Originally Japanese dogs were small to medium in size and no large breeds existed. Since 1603 in the Akita region, Akita Matagis (medium-sized bear-hunting dogs) were used as fighting dogs. From 1868 Akita Matagis were crossed with Tosas and Mastiffs. Consequently, the size of this breed increased but characteristics associated with Spitz type were lost. In 1908 dog fighting was prohibited, but this breed was nevertheless preserved and improved as a large Japanese breed. As a result, nine superior examples of this breed were designated as « Natural Monuments » in 1931. During World War II (1939-1945), it was common to use dogs as a source of fur for military garments. The police ordered the capture and confiscation of all dogs other than German Shepherd Dogs used for military purposes. Some fanciers tried to circumvent the order by crossbreeding their dogs with German Shepherd Dogs. When World War II ended, Akitas had been drastically reduced in number and existed as three distinct types; 1) Matagi Akitas, 2) fighting Akitas, and 3) Shepherd Akitas. This created a very confusing situation in the breed. During the restoration process of the pure breed after the war., Kongo-go, a dog of the Dewa line, which exhibited characteristics of the Mastiff and German Shepherd. However, sensible learned fanciers did not approve of this type as a proper Japanese breed, so they made efforts to eliminate the strain old foreign breeds by crossbreeding with Matagi Akitas for the purpose of restoring the original pure breed. They succeeded in stabilizing the pure strain of large sized breed as known today.
Article By TATSUO KIMURA
• From earlier to modern times
• Akita dog organizations in Japan
• Akita dog standards
• Preservation and restoration of the akita dog
• Akita dogs in the United States
• Recent changes in Latin America and Europe
FROM EARLIER TO MODERN TIMES
According to Nobuo Naora (Nagara) of the Waseda University, dogs in Japan were domesticated during the Jomon Period (about 8000 B.C. to 200 B.C.). These dogs were of medium size. Large dogs were imported later into the Kanto area. Small dogs were also imported and gradually spread nationwide.
Skeletons of small and medium dogs and a few somewhat larger dogs from that period resemble those of Japanese dogs of today. The largest dog believed to be about 1 shaku 9 sun (approximately 57.6 cm, 22.7 inches) tall based on the skull size has been found at the famous shell mound in the prefecture of Miyagi. Almost all of the skulls of these medium and small dogs have straight nasal bridges, while skulls of large dogs have a definite stop.
Burial mounds have yielded earthen dog images, bronze bells, and dog shaped burial mound figures from ancient times show standing ears and curled tails.
Dogs are first mentioned in Japanese literature in books such as the Kojiki (Japan’s Ancient Chronicles) around A.D. 682 and Nihon Shoki (First Chronicle of Japan) around A.D. 720 with tales of their use as hunting dogs.
According to Hirokichi Saito and Yonekichi Hiraiwa, hunting dogs were used with trained hawks for almost 1500 years from around 355 to the mid 1800s.
As early as A.D. 358, black pinto dogs resembling Japanese dogs of today are said to have come from Korea, followed by other dogs from there from time to time.
Almost all of the dogs in picture scrolls from the Late Heian Period (897-1160) have erect ears with curled or sickle tails. Dogs with droopy ears are seen more often in later drawings.
Western dogs began to be imported around 1570 with the opening of the port of Nagasaki to the Westerners. Large dogs such as the Mastiffs, Water Spaniels and Greyhounds from England were popular with the Japanese feudal lords.
The fifth Tokugawa Shogun, Tsunayoshi, who reigned from 1680 to 1709, was known as the “Dog Shogun.” He enacted an unpopular heavy tax to protect dogs and build dog shelters in Edo (old name for Tokyo before 1868). An outcome of this episode was the preservation of a dog registry called the Kazukesho, which lists coat colors of dogs from that period.
Colors mentioned are: white, red, black, brindle, brindle pinto, black pinto, reddish black and light red.
In 1823, Dr. Philipp Franz von Siebold, a German physician who was employed by the Dutch at Dejima in Nagasaki, reported in the Fauna Japonica that he saw three types of dogs in Japan:
1. The hunting dog with erect ears, pointed muzzle and slender body.
2. The small house dog from China, called the Chin dog with a very short muzzle.
3. The large city dog, a mongrel that resulted from crossbreeding Japanese dogs with dogs from China and Europe, with a heavier and different body form than the hunting dog.”
