When we think of Japanese dog breeds, the Akita immediately springs to mind. But there are many other fabulous Japanese canines with fascinating histories, who make wonderful four-legged friends.
Origami, fast bullet trains, cherry blossom trees and sushi are only some of the amazing things Japan is famous for. But dog lovers, did you know about the many and varied gorgeous Japanese dog breeds? Read on to find out all about them!
Japanese dogs have impressive histories dating back thousands of years, and frequently make the top of the list for the most loyal and protective dog breeds on the planet. So, don’t think these pooches are just handsome to look at. If canine loyalty and love is your weak spot, dog’s native to Japan have had the starring role in many heart-warming stories over the years. All great reasons to get to know these amazing breeds better.
Which dog breeds come from Japan?
There are six truly native Japanese dog breeds, also known as the Nihon-Ken breeds: Shiba Inu, Shikoku, Kishu, Kai Ken, Hokkaido and Akita. These dogs have become national treasures in Japan and are protected by the government. They are all spitz-type breeds with short, pointed ears, curled tails and dense, thick coats.
But these aren’t the only lovely dogs to come from Japan. There are more fabulous Japanese dog breeds, even though they don’t have the prized ‘national dog’ status. Some of these breeds are rare even in their home country, so you may never even meet one in the flesh (or fur!). But if you ever get a chance, it’s a real privilege as a dog owner to welcome them into your family.
10 Amazing Japanese dog breeds
These superstar pooches are the most popular dog breed in Japan. Although we don’t know exactly which one of their super-traits made the Shiba Inu number one in the hearts of Japanese dog lovers, there are quite a few to choose from. Perhaps it’s their unmistakable foxy looks with pointy ears and thick orange fur. Or maybe it’s their tendency to be a bit of a drama queen and let out their signature ‘Shiba scream’ whenever they get scared or excited.
This ancient small hunting dog is well-known for their fearless protective nature. With headlines such as ‘Shiba Inu fights bear to save five-year old’ or ‘Shiba Inu saves family from fire’, there’s no doubt that there is a superhero spirit underneath their soft fur. Their legendary loyalty has even been portrayed in movies. The film ‘A Tale of Mari and Three Puppies’ is based on the true story of a Shiba Inu saving their owner trapped after an earthquake. This amazing Japanese dog breed almost went extinct once, during the Second World War, so they’re a real survivor.
Shikoku is the wolf-life cousin of the Shiba Inu, but while Shibas are the most popular in the Nihon-Ken group, Shikoku dogs are often considered the rarest. And that’s bad news for any dog fan looking for a special companion. In complete contrast with their ‘tough’ looks, these dogs are eager to please, have a sweet nature and a docile spirit. Just perfect for snuggles!
Shikoku dogs also come with endless stores of energy as they’re constantly on the lookout for something to chase or play with. And that’s no wonder given their original job as trusted hunters of deer and wild boar. This Japanese dog truly loves the outdoor and needs a lot of exercise. But they’ve quickly learned to adapt to modern comforts, sitting on the sofa enjoying every snuggle coming their way.
Kishu dogs have been around for thousands of years, which you might find surprising if you’ve never seen them before. That’s because this gorgeous white pooch is hard to find outside their home country, and even in Japan they’re becoming a rare sight. But there is a lot of love for this breed in Japan. In May 1934, it was designated as a national natural monument which gave them ‘national treasure’ status and for good reason. Kishu dogs come with all the characteristics we want in a best friend: they’re intelligent, faithful and so easy to love.
Their thick, white fur looks like it was specially designed for gentle strokes and their docile personality makes owners forget that this is a dog bred for its amazing hunting skills. Households with small pets are usually advised to watch out in case those instincts come out at play time! But when it comes to their human family, they will quickly become the centre of Kishu’s entire world.
