Shiba inu specialized breeder ◈ Awa-shi Tokushima Japan

Everlasting Japanese dogs

Nihon Ken Hozonkai

The ruling system of Japan changed in 1868, lifting the policy of seclusion which had lasted for more than 200 years, and foreign cultures were rapidly introduced into Japan. In this situation, foreign dogs came into Japan, too. Since a concept of conserving species was lacking in Japanese people, and Japanese dogs were given free run of their house, Japanese dogs had been quickly crossed with foreign dogs.

Volunteers who were worried about this situation established Nihon Ken Hozonkai in 1928 and started some efforts to conserve Japanese dogs.

Journey to search for Japanese dogs(Nihon Ken Hozonkai Journal issued in 1937)
Journey to search for Japanese dogs
(Nihon Ken Hozonkai Journal issued in 1937)

There were already no pure Japanese dogs in town anymore at that time, so that a few survived Japanese dogs had been searched in mountain areas. The journey to find those dogs based on oral transmissions and rumors was extremely difficult since there were no communication measures, and information and transportation systems were far less established than today. The situations in those days were clearly recorded in Nihon Ken Hozonkai Journal. The search activities were based on the passion and devotion of our predecessors as well as not a few amounts of investments.

With these efforts, 2,495 dogs had been registered for seven years from October in 1932 to September in 1939. As for the breakdown, large-size dogs were 510, medium-size dogs were 1,600 and small-size dogs were 385. Since the number of registered dogs was 29,284 in 2018, we can know that there were only a small number of such dogs at that time. The numbers also show how difficult the situation of Nihon Ken Hozonkai at first was. Furthermore, due to the intensified Pacific War, activities of Nihon Ken Hozonkai had to stop from 1944 to 1948. Because it was during the war, breeding dogs was strictly limited by the orders of the government, and many dogs lost their lives. Japanese dogs have been conserved through many difficulties like these.

Thanks to the passion, affection, lofty principles and actions of our predecessors for "Japanese dogs", we can now breed highly pure Japanese dogs without having much difficulties.

Survived dogs in local places

Six kinds of nationally designated natural treasure dogs
Six kinds of nationally designated natural treasure dogs:
National Science Museum
1. Hokkaido, 2. Akita, 3. Kai, 4. Kishu, 5. Shikoku, 6. Shiba

Currently, six kinds of dogs are approved as Japanese dogs, all of which are also designated as natural treasure, as shown in the figure.

There were a few other kinds of dogs survived as shown below. They are categorized into three groups according to the withers height; large-size dogs, medium-size dogs and small-size dogs. The criteria for the categorization are determined by Nihon Ken Hozonkai.

◉Large-size dogs:
67cm (male) and 61cm (female)
Tolerance is ±3cm

◉Medium-size dogs:
52cm (male) and 49cm (female)
Tolerance is ±3cm
(As temporary measures for Hokkaido dog and Kai dog, those whose withers height is lower by 2cm are accepted)

◉Small-size dogs:
39.5cm (male) and 36.5cm (female)
Tolerance is ±1.5cm

1) Hokkaido Inu (medium size)


Hokkaido Inu is a medium-size dog having been bred by Ainu people as an animal hunting dog especially for hunting bears. Many of them are a little bit smaller than medium-size dogs in the mainland of Japan. Iwamizawa, Hidaka, Chitose and Hakodate are famous breeding sites for Hokkaidos, and crossbreeding between those places is being conducted now for integration of the dogs. Hokkaidos consist of all of the dogs with red, goma-color, black, white and striped hairs. In addition, not a few of them have tongue marks, which is another characteristic of Hokkaido.

2) Tohoku Matagi dog (medium size)

Hunter and Iwate Matagi Inu
Hunter and Iwate Matagi dog
(Saku-go in the center and Fuji-go on the right)

Tohoku Matagi dogs have been bred as a watch dog or hunter dog by so-called "matagi (winter hunters)" in Iwate Prefecture, Akita Prefecture and part of Aomori Prefecture. They served as an animal hunting dog in Ou Mountains and Kitakami Mountains. Many of them were a little bigger than average medium-size dogs.

Although quite a few dogs were registered as Tohoku Matagi dog in the beginning of the Showa Period, many of them were sent to city areas, and because of the WWII, the number was sharply decreased at the end of the war.