During the Meiji Period (1868-1912), the rapid acceptance of western culture was followed by a decline in interest in Japanese culture in Japan. Western dogs were favored, and soon fewer purer forms of Japanese dogs were seen in the cities, and purer forms were almost limited to small villages in remote mountain areas, where hunting was the main means of livelihood. During this time some concerned Japanese intellectuals among dog lovers began a movement to stem this trend, and to preserve Japanese dogs for future generations. Among individuals that were concerned with the decline of the Japanese dogs were Mr. Shigele Izumi, the mayor of Odate at that time, and Hirokichi (Kokichi, pen name: Hiroshi) Saito, a graduate of the Tokyo Geijutsu Daigaku (Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music). Hence, the Japanese government established the natural monument legislation in 1919.
The Akita dog, the large Japanese dog, was in the greatest state of impurity when compared to medium and small Japanese dogs at this time. Many of the Akita dogs had been outcrossed to Western and Tosa fighting dogs. This occurred mostly during the earlier part of the twentieth century.
The first survey team that went to Odate to study the Akita dog in 1920 was headed by Dr. Shozaburo Watase. He was very disappointed when he saw the great lack of uniformity in the Akita dogs there.
Thus, he did not designate any Akita dogs that he saw at that time.
Dog fighting was then popular in the Odate area, and: emphasis was on fighting ability of the dog rather than on appearance. Before leaving Odate, Dr. Watase called upon those who were seriously interested in the Akita dog to preserve these Japanese dogs before they became extinct.
About twelve years went by before the Akita dog was declared as a natural monument in July 1931. This occurred after a visit to Odate by a second survey team headed by Dr. Tokio Kaburagi, when he saw the scarcity of these dogs.
Japanese dogs then were known only by their regional names. In Akita, large dogs were called the Odate dog, Nambu dog, Kazuno dog, etc.
The name Akita dog was first used in September 1931 to include all of the large Japanese dogs after the Akita dog was declared as a natural monument.
Hyoemon Kyono and Katsusuke Ishihara, based on their research, believed that the original pure type of Akita dog was probably the size of the “Matagi (Hunting)” dogs that rarely exceeded 1 shaku 9 sun (approximately 58 cm, 22.6 inches) in height that lived in the mountain villages of Akita and Iwate. Examples of such “Matagi” dogs were Oyajiro-go of Mr. Hyoemon Kyono, Fuji-go of Kesakichi Takahashi and Sentaro-aka of Keiji Takahashi. These were famous medium hunting dogs that were registered with Mippo in the early 1930s.
Katsushiro Kudo of the Iwate University has stated that these “Matagi” dogs were slightly larger than the medium Japanese dogs. He named the “Matagi” dog from Iwate the Iwate dog, and placed the larger dogs from Akita into a separate category.
Hirokichi Saito stated in 1953 that he believed that the Akita is a “non-fighting watch dog” created out of outcrossing medium Japanese dogs to imported western dogs and Tosa fighting dogs. This dog is then to be restored toward the Japanese dog type.
According to Hiraizumi Ryonosuke and others, the goal of informed Japanese dog breeders is to increase the size of the Akita dog, while trying to retain the Japanese dog type.
Naoto Kajiwara and Hirokichi Saito were of the opinion that no size distinctions were made of the Japanese dogs prior to the Tokugawa Period (1615-1867), and much, crossbreeding occurred early in developing regions.
Mr. Kajiwara believed that the Akita dog inhabited this area from prehistoric times as a ji-inu (regional dog) or as a matagi dog. However, Mr. Saito believed that the Akita dog is of “comparatively recent origin.”
AKITA DOG ORGANIZATIONS IN JAPAN
Hirokichi Saito organized the Nipponinu (Nihonken) Hozonkai, also known as Nippo (Nichiho), in 1928. . Although the Akitalnu Hozonkai (Akiho), was established a year earlier in 1927 in Odate by the then mayor, Shigeie Izumi, dog breeders in Odate, at that time, were more interested in fighting dogs rather than preserving and restoring the Akita dog.
Thus, Mr. Saito and Mr. Izumi developed a close friendship and worked together during the earlier years, to preserve the Akita dog. The Akitalnu Kyokal (Akikyo) was established in Tokyo in 1948 with Katsusuke Ishihara as leader. (26) Akikyo worked with Akiho during the earlier years, but went their separate ways later.
AKITA DOG STANDARDS
In 1933, Heishiro Takaku (Takahisa), one of the early members of Nippo in Tokyo and later of the Nipponinu Kyokai (Nikkyo) in Osaka and Katsuichi (Shoichi) each published articles on a proposed Japanese dog standard, which Included the Akita dog.
The first official Japanese dog standard which included the Akita dog in the large category’was published on September 15, 1934, after much study by a committee. This committee- at Nippo consisted of eight members which included Yoneklchi Hiralwa, Dr. Shiro Itagaki, Dr. TOklo Kaburagt, Haruo Kaji, Katsunari Kitamura, Shizuo Kizuka, Shinkichi Komatsu and Hiroklchi Saito.
