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The History of The Akita Dog: Introduction
The Akita dog is among the seven breeds of Japanese dogs that were proclaimed as natural monuments. It is not known when these dogs were wild or domesticated in the Odate region in Akita in Northern Honshu.
Japanese dogs were named, from ancient times, according to their habitats or roles as domesticated animals. The Akita-inu (Akita dog) was first so named in September 1931, after being designated as a natural monument. Before this, dogs from the Odate region were called the "Odate dog," and dogs from the Kazuno region were called the "Kazuno dog." During the feudal period these dogs were also called the "Nambu-inu" ("Southern regional dog"), but were generally known as the "ji-inu" ("regional dog"). Local fighting dogs were called "kurae-inu" ("punching dog") or by their local term, "kuriya-inu." Hunting dogs from mountain villages were called "matagi-inu" ("hunting dog"). The word "matagi" is a local term for "hunter."
Research on the history and development of "Japanese dogs" based on archeology, zoology and ethnology reveal very little data on the Akita dog. However, an important reference is the book, Inu no Hon ( A Book on Dogs ) by Dr. Tohru Uchida . After much discussion, he concludes: "It seems that the Akita dog has a different body from other Japanese dogs, the Karafuto dog, the Laika dog and the Samoyed dog of today. Dogs similar to the Akita dog may have lived in this and other regions since prehistoric times."
In volume 22 of Rigakukai ( Scientific Society ), Dr. Shozaburo Watase states: "Ancient Japanese dogs may be classified into three categories: the most northern, northern and southern lines. Dogs entering our country from the north were large with thick long coat, thick short tail that curled on the back and ears with rounded tips. Many of these dogs were white, while others were dark grey and pintos. The Akita dog is in the category of the most northern line of dogs." However, it seems that Dr. Watase revised a portion of his foregoing classification later.
Mr. Hirokichi Saito , founder of the Nipponken Hozonkai ( Nippo ) and well-known for his studies on Japanese dogs, states in his book, Nihon no Inu to Okami ( Dogs and Wolves of Japan ): "The nearly extinct Akita dogs were produced by crossbreeding medium sized Japanese dogs with large dogs of the northern line and China, which are now almost extinct. However, the Nambu dog from Rikuchu (ancient name for Iwate Prefecture), the Koyasu dog from Uzen (ancient name for Yamagata Prefecture), the Iiyama dog from Shinshu (ancient name for Nagano Prefecture) and the Go dog from the Dazaifu area (in Fukuoka Prefecture) on the island of Kyushu belong to the same series of dogs." This view is also shared by the venerable Mr. Taiji ( Yasuharu ) Kimura , who claims Odate as his home town, and has reported in the Akitainu Hozonkai Bulletin that "the Akita dog was produced by crossbreeding the large powerful dog imported from Bokkai-koku ( A little kingdom of the 7th century. Ref.: Papinot, E., Historical and Geographical Dictionary of Japan, p. 48, 1972, Charles E. Tuttle Company, Inc. ) with the native Japanese dog".
The May 29, 1972 issue of the Asahi Shinbun ( Asahi Newspaper ) reported the finding of a primitive Japanese dog called the Shimayama dog: "Several primitive Japanese dogs, which supposedly `disappeared' several thousand years ago, were discovered in the Yoshino-Kumano Mountain Region located between the prefectures of Wakayama and Nara. After carefully studying bone structures of litters produced from one of these wild dogs that was captured in the Ooto Mountains, Dr. Nobuo Naora formerly of Waseda University, came to the realization of the importance of preserving these dogs."
Dr. Naora states that Japanese dogs of today, such as the Tosa and Kishu dogs were crossbred to many breeds to produce dogs pleasing to the eyes, while large dogs from the Tohoku region are believed to be the original dogs that were raised in this area from the early Jomon Period (about 5000 to 6000 years ago). However, aside from a few fossils from about 5000 years ago, other information on these dogs have been lost.
About twenty years ago, Mr. Kazuyoshi Murakami , who taught at the junior high school in Nakatsu Village, Kozamachi in the district of Higashimuro in the prefecture of Wakayama, caught a wild male dog in the Ooto Mountains. This dog was fierce and had a coat with thin stripes (shima), and thus named the "Shimayamainu" ("Striped mountain dog"). This had led him to surmise that the wild dog called the "Nihon Okami" ("Japanese Wolf"), believed to be extinct, may still exist. Subsequently, Mr. Murakami has travelled throughout Japan, to gather more information on the wild dog. Recently, he bred this wild dog from the Ooto Mountains with a Kishu dog and sent the skulls and furs of the offsprings to Dr. Naora to be studied.
Dr. Naora concluded that the concave bridge of the nose and high forehead were features of the Kishu dog, but the long projecting mouth, the fine insulating winter coat and well-developed ears were features of the wild dog. The skull was similar to those of large northern dogs from Karafuto (Sakhalin), which is similar to the Laika dog. Since the large northern dogs and primitive Japanese dogs are believed to be from the same lineage, Dr. Naora concluded that this Shimayama dog is the missing primitive dog, and is also a mixture of the Japanese wolf.
This raises the question of how the primitive Japanese dog, domesticated about 5000 years ago in the Tohoku region, became feral and migrated south to the Yoshino-Kumano Mountain Region. This requires further study. According to Mr. Murakami, this type of wild dog was seen recently on both banks of the Kumano River. Since the Yoshino-Kumano Mountain Region is a dense virgin forest, the existence of these wild dogs was not known until the recent construction of dams and national highways disturbed their habitats and brought them "out into the open."