We can't see Matagi dogs anymore now.

3) Akita Inu (big size)

Hachi-ko(stuffed dog)
Hachi-ko (stuffed dog)
in National Science Museum

Akita Inu is a large-size dog developed by crossing Akita Matagi dogs in Odate region of Akita Prefecture, which were the base of the crossing, with large-size foreign dogs, which were introduced to Japan in the Meiji Period and following years. Therefore, Akita has less characteristics of indigenous Japanese dogs such as small-and medium-size Japanese dogs. Although there once were some dogs which were completely different from Japanese dogs in appearance, dogs were improved to restore Japanese dogs. Three years after the establishment of Nihon Ken Hozonkai, Japanese dogs were designated as national natural treasure in 1931.

Recently, a heart-warming story of loyal dog Hachiko became a movie, drawing people’s attention, and a dog show consisting of only Akitas has been held overseas, which has increased the number of Akita fans.

4) Koyasu Inu (medium size)

Koyasu Inu is a medium-size dog having been bred mainly in Koyasu of Takahata-machi, Higashiokitama-gun, Yamagata Prefecture, named after the place. They were used as a watching dog or Matagi dog or an animal hunting dog in Mt. Zao massif, Agatsuma mountain range and Iide mountain range.

Inuno-miya shrine
Inuno-miya shrine
in Koyasu of Takahata-machi

"Chin was the last dog which kept pure blood of Koyasu dog-----" is the beginning of a novel, Koyasu Inu Story, written by Yukio Togawa, a novelist famous for writing about animals. Thanks to this novel, Koyasu Inu became well-known. The story based on People's missing feelings for dying species strongly impresses those who affect Japanese dogs.

Nihon Ken Hozonkai dispatched a troupe to Higashiokitama and Minamiokitama counties to search for Japanese dogs in around 1934. However, it was too late to find dogs of highly pure blood.

There is a shrine enshrining dogs, which is rare in Japan, in Koyasu. Long time ago, there was a big and rowdy racoon dog which took a form of a government officer to torment village people. Dogs with three or four color-mixed hairs came from Kai region and beat the racoon dog but got injured in the fight and finally died. The villagers enshrined the dogs that saved the village. This simple story tells us how closely dogs and humans have been related to each other to this day.

Every year, many people come to the place in July from all over Japan for a memorial service for their loving dogs in the memorial festival held there.

5) Koshino Inu (medium size)

Koshino Inu
Koshino Inu
in Sekido, Yatsuo-machi, Toyama Prefecture

Koshino Inu is a medium-size dog having been bred in Toyama, Ishikawa and Fukui prefectures from the olden times. The dogs are called Tateyama Inu, Hakusan Inu or Oono Inu, respectively, according to the places where they are born. But, when they were designated as national natural treasure in 1934, all of them were renamed Koshino Inu.

Some documents about Koshino Inu have been kept and published. So, judging from the pictures in the documents, their looks and hair coat seem to be less beautiful than Kishu Inu and Shikoku Inu at that time. It is assumed that the purity of their blood already had greatly decreased in around 1935. The WWII deprived many dogs of their lives, and finally they went into extinction without being restored after the war.

6) Kai Ken (medium dog)

Go-go in Ashiyasu-mura

Kai Ken has been bred as a hunting dog in mountain areas in the vicinity of Kofu City, Yamanashi Prefecture. The well-known original places of Kai are Ashiyasu-mura, Hirabayashi-mura, Nishiyama-mura and Narada-mura.

Kai has outstanding characteristics compared with other Japanese dogs.

The withers height varies, ranging from small size to medium size. This is due to the policy of Kai Ken Aigokai (Kai Ken preservation society), "to conserve traditional dogs as they are".

Further characteristics of Kai are that almost all of their coat hairs are striped and that there are overwhelmingly more dogs with a curled tail than those with a straight one. Their looks are tough and wild. These characteristics attract many strong fans of Kai. In addition, another characteristic is that there are tongue marks in their oral cavity.

7) Kishu Inu (medium size)

Ichishinpu-go from Ise-so

Kishu Inu is a medium-size dog with high spirit and motor abilities, chasing wild boars and deer in thick wilderness ranging over in Mie, Wakayama and Nara prefectures.

In the whole Kii Peninsula area, they have been bred, so that there are several families such as Hidaka Inu and Kumano Inu named after their habitats.