Mr. Kaji an Mr. Kizuka resigned before the standard was completed.
Nippo under Mr. Saito decided to classify all Japanese dogs as one breed from small to large.
The medium dog was used as the model to describe the ideal Japanese dog in the standard, because more uniformity was seen in medium dogs at that time.
Large dogs (Akita dogs) revealed the most non-uniformity at that time, when compared to medium and small Japanese dogs, due to their being outcrossed to the Tosa fighting dog, and other Imported foreign dogs.
The Akitainu Hozonkai (Akiho), did not publish their first Akita (Odate) dog standard until 1938.
The Akitainu Kyokai (Akikyo), under the leadership of Katsusuke Ishihara, worked with Akiho tb’write the first Akikyo Akita dog standard in 1948.
Two other Akita dog organizations that came into existence briefly since the founding of the foregoing three dog organizations will also be mentioned.
The Akitainu Hozonkyokai (Akihokyo) was established on October 1, 1952. Sadakichi Tayama and Kiyoji Toyoshima (1978 L.A. Akiho show judge) were involved with this organization. Akihokyo merged with Akiho in 1961.
The Zen-Nippon Akitainu Rengokai (The All Japan Akita Dog Union, J.A.S.) was established in 1958 with its headquarters in Kakunodate in the district of Senboku in Akita. Chairman was Teisuke lizuka. Head judge was Shoichiro Miyamoto. The 4th headquarters show was held in 1962. No further information on this dog organization is available at this time.
According to JKC officials, the JKC and FCI Japanese dog standards were patterned after the Nippo, Akiho and Akikyo dog standards. The original Japanese Akita dog standards have been revised from time to time without changes in the basics for more clarity for the benefit of judges and breeders.
Since the Japanese Akita dog standards of Akiho, Akikyo and Nippo are very similar, many of the Japanese Akita dog in the past, such as Kongo-go, Kincho-go, Azumagumo-go (or Toun-go), Tamayu-go and others have won or been placed highly at more than one of the shows sponsored by these Japanese dog organizations.
The Akita Club of America (ACA) Standard based on the Nippo and Akiho Dog Standards was modified to the types of Akita dogs that came to this country after World War Two and approved by the Board of Directors of the American Kennel Club (AKC) on December 12, 1972 and became effective on April 4, 1973.41
The story of the faithful Hachi-ko, an Akita dog born in Akita in 1923, first appeared in the October 4, 1933 issue of the Asahi Shinbun (Asahi News) in Japan, and spread around the world. Hachi- ko accompanied his loving master. Professor Eizaburo Ueno of the Agricultural Department of the Tokyo University to the Shibuya Station daily. However, on May 21, 1925, the professor suffered a fatal stroke while lecturing at the university. Hachi-ko continued going to the Shibuya Station for ten years until his death, to await his master who was never to return. A statue of Hachi-ko is still seen at the Shibuya Station.
According to Katsusuke Ishihara, Hachi-ko is considered a good representative of the Akita dog of his day. Hachi-ko’s stuffed remains is on display at the National Science Museum at the Ueno Park in Tokyo.
PRESERVATION AND RESTORATION OF THE AKITA DOG
Very few Akita dogs survived World War Two due to food shortages and demands for their furs by the Japanese military. The American Army of Occupation and civilian personnel began to notice these large Akita dogs, and were impressed. Demands for the Akita dog grew, and this is said to have contributed much toward revival of the Akita dog.
Two main bloodlines of Akita dog emerged soon after World War Two. They were the Dewa and Ichinoseki lines. The Dewa line came from Dewa-go, a dog from the kennel of Yozaburo Ito named the Akidate-en. The Ichinoseki line goes back to Ichinosekitora-go that was owned by the wealthy Kuniro Ichinoseki. According to Mutsuo Okada, Ichinosekitora can be traced back to the so-called “Shin” (“New”) Akita fighting dog called “Gamata”, which was a product of crossbreeding Akita fighting dogs with Tosa fighting dogs.
The Tosa Fighting Dog resulted from outcrossing medium Tosa (Shikoku) dogs with western dogs such as the Bull Dogs, Mastiffs, St. Bernards, etc., in order to produce a powerful fighting dog. No emphasis was placed on the appearance of the dog.
The Dewa line reached its peak of popularity with the coming of Kongo-go from the Heirakudo Kennel of Eikichi Hiraizumi of Odate. For a time it was said, “Kongokei ni arazunba Akitainu ni arazu (“If not from the Kongo line, ’tis not an Akita dog.” Kongo- go was purchased at the age of eight months by Heihachi Hashimoto of Tokyo, a dog dealer and dog handler. He advertised Kongo-go as the “Dog of National Treasure Kongo-go”. Mr. Hashimoto is credited for bringing the attention of the Akita dog to the public soon after the Second World War.
