Ainu Dog, they lived as good partners to the Ainu people, and were bred in each village and their bloodlines were passed down. Therefore, like other Japanese dogs, Hokkaido dogs had their own lineage, but only one of the five lines, the Chitose lineage, is currently being left and bred as a pure bloodline.

    Physical Characteristics

    Hokkaido Dog seems like a pure white colored dog, but there are other colors like sesame, red and black. Because of this color variations and similar physical appearance, they are often mistaken for the Shiba Inu. However, Hokkaido Dog is one size larger than the Shiba Inu and has a muscular body. The body, especially the front half of the forechest to the arms, is stocky, with a deep chest and solid structure.

    Height:
    48cm (Male)
    45cm (Female)

    Weight:
    Between 20 to 30kg

    Coat:
    Dense double coat

    Color:
    White, red, black, sesame or tiger

    Personality

    As can be imagined from the fact that Hokkaido dogs have lived side by side with the Ainu people for many years, they are very friendly and affectionate toward their owners, whom they recognize as their leaders. Another characteristic of Hokkaido dogs is their strong sense of loyalty to protect their owners. They are brave because they used to hunt bears and other animals that are much larger than they are, but they are also cautious. As a result, they became sensitive to the slightest noise or sign of their surroundings, and can act cautiously or boldly at times.

    Notable Diseases

    As a dog native to Hokkaido, this breed is resistant to cold, but not to heat and can cause heatstroke easily. Covered with a thick coat, Hokkaido dogs are far more sensitive to heat and humidity than people are. Even if you don't think it's that hot, it is best advised to pay close attention to how they breathe.

  • 05

    Kishu Ken Dog

    History

    The Kishu Ken dog is said to have originated as an indigenous dog that is believed to have inhabited the "Kii Province," which straddles present-day Wakayama and Mie prefectures. These dogs, which existed naturally in this region, were raised for hunting. It was customary to raise one type of hound for each type of beast to be hunted, such as rabbits, raccoons, and deer, and the Kishu Ken dog was raised to hunt wild boar. Since Kishu is a wide and deep mountainous region with poor transportation, the Kishu Ken dog was rarely exported out of these regions. And hence, the existence of this type of dog was limited. Within the Kii Province, each region had its own indigenous dogs such as "Nachi Inu," "Taiji Inu," "Kumano Inu," "Hidaka Inu," and "Okuyoshino Inu." However, when these dogs were registered as Kishu Ken dogs under the Japanese Dog Preservation Society, they were combined into one breed and since then, is called Kishu Ken dog, or otherwise known as Kishu Inu or Kishu dog. In 1934, the Kishu Ken dog was designated as a natural monument and subject to preservation. Since then, the colors of the dog have been unified to white.

    Physical Characteristics

    Kishu Dog has a well-balanced and muscular, with a robust skeleton and strong limbs. Unlike many other Japanese dogs whose eyes are triangular shaped, Kishu Dogs have an arc shaped eye from the inner corners to the outer corner, like a shape of a clam.

    Height:
    52cm (Male)
    49cm (Female)
    (with a margin error of up to 3cm)

    Weight:
    Between 15 to 30kg

    Coat:
    Double coat with the outer coat being hard and straight, and the undercoat being soft and dense with a light coloration.

    Color:
    95% white with some born with sesame, red, tiger, or black color.

    Efforts have been made to make Kishu dogs uniformly white to make it easier to distinguish them from their prey when used for hunting. However, even today, there are rare occasions when the traditional coat colors such as red, black, tiger, and sesame are born and there are also enthusiasts who prefer colors other than white.

    Personality

    Kishu Ken dog is intelligent and full of curiosity, and has a strong sense of loyalty only to a limited number of people, especially their owners. Because of this, they are very cautious and can be aggressive towards strangers and dogs. To make a dog and people friendly Kishu Ken dog, it is recommended to give plenty of opportunity to have contact with other people and dogs when they are puppy. Make sure they get plenty of exercise to prevent them from becoming overly sensitive due to frustration.

    Notable Diseases

    Just like other Japanese dogs does, Kishu Ken dogs are prone to skin diseases such as allergic skin diseases and wear and tear of teeth due to biting hard objects with strong jaw force.

