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A Wagging Tale: Meet Japan’s Most Revered Dogs Who Made History

By 5 min read

From patient pups to internet inu (dog), Japan is home to a number of outstanding doggos who have marked their territory in the nation’s history with tales of courage, devotion and cuteness.

Dogs have always played an important role in Japan. From stories of hero dogs to internet sensations and famous bronze statues in the heart of Tokyo symbolizing loyalty, these canine companions have a special place in Japanese culture.

So let’s emBARK on a journey and recount the stories of some of Japan’s most famous wan-chan (doggies).

1. Hachiko: The Epitome of Loyalty

Photo of the faithful dog Hachiko.

Arguably Japan’s most famous dog, Hachiko the Akita Inu captured hearts in Japan and around the world with his unwavering loyalty. Born in Odate, Akita Prefecture, and adopted by Professor Ueno Hidaseburo, Hachiko was brought to Shibuya to live with his new master in 1924.

The pair formed a strong bond, with Hachiko making it his daily mission to meet the professor after work at Shibuya station. However, tragedy struck in 1925 when Ueno suddenly passed away at work, leaving Hachiko alone. Yet for nearly a decade after, Hachiko returned to the station and waited.

Initially, Hachiko wasn’t entirely welcome around Shibuya until an article published in 1932 shared the dog’s story of loyalty. Hachiko became a national hero and eventually was the honorary guest at his own bronze statue unveiling in Shibuya on April 8th, 1934.

On March 8, 1935, the loyal dog’s long wait ended. Hachiko passed away peacefully and was found in a street nearby Shibuya station. Chuken Hachiko’s (The Loyal Dog Hachiko) ashes were buried next to the grave of Professor Ueno at Aoyama Cemetery in Minato City.

Hachiko Memorial Statue, Tokyo - Map
Grave of Hachiko, Tokyo - Map
Hachiko Statue, Akita - Map

2. Kabosu: The Meme Dog

The meme begins.

Kabosu the Shiba Inu shot to internet stardom in 2013 after her photo was turned into a meme.

Adopted from a shelter in 2008 by Atsuko Sato, Kabosu was an ex-puppy mill dog. Sato welcomed her into her home and, in 2010, snapped that photo and shared it on her popular Japanese blog. In 2013, the image was picked up online and captioned with the words like “wow” and “so scare,” becoming the famous “doge” meme.

Later, the cryptocurrency “Dogecoin” was launched using Kabosu’s photo as its logo. In the midst of internet fame, Sato was understandably surprised, but saw the value of Kabosu’s stardom, using it to raise awareness of puppy mills and animal adoption.

In June 2021, Sato minted NFTs from the original photos and auctioned them off for record-breaking amounts, with portions going to charity. Unfortunately, it was revealed that Kabosu was diagnosed with leukemia and an acute liver condition. As of 2023, Kabosu is on assisted feeding but is still fighting the good fight.

You can follow Kabosu’s journey via Sato’s Instagram or her blog.

3. Taro & Jiro: The Survivors

Photo:
Statues of Taro and Jiro in Nagoya.

Sakhalin huskies (also known as Karafuto ken), Taro and Jiro, rose to fame in 1959 after they were abandoned in Antarctica by a Japanese expedition team for almost a year yet survived.

In 1957, during Japan’s first scientific expedition to Antarctica, a team of explorers brought 40 dogs to aid their mission—Taro and Jiro among them. After a year, the team was due to be rotated with a new crew, but trouble arose when the replacement crew’s ship became stuck in the ice. The decision was made to abort the mission entirely and evacuate, leaving 15 of the dogs behind with a few days worth of food.

While seven of the dogs perished still chained at the campsite, Taro, Jiro and six other dogs managed to escape. The pair endured below-freezing temperatures and survived possibly on a diet of penguins and seals. Finally, in 1959, a new Japanese research team returned to Antarctica, astonished to discover Taro and Jiro still alive after 11 months.

News of the surviving dogs reached Japan and they became symbols of perseverance and courage. The pair remained in Antarctica to continue their work for one final season. Jiro passed away in 1960, never to see Japan again. Taro was relocated in 1961 to Sapporo to see out his days living at Hokkaido University, passing away in 1970.

Statue of Taro and Jiro, Nagoya - Map
Cenotaph for Sakhalin Huskies, Hokkaido - Map

4. Kai-kun: The Dad Dog

Photo:
One of Japan’s most recognizable mascots.

Originally from a small coastal town in Hokkaido, Kai-kun, the snow-white Hokkaido dog, enjoyed a humble life until his vibrant personality and shiny coat led him to the limelight. In 2004, he got his first role in the drama series Tenka on NHK. His acting chops eventually landed him Otosan (father) of the Shirota family in SoftBank’s long-running ad series in 2007.

For seven years, Kai-kun was a cultural icon on Japanese television. However, in 2014, during a press conference appearance, Kai-kun let nature get the better of him, urinating several times and attempting to mount innocent bystanders. The scandalous behavior prompted his retirement as Softbank’s official spokesdog.

In 2018, Kai-kun passed away due to complications from old age. While SoftBank’s ad series featuring Otosan and the Shirota family continues with different dogs, statues of the white canine can be found outside various Softbank stores around Japan.

5. Shiba-chan: The Furry Salesdog

From 2011 to 2015, Shiba-chan the Shiba dog would slide open the shop window of Suzuki Tobacco and greet customers. Videos of Shiba-chan would go viral well after the dog’s retirement as a tobacco shop assistant in Tokyo’s Koganei city.

Word quickly spread about the adorable shopkeeper, resulting in many domestic and international visitors making the trip to Tokyo’s west side just to meet him. The shop owner even created a message book for visitors to sign, collecting heartfelt messages from all over the world.

While Shiba-chan was limited in his customer service skills, he enjoyed showing off his favorite snack, cucumbers, and receiving many pats, praise and treats for being such a good boy. These days, there isn’t much news regarding Shiba-chan besides a quick update in early 2022 on the owner’s Instagram account that despite becoming a little white in the fur, he’s still doing well.

What is your favorite dog story in Japan? Let us know in the comments!

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