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Popular Worldwide! 6 Japanese Dogs Designated as Natural Treasures

Dogs are said to be among the earliest animals domesticated by humans. While it is not very clear when dogs first appeared but the Japanese old history records that humans domesticated them as far back as in the New Stone Age (the Jomon Period in Japan). Dogs have always accompanied humans as our best partners; hunters, guards, service dogs or family members. Such close partnership often caused dogs to be affected by historical changes in human society. They were once favored and protected by a Shogun (feudal general) in the Edo Period (17th – 19th century) while the genuine Japanese breeds were almost pushed to the verge of extinction after Japan opened itself to the Western influences in the late 19th century, which led to frequent cross-mating with Western dogs.

After such waves of the times, today there are 6 breeds of Japanese dogs designated as natural treasures. They are categorized by size into three size groups; small, middle and large. The Japanese government designated these dogs as national natural treasures between 1931 and 1937.


1. Shiba Inu (柴犬)

Basic Info: About 40cm tall / About 10kg in Weight / Fearless / Good Watchdog

Their color can be red, sesame, black-sesame, red-sesame, dark brown or others. Their pointy ears and curled tails are adorable. They are categorized into a small size group of Japanese dogs. They have long been popular as an easy breed to keep because they are small and do not bark unnecessarily. For their personality being very loyal to the owner and the family, fearless and alert, the Shibas were often kept as a dog to assist humans in hunting of rabbits, wild birds and other small animals or as a guard dog.


2. Kishu (紀州犬)

Basic Info: 46-55cm Tall / About 15-25kg in Weight / Docile / Good Watchdog


The Kishu are middle-sized Japanese dogs which have been kept since old times in the mountainous areas of the Kii Peninsula including the present-day prefectures of Wakayama, Mie and Nara. Most of the Kishu are colored white. They have been valued as good companions for hunting of boars and rabbits. They are smart and loyal to the owner while alert and do not easily become attached to strangers, which are considered to be perfect traits of an ideal watchdog.


3. Shikoku (四国犬)

Basic Info: 46-55cm Tall / About 15-23kg in Weight / Loyal / Good Watchdog


The Shikoku are middle-sized Japanese dogs which have inhabited the area of present-day Kochi Prefecture since ancient times and worked with humans in hunting of bears and other animals. As a natural treasure, they are registered under the name of “Tosa Inu,” but generally referred to as “Shikoku” in order to avoid confusion with “Tosa Token (fighting dog).” They are loyal to the owner but not easily tamed by strangers. Their alertness makes them perfect guard dogs. The color can be red, sesame or black sesame.


4. Hokkaido (北海道犬)

Basic Info: About 50cm Tall / About 20.5-29.5kg in Weight / Fearless / Docile


The Hokkaido is also referred to as Ainu Dog. The origin of the breed is believed to go as far back as ancient times. It is said that the people of Ainu (indigenous group in northern Japan) kept them as hunting dogs, which are believed to have originated from the dogs which had moved from the Tohoku Area to Hokkaido. The color variation includes white, sesame, brindle, red, black and dark brown. Most of them characteristically have black spots on their tongues. They are so fearless and brave in temperament that they do not hesitate to attack even bears while very loyal and docile to the owner and easy to keep.


5. Kai Ken (甲斐犬)

Basic Info: 48-53cm Tall / About 16-18kg in Weight / Stubborn


The origin of this breed can be traced back to 1700s. As early as in the middle age, they were already used as hunting dogs in the mountainous areas of the present Yamanashi Prefecture. They are characterized by narrow heads and muzzles. The coat is either black-brindle, red-brindle or brindle patterned. Many of them have black spots on their tongues like the Hokkaido.

They are alert against people or any dogs outside their own group, and can be disobedient and stubborn. But if you train them well and nurture a trusting relationship, they can be your wonderful companion.


6. Akita (秋田犬)

Basic Info: 61-67cm Tall / About 27-59kg in Weight / Powerful / Good Watchdog


The Akita is the largest kind of Japanese dog, powerful and highly agile as they used to be bred as fighting dogs. They became hunting dogs after dog fighting was banned. They are characterized by large bodies, large and black nose and straight standing ears. Their coats can be either red, brindle or white.

They tend to be rather reserved and hard to tame especially for strangers but can be excellent watchdogs once trained well.

*“Koshi No Inu,” which is not listed above, was once designated as Japan’s natural treasure but their genuine breed is said to have gone extinct.


Japanese Dogs Famous Both Within and Outside Japan

We have already seen some pet booms before, but as an increasing number of people are posting the photos of their adorable canines and felines on Twitter, Facebook and other social media, Japan seems to be again in another pet boom. Here we introduce you to the Japanese dogs which have become widely known not only in Japan but also throughout the world.

1. Faithful Hachiko in Shibuya

Hachiko had already been a famous dog in Japan but since it was featured in a movie (“Hachi: A Dog’s Tale,” starring Richard Gere), this Akita dog, originally named “Hachi,” has become known worldwide as “faithful Hachiko.” Hachi first became known as he kept waiting patiently in front of Shibuya Station for his master, who was never to return. This episode has since been handed down over generations until today as a heartwarming story. The statue of Hachi set up at the west gate of Shibuya Station is still widely known as the symbol of Shibuya.

2. Maru

Photo by the Courtesy of bloomax Inc.

What would probably come up to the mind of many people first when they talk about famous Japanese dogs today must be the Shiba Inu “Maru,” whose smile is impressively adorable.

Maru is a Shiba Inu who has over 2.4 million followers on Instagram, which is the world’s largest number of followers to a dog account. He enjoys appearance in a photobook, TV programs and elsewhere, and has become greatly popular even outside Japan. Since the Great North East Japan Earthquake, Mr. Ono, the owner of Maru, has been posting the photos and movies of his cheerful dog every day. As many of the followers are from outside Japan, Maru is now a de facto sightseeing ambassador dog of Japan. Last year, Maru was actually appointed sightseeing ambassador of Mie Prefecture for three year term from 2015 until 2018.

In March this year, “Gallery Marusan,” the official shop of Maru, has opened in Tokyo. The gallery hosts photo exhibitions and sells original goods of Maru.

Information: Map


In Japan, we have ceramic cats called “Manekineko,” which is a lucky charm for business success. But dogs can also bring luck and joy to us in many ways. Which breed of dog do you think is going to be your lucky dog?

Related: Mame Shiba Inu: The Cuteness of the Extra Small Japanese Dog

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About the author

I'm interested in general in all things related to culture and fine arts with a focus on movies, art, and design. I hope to introduce to many people all the different sides to Japan in regards to Japanese culture.

View all articles by KAWATA