The Akita Inu – Japan's Most Faithful Dog
Hachiko, who famously waited for his owner, Hidesaburo Ueno, for nine years after Ueno died is probably Japan’s most famous dog. Hachiko was an Akita Inu, named after the prefecture the breed comes from. Akita Inu are thought to have come from the region around Odate City in north Akita, and the city is filled with statues and places to meet the famous breed. Before one even exits the station, on the main tracks by the exit, they’ll find a shrine dedicated to Hachiko who was born in Odate city (大館市) before being sent to Tokyo.
Upon exiting the station, there’s a large statue dedicated to the breed, and across the road there’s the Akita Dog Visitor Center. There are two dogs at the center that visitors can meet.
Ten minutes away by bus there‘s also the Akita Inu Museum dedicated to the breed with two more Akita Inu to meet. There’s a male named Shodai and a female named Omochi. Shodai happens to be the brother of the dog gifted to Russian skating gold medalist Alina Zagitova.
There one can learn about the history of the breed from their start as fighting and hunting dogs (incidentally the Akita Dialect word for fighting dog or dog fight is えねくれぁ), companions to lords and samurai, and how the modern form of the breed came about. They have a characteristic tan/gold and white fur color with really thick hair to keep in heat during long and cold Akita Prefecture winters. Due to their thick coats they often tend to shed a lot.
As seen above, there are three main fur coats for the breed: tan, white, and grayish brown. There are so many more places to meet the breed than in Odate City like in Akita City. Five minutes walk from Akita Station, there is an Akita Inu Station next to the Akita Museum of Art where visitors can come and take pictures of the dogs and get information about the breed.
One more place to meet the dogs is in Kakunodate (角館), a town in Akita famous for samurai villas and hundreds of cherry blossoms that bloom every year along the river. A little bit away from the main roads and historic sites, there’s a guest house called Enishi (Enishi means fate).
At the guest house, where travelers can rent out a room for a day or a few days, there happen to be two Akita Inu, Sue and Fujiko, owned by the guest house owners. Guests can play with the dogs in between excursions out to the historic sites of Kakunodate. The owners of the guest house are also currently making Akita Inu masks to help out with the current situation. The masks are only available in Japan though.
Akita Inu are big, affectionate, hardy companions that helped people for over 1000 years in many different ways. In these times especially, at least for me, playing with an Akita Inu helped alleviate a lot of stress. They can be stubborn dogs, but that stubbornness is a part of what makes them very loyal and loving towards their families. Just seeing their fluffy, poofy faces and soft coat and generally gentle, although dominant, nature definitely helped me relax. If you ever come to Akita, definitely try to meet this devoted breed. Aside from the places I mentioned above, one can also meet some of the dogs at the Furusawa Hot Springs, Ani Ski Resort, and the Royal Hotel Odate. There may even be an Akita dog in your neighborhood, and maybe someday you’ll meet your own Hachiko.