Today, we’re going to dive into the fascinating history of the Akita Inu, one of Japan’s most beloved and iconic dog breeds. With their striking appearance and unique personality, Akitas have captured the hearts of people around the world. My Akita Logan has certainly captured mine.
But how much do you really know about these incredible dogs? Let’s take a journey together to explore their origins, their role in Japanese culture, and what makes them such special companions.
Origins of the Akita Inu
Geographic location: Odate City, Japan
The story of the Akita Inu begins in the snowy, mountainous region of northern Japan, specifically in the Odate city area of Akita Prefecture. This rugged terrain helped shape the breed’s unique features and abilities, preparing them for their role as revered working dogs.
Early beginnings of the Akita Inu
Believe it or not, the history of the Akita Inu can be traced back to prehistoric times. Ancient artefacts and pottery discovered in Japan depict dogs with a striking resemblance to the Akita we know and love today. The native Ainu people, who lived in the area now known as Akita Prefecture, are thought to have had a close relationship with these early Akitas, relying on them for hunting and protection.
Akita Inu as a Matagi dog
The Akita Inu’s ancestors were known as “Matagi” dogs, revered for their exceptional hunting skills. These brave and agile canines were used to track and hunt large game, such as deer, boar, and even bears, in the harsh, snowy mountains of northern Japan. Their strength, courage, and keen senses made them invaluable partners to the local hunters.
Evolution of the Akita’s Role in Japanese Society
Over time, the Akita Inu’s role in Japanese society evolved. They became symbols of nobility, with only the upper class and royalty allowed to own them. Akitas were even given as precious gifts among the Japanese aristocracy. Later, during the 17th and 18th centuries, the breed’s versatility as a working dog truly shone through as they were used for various tasks, from guarding homes to pulling carts.
Sadly, the modern era brought challenges for the Akita Inu. During World War II, many Akitas were taken for their fur to make military clothing, and their numbers dwindled. Fortunately, dedicated breed enthusiasts worked tirelessly to preserve the breed, and their efforts paid off—today, the Akita Inu is once again thriving.
Outcrossing and the development of distinct lines
During the breed’s history, the Akita Inu underwent outcrossing, resulting in the development of two distinct lines: the Ichinoseki and the Dewa lines. The Ichinoseki line was bred for purity and adherence to traditional Akita Inu traits. These dogs were prominent in the southern regions of Akita Prefecture and were highly regarded for their beauty and classic features. The modern-day Japanese Akita primarily descends from the Ichinoseki line, maintaining its traditional appearance and characteristics.
In contrast, the Dewa line emerged as a result of outcrossing with other breeds, such as the Tosa Inu and the German Shepherd. These dogs were bred for size, strength, and even as fighting dogs during the early 20th century. The American Akita, known for its larger size and more varied coat colours, has its roots in the Dewa line. While the Dewa line gained some popularity, efforts to preserve the traditional Akita Inu type led to a focus on the Ichinoseki line in post-World War II breeding programs in Japan. This decision helped ensure that the classic Akita Inu appearance and characteristics we know and love today would endure for future generations.
The Inchinoseki line and the Dewa line are the original Japanese Akita vs American Akita comparison
The Influence of Helen Keller
Her introduction to the Akita Inu breed
Helen Keller, the renowned American author, political activist, and lecturer, played a significant role in popularising the Akita Inu outside Japan. During her visit to Japan in 1937, she expressed her interest in the breed after learning about the heartwarming story of Hachiko. Touched by her enthusiasm, the Japanese government gifted her with an Akita Inu named Kamikaze-go.
The story of Kamikaze-go and Kenzan-go
Kamikaze-go, Keller’s first Akita Inu, became her beloved companion, and she described him as “an angel in fur.” Tragically, Kamikaze-go passed away at a young age due to illness. To ease Keller’s sorrow, the Japanese government sent her another Akita Inu, Kenzan-go, who remained a loyal companion to her for many years. Through her experiences with these two dogs, Keller developed a deep love and admiration for the breed.
Impact on the breed’s popularity
Helen Keller’s affection for the Akita Inu sparked curiosity and interest in the breed among people in the United States and other countries. As a result, more and more Akitas were imported, and the breed’s popularity began to grow outside of Japan. Today, the Akita Inu has a dedicated following of admirers and enthusiasts worldwide.
The Akita Inu in popular culture
The story of Hachiko
One of the most famous Akita Inu dogs is Hachiko, a loyal and devoted pet who captured the hearts of people around the world. Hachiko would accompany his owner, Professor Hidesaburo Ueno, to the Shibuya train station in Tokyo every day and wait for his return. Sadly, the professor passed away suddenly in 1925, but Hachiko continued to wait at the station for his owner’s return every day for over nine years until his own death. The story of Hachiko’s unwavering loyalty has become a symbol of the deep bond between humans and dogs.
Hachiko statue and annual ceremony
In honour of Hachiko’s remarkable devotion, a bronze statue was erected at Shibuya station in 1934, and it remains a popular meeting spot for locals and tourists alike. Additionally, an annual ceremony is held at the station on April 8th to remember Hachiko and celebrate the love and loyalty of our canine companions.
Akita Inu in movies and TV shows
The Akita Inu’s unique appearance and captivating history have also made them popular in movies and TV shows. The 2009 film “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale,” starring Richard Gere, is based on the story of Hachiko and introduces the breed to a new generation of fans. Other movies and shows featuring the Akita Inu continue to raise awareness and appreciation for this remarkable breed.
The modern-day Akita Inu
Temperament and personality
The Akita Inu is known for its dignified, calm, and loyal temperament. These dogs are often described as “natural-born protectors,” forming strong bonds with their families and displaying unwavering loyalty. While they can be reserved or even aloof with strangers, their loving and playful nature shines through when they’re with their favourite humans. It’s worth noting that early socialisation is crucial for Akitas, as it helps them develop into well-rounded and confident adults.
Health and grooming
The Akita Inu is generally a healthy breed, but like any dog, they can be prone to certain health issues. Some concerns for Akitas include hip dysplasia, hypothyroidism, and progressive retinal atrophy. Regular check-ups with your vet can help keep your Akita happy and healthy.
When it comes to grooming, Akita Inu’s plush double coat requires a bit of maintenance. Regular brushing is a must to keep shedding under control and prevent matting. They do “blow” their undercoat twice a year, so expect a bit more fur flying around during those times!
Training and socialisation
Training and socialisation are key components of raising a well-mannered Akita Inu. Due to their strong-willed nature, they respond best to consistent, positive reinforcement training methods. Patience and persistence are essential, as is early socialisation with other dogs and people. A well-trained and socialised Akita can be a loving and devoted companion who brings endless joy to your life.
The enduring legacy of the Akita Inu is a testament to their unique and captivating presence. With a history that spans from the snowy mountains of Japan to the hearts of dog lovers worldwide, the Akita Inu continues to captivate and inspire us. As we’ve learned, their rich heritage, unwavering loyalty, and distinct personality make them truly special companions.
By understanding and appreciating the history of the Akita Inu, we can forge an even deeper bond with these magnificent dogs. Whether you’re a proud Akita owner or simply an admirer of the breed, we hope this journey into the past has given you a newfound appreciation for these incredible canines and their storied history.
Why not take a look at Japanese Akita Inu vs. American Akita: What Should You Know?
Or our guide on grooming The Ultimate Grooming Guide for Akitas: Tips, Tools, and Techniques