Kai Ken are perhaps the purest of all the Japanese dog breeds, isolated geographically in the Kai province by mountains. Fearless hunters, they’ve been known to swim rivers and even climb trees in pursuit of their prey. These skills form part of their amazing hunting toolkit which has allowed these brave dogs to take on prey many times larger than them, including wild boars and bears. Their unique camouflage-like fur colours and brave spirit have earned them the nickname ‘Kai tiger’.
This doesn’t mean they won’t make a great companion at home, as they are as intelligent and adaptable as they are loyal. But experienced owners have had to learn to watch out for their escape-artist antics.
The fearless Hokkaido is sometimes considered the oldest Japanese dog breed in the Nihon-Ken group and, like many of their cousins, this is a dog that is not often seen outside their home country. Hokkaido is a loyal, intelligent companion that comes with the bonus of a thick coat making them perfect to snuggle up with.
But they won’t stay in your arms for too long. This is a breed that likes to keep busy and constantly test their problem-solving skills whenever there’s an opportunity. Their owners quickly learn that the best way to keep their furniture safe is with a good collection of dog games and brain teasers. This special dog breed from Japan loves affection from their human family, plenty of exercise and endless play time with their favourite people.
Often celebrated as the most loyal canine an owner can wish for, the Akita is the dog that became a symbol of health, happiness and good luck in Japan. Akita-shaped statues are commonly gifted to new-born babies as a good-luck token, and to friends along with get-well wishes.
The most famous dog in Japan is Hachiko, an Akita who waited for the owner to come back from work at the train station. Even after the owner passed away, Hachiko never gave up and patiently waited for him every day for the next 10 years, at precisely the right time when the train was due to arrive. The loyal canine is immortalised with a statue right outside the Shibuya Station.
This faithful family member comes with a cuddly, fluffy coat and plenty of personality. Their human family is everything to them, but strangers and other pets tend to get the feisty side of Akita’s personality. Early puppy socialisation is important to help temper their distrust of people other than their owners.
The Japanese Spitz is a white, fluffy friend for life. Bred for companionship, they’re full of cuddles and affection, making them wonderful companions for older people and children. That said, they’ll also put up a good show as a loyal guard dog, barking to defend their home and family. Their exercise needs are not as great as the historic hunting breeds, and their smaller size makes them more suitable for smaller homes.
If you’re curious about the origins of this gorgeous breed, it is unfortunately a little mysterious. It is believed that this Japanese dog breed is a descendant of the German Spitz and have similarities with another gorgeous snow-white breed, the Samoyed.
If you’re looking for a small breed that can fit on your lap, the Japanese Terrier will be happy to take the spot. Japanese Terriers love to be part of the family and brighten the day with their playful, energetic personality. Unfortunately, as with many other dogs from Japan, they are also quite rare.
They originated in the 17th century, as smooth fox terriers were crossed with small native Japanese dogs. They became popular lap dogs, but it wasn’t until 1930 that they were officially recognised by the Japan Kennel Club.
If you’ve never seen a Japanese Terrier before, it’s very easy to recognise their signature colours. Their body remains completely white, while the head and part of their neck are black. Imagine a black dog wearing a white coat and you’ve got the exact look of this quirky dog breed.
The small Japanese Chin is a toy breed which looks like a dog, acts like a cat and has the spirit of a lion. They like to ‘talk’ to their owners from up high, as they’re often found perched on a shelf or inspecting the window sill. Given that they’ve been a favourite at the royal court of Japan, they also know a thing or two about carrying themselves with poise and elegance. And if you’re not completely charmed by those magical struts around the house yet, know that this Japanese dog breed is friendly, likes to keep themselves clean and will make a great friend for children.
Here’s an interesting fact for you; although these dogs have the word ‘Japanese’ in their name and have spent hundreds of years being petted by Japan’s nobles and royalty, their origin is not certain and it is very possible that Japan is not their true homeland. But wherever they come from, the beautiful Chin has been adopted by the Japanese people as their own.
If you loved learning about these stunning Japanese breeds, make sure you check out our other articles exploring dog breeds from different parts of the world to discover 9 amazing German dog breeds or 11 English dogs you’ll want to take home.