  • 06

    Shiba Inu

    History

    While there is no certain date to when Shiba Inu was born, generally speaking, the history of the Japanese dog, the ancestor of the Shiba Inu, can be said to date back more than 10,000 years to the Jomon Period. Dog bones have been found in archaeological sites and shell mounds throughout Japan, and these are said to be the ancestors of the Shiba Inu and other Japanese dogs.
    When the Pacific War broke out, the number of dogs dwindled due to food shortages and many of them were given to the military as supplies. In 1952, after the war ended, there was a major outbreak of canine distemper which led to further extinction of the pure breeds. To solve this problem, two special Shiba Inu were selected. The male Shiba called Ishi-go from Shimane Prefecture and a female Shiba named Koro-go from Shikoku were selected and brought to Nagano Prefecture to be bred. The dogs with the blood of these two are called Shinshu Shiba Inu because of their birthplace, and they make up most of the Shiba Inus seen today.

    Physical Characteristics

    There are two types of Shiba Inu: one with a tanuki(racoon)-like round face and one with a fox-like narrow face. The tanuki-faced Shiba Inu is also called the "Yayoi Shiba Inu" and is said to have the characteristics of a dog from the Yayoi period (300 BCE to 250 CE). The Yayoi Shiba has a short nose and a round face with a stout and stocky body.

    On the other hand, a Shiba Inu with a fox-like narrow face is called a "Jomon Shiba". It is said to have inherited the characteristics of the Jomon Inu from the Jomon period (14,000–300 BCE) as its name implies. They have slender bodies, longer faces and with a long forehead and nose. The Jomon Shiba also has more teeth than the Yayoi Shiba, probably because it has characteristics more similar to a wolf. There are many groups of Shiba Inu enthusiasts but, the JKC (Japan Kennel Club) and the Japan Dog Preservation Society recommend the Yayoi Shiba, while the Shiba Inu Preservation Society and the Shiba Inu Kenkyukai recommend the Jomon Shiba.

    Height:
    Between 38cm to 41cm (Male)
    Between 35cm to 38cm (Female)

    Weight:
    Between 9 to 11kg (Male)
    Between 7 to 9kg (Female)

    Coat:
    Dense double coat

    Color:
    White, red, black, or sesame

    Personality

    Shiba Inu are smart, loyal and obedient to their owners, but also brave. Because of these characteristics, they are very good watchdogs. However, they are also stubborn and independent and do not easily adapt to strangers or dogs other than their owners. Also, unlike Western hounds, they used to hunt their own prey, so their instinct to chase and capture anything that moves may be strongly expressed.

    Notable Diseases

    Although Shiba Inus are said to be physically strong, there are some diseases that they are prone to like atopic dermatitis and otitis externa. Even when their bodies are not feeling well, Shiba Inus often put up with it, so it can be difficult to detect illness.

  • 07

    List of Japanese Dog Preservation Societies

    Here are some of the Japanese dog preservation societies that you may want to contact for further information on finding the right breeders to find the pure bloods for each breeds.

    Japanese Dog Preservation Society

    Japanese Dog (Nihonken) Preservation Society was founded in 1928, and was approved as an incorporated association by the Ministry of Home Affairs in 1937. It is the oldest dog breed organization in Japan, with 90 years of tradition and authority.
    Back In the Meiji era, when the Western dogs were introduced to Japan in earnest, the idea that Japanese dogs should also be Europeanized spread under the tide of civilization, and deliberate crossbreeding was widely practiced. In some cases, Japanese dogs were even slaughtered, and by the beginning of the Taisho era (1912-1926), Japanese dogs had almost completely disappeared, especially in urban areas.
    Feeling threatened by this situation, Hirokichi Saito, a Western-style painter, founded the Japanese Dog Preservation Society in 1928 to prevent the extinction of the Japanese dog. From 1931 to 1937, six dog breeds were designated as national natural monuments: Akita, Kai, Kishu, Shiba, Shikoku, and Hokkaido.

    Akita Dog Preservation Society

    Akita Dog Preservation Society is a public interest incorporated association dedicated to the protection and breeding of the Akita dog, a natural monument.

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