Due to lack of uniformity In the Akita dog during the earlier years, breeders In Japan encountered much difficulties in trying to restore the Akita dog toward the Japanese dog type. The Dewa line was stereotyped as the “German Shepherd” type, while the Ichinoseki line was referred to as the “Mastiff” type. The goal is to breed, toward the ideal Japanese type dog described in the Japanese Akita dog standards. Those involved with medium and small Japanese dogs at that time faced fewer such problems, because purer types of dogs were more readily available at the beginning due to less outcrossing with foreign dogs.
The Dewa line, represented by the Kongo line, soon went into a decline, when most of the Japanese dog breeders began to feel that they were unable to produce Akita dogs that were representative of the Japanese dog breed. (52) Faults of the Kongo line were the loose skin around the neck, loose lips and corpulent appearance, these features were unlike those of Japanese dogs.
Dogs of the Ichinoseki line, represented by the Goromaru and Tamakuno lines, began to replace dogs of the Dewa line. However, according to Mutsuo Okada, some of the well known Akita dogs of recent times such as Tetsuyuki and Kumomaru are said to have the Kongo line in their background. Goromaru-go was not a winner in the show ring, but produced outstanding Akita dogs of the Japanese type when bred to certain bitches of the Taihei and Nikkei lines from Southern Akita. It was Katsusuke Ishihara of Akikyo and Hyoemon Kyono of Nippo and Akikyo, who saw the possibilities in Goromaru-go and used their influence to direct the breeding programs toward producing the Japanese type of Akita dog. Although Goromaru-go had his faults, his tight body, skin and lips were recognized as desirable features of the Japanese dog.
However, according to Ryonosuke Hiraizumi of Akiho, more recently (1991), some of the faults seen in the Akita dogs in Japan recently are the marked decrease in soboku (unaffected simplicity, natural, artlessness) and yashu-mi (rusticity), males appearing feminine, lack of body balance, having straight shoulders, narrow chest, “duck neck,” weak hips and hindlegs, loss of seishin-ryoku (spirit), fading and gaudy coat colors around the face, chest, neck and front legs, soft coat, smaller size and undesirable temperaments. Mutsuo Okada also points out the lower ear angulations and deep stops with shorter muzzles in many of the Akita dogs being shown today (1996).
AKITA DOGS IN THE UNITED STATES
The first Akita dog is believed to have arrived in the United States around 1937, when the famous Helen Keller received, as a gift, an Akita dog named Kamikaze-go from Ichiro Ogasawara of Odate, an official of the Akitainu Hozonkai (Akiho). Kamikaze-go soon died from distemper, and Kenzan-go, an older brother of Kamikaze-go, was sent to Miss Keller in 1939 to replace Kamikaze- go.
Many Akita dogs began to arrive in the United States after World War Two, especially during the 1950s. These dogs were mainly of the inbred Kongo-go type, which was popular in Japan at that time. Mutsuo Okada states that he now sees four types of Akita dogs outside of Japan today (2000). 1. The Kongo line that has been preserved. 2. Red and red pintos with the black mask that went to the United States soon after the Kongo line. 3. Black without the clear brindle coat that went to the United States much later. 4. Akita dogs of the type being shown in Japan today. Thus, many of the Akita dog breeders in the United States have taken different directions in the breeding of the Akita dog than breeders in Japan.
On February 28, 1974 the AKC registry was closed to further showing of imported Akita dogs. On April 13, 1992, the AKC registry recognized the Japan Kennel Club (JKC) registry and, therefore, began to allow imported Akita dogs from Japan to be shown at the AKC shows.
RECENT CHANGES IN LATIN AMERICA AND EUROPE
Both the Kongo and Goromaru types as well as the current type of Akita dogs from Japan went to Latin America and Europe. According to Hiroshi Kamisato of the JKC, when the FCI accepted the Akita dog standard from the country of origin (1992), many of the Europeans began to change over to the current type of Akita dogs from Japan. The American type of Akita dogs with black masks and pinto coats were no longer able to win in FCI shows. Many of the Akita dog fans in Latin American countries had dogs of this so- called “American type.” They were initially told that they were purchasing Akita dogs, and later told that these dogs were not the “true” Akita dogs. This led to some confusion there, but some of the fans in Spanish speaking countries wanted to show their “American type” Akita dogs in the variety category. This led to a request by some members in the FCI countries to divide the breed into two groups. Therefore, the FCI decided to divide the Akita dog into two breeds at a general meeting in Mexico in June 1999.”
Currently in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States, such dividing of the breed seems to be on hold until further study or for other reasons.