When you hear the name, Kishu, you may imagine a white dog now. However, there were Kishus with colored hairs such as goma-color ones. According to a record of Nihon ken Hozonkai at the beginning of its history, white dogs accounted for only about 20% and the rest of 80% consisted of dogs with colored hairs such as goma-color, red and light red hairs.

After WWII, among the survivors were Isashiro-go, Miyama-go and Ken-go, which were excellent white dogs and had been frequently used for breeding. This is the reason why there are many white Kishus now. Currently, colored dogs are very rare in competitions.

8) Shikoku Inu (medium size)


Shikoku Inu is a medium-size dog living as an animal hunting dog in mountain villages in Tsurugi and Ishizuchi mountain ranges, which divide Shikoku into the north and south regions.

Since the places were remote and mountainous, luckily, they were not influenced by other dogs but able to keep the unique characteristics of Japanese dogs till this day.

Although there were Hongawa, Hata, Awa and Iyo dog families showing the characteristics of each area, Hongawa and Hata dog families are the main streams.

Their body length is longer, and the body condition in many of them is dry. Their coat hairs are mainly goma-color but there are some Shikokus with red or black hairs, though only a few.

9) Shiba Inu (small size)

Kumo-go in Awa
Kumo-go in Awa

Shiba Inu is a small-size dog having lived in a quite large area such as the center part of the mainland, Sanin and Shikoku regions. Shibas were once called Shinshu-shiba, Echigo-shiba, Mino-shiba or Sanin-shiba based on the name of the areas that they habituated, however, all of them are now called "Shiba Inu" as the general name of these kinds of dogs. Although there were other small-size dogs which kept local characteristics, the number was small, and the purity was already low.

Although large-size dogs and medium-size dogs are basically named after the places they dwelled, small-size dogs do not have such names as they have been produced by crossbreeding with dogs of other places.

Shibas are obedient, brave and good as a watchdog as well as suitable for the wilderness of Japan, so that they have been used for hunting not only small-size animals but also large-size ones such as bears.

The bronze statue in the picture is Tama having served as a hunting dog in the north region of Niigata Prefecture. Tama, her owner and his associate met an avalanche in the spring of 1934 during hunting. Tama dug the snow and saved the two people although her front limbs badly bled, making the snow red. People made the statue of Tama, praising her as a loyal dog. Tama has been loved by many people.

Statue of Tama (female Shiba)
Statue of Tama (female Shiba)

This episode as well as a story of "loyal dog Hachiko", tells us a strong bond between dogs and humans.

When Nihon Ken Hozonkai was established, only 385 small-size dogs had been registered in seven years. They were brought to the edge of extinction at that time.

In 1934, the criteria of Japanese dogs were set for conservation of Japanese dogs, and the quality and number of Japanese dogs have gradually improved since then. However, due to the intensified war, many dogs were lost, and Japanese dogs were greatly affected at the end of the war.

Luckily, Naka-go was born right after the end of the war. Naka-go was produced by crossbreeding of Sanin, Shikoku and Yamanashi family dogs as shown in the figure.

Naka-go Family tree

Naka-go had a strong heritability and had been crossed with many other dogs including Shinshu-shiba in all over Nagano Prefecture to produce many excellent dogs. All Shibas today inherit the blood of Naka-go.



Conservation activities for Sanin-shiba have been carried out in Shimane and Tottori prefectures till this day.

The origin of the word, "matagi" is said to be Ainu language. Matagi means hunters in Tohoku area such as Yamagata, Akita and Iwate prefectures. They are basically engaged in agriculture and forestry works and hunting in the late autumn, winter and early winter, when there is still snow remaining. They are the people who believe that god exists in the mountains and the hunted animals there are presents from the mountain god, so that they always follow the strict rules and manners.


Luckily, thanks to the precious efforts of our ancestors, we have Japanese dogs with us now. We should understand the dogs well and pass them down to the future generations.

It is because Japanese dogs are the ones born and kept in the nature of Japan, living with Japanese tribes for an everlasting time period.

Written by Fumio Otsuka

Dog-shaped clay product from Fujioka Shrine ruins in Tochigi Prefecture
Dog-shaped clay product from Fujioka Shrine ruins in Tochigi Prefecture: National Museum of Japanese History of Collection
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