Any possible relationship between the Shimayama dog and the Akita dog is not discussed, but both Drs. Uchida and Watase believed that large primitive Japanese dogs were raised in the Tohoku area in ancient times. More studies along this topic are needed.
Any available historical information on the origin and development of the Akita dog, especially before the 1890s, were mostly tales and legends. Therefore, any probing into the origin of the Akita dog may be encountered with difficulties.
It has been said that one could create a new dog breed in a few decades. If this is true, the history of the Akita dog breed before the late 1860s, which was more than a hundred years ago, may not be of much significance. However, the Akita dog was declared as a natural monument that was established in 1919 to be restored to stipulations found in the text, Nihon Tokuyu No Dobutsu ( Japan's Characteristic Animals ). Therefore, for preservation, one must ever study deeply into past history on the habitat and the changing environment of today's Akita dog.
However, some Akita dog fanciers today still tend to ignore the distant past and take the radical view that the Akita dog originated during the dog fighting era of the Taisho Period (1912-1925) when the Akita dog was in a state of decline, or from the period of crossbreeding soon after the end of World War II. This view was also held by some in 1919 when the natural monument was established.
In 1920, Mr. Yutaka Oura presented his opposing view in a book entitled, Nihonken no Kenkyu ) ( Studies on Japanese Dogs ). "Some newspaper and magazine articles suggest that the Akita dog is of recent origin. This erroneous view is due to the confusion created by names such as the "Odate dog," which refers to the Akita dog (a Tohoku dog) which existed in a region of the Tohoku area since ancient times. The name of Odate was associated until only recently with fighting dogs. Although the name "Akita dog" is of recent origin, it is not recent in origin as a Tohoku dog."
The origin of the Akita dog may be more clearly understood if one knew the purpose for the establishment of the natural monument. This point is explained by Dr. Tokio Kaburagi in the Nihonken Hozonkai no Igi ( The Importance of The Preservation of Japanese Dogs ). The natural monument was established because of a great public concern in the mid 1910s over the decline and extinction of things that were present since ancient times in Japan. The natural monument was established in 1919 to preserve these things. In 1920, Dr. Watase, one of the drafters of the natural monument, made an official trip to Odate to survey the Akita dog. This trip must be considered as an important event. Unfortunately, the Akita dog was in its greatest state of decline then, and was not designated as a natural monument during this trip. However, the significant point is that the Akita dog was the first of the Japanese dogs to be surveyed and this seems to indicate it was considered worthy as an ancient Japanese dog from the Tohoku area.
In spite of the foregoing information, debates on what is a true Akita dog still continue. This may be due to an inadequate understanding in the past on the origin of the Akita dog. Had the Akita dog scholars and fanciers fully comprehended the purpose of the natural monument when the Odate dog was renamed the Akita dog and designated as a natural monument, much of the present confusion probably would have been avoided. Another reason was the failure of the very few informed intellectuals, who started the preservation process, to adequately explain the principles to the less informed. Akita dog fanciers in the Odate area also added to the confusion by stating their individual views on the appearance of the Akita dog, which were often contradictory. All of these factors added to the difficulty of one's ability to get a true picture of the real Akita dog.
Furthermore, the majority of Akita dog owners in the Odate area from the early 1910s to the mid-l920s were primarily interested only in dog fighting. In their attempts to produce a stronger fighting dog, they were not too concerned with changes in the appearance of the dog due to crossbreeding. Since some of these dogs were also included as natural monuments, some intellectuals believed that these dogs represented the true Akita dog. Although the purpose of the natural monument was to reverse the state of decline of the Akita dog and to preserve the breed, its beginnings were hampered by great differences of opinion on the true Akita dog.
The Akita dog was resurveyed eleven years later and declared as a natural monument, in spite of only a very few dogs that were available. Today, after more than forty years, the number of Akita dogs have increased.
When the Akita dog was first declared as a natural monument, features of the Tosa fighting dog were still strongly present in many Akita dogs of that period. The road to restoration of the Akita dog to the pure large Japanese Akita dog has been a long one, and has required much deep study and effort. For those who are unable to fully visualize the true Akita dog, the route to restoration will be much slower with much groping and difficulties, until one gradually finds the true course. Then, one may advance swiftly toward the goal of producing a dog with true Akita dog qualities.
Today, as one looks back at the path of restoration taken since the end of World War II, one begins to realize the importance of the bloodline of ancient Japanese dogs, which were called the "ji-inu" ("regional dog"). Dogs of the Ichinoseki line considered to be the representatives of the postwar Akita dogs were produced mainly from Akita dogs of the Taihei and Nikkei lines from Southern Akita . These dogs were used with the aim of restoring the Akita dog. Thus, the Akita dog that resulted from living in its habitat for 300 years or longer, and which was declared as a natural monument of the large Japanese dog in 1931, within a period of just over twenty years after the war, is in the process of being almost fully restored. Although this rather short period of time may be "instant" to some that are on the road to restoration, many others will probably follow this route toward their goal.
Some are very critical of the difficulties that have been encountered on the road to restoration. Almost all of the dog breeds are produced through planned and necessary crossbreedings until the ideal type of dog for the particular breed is gradually attained. One should not be critical of this method. In our rapidly changing world, it seems the preservation and propagation of any species may be difficult to maintain unless man is involved in maintaining a particular species. In the case of the Akita dog, a period of decline occurred, due to selective crossbreeding by man. Therefore, its restoration will again require the same involvement by man.
Today, continuous improvements are seen in the increasing number of excellent large Japanese Akita dogs with the proper temperament, character and body form. This may be due to the presence of the true features of the ancient Japanese dogs in those bloodlines which are being passed down in spite of the many difficulties encountered on the road toward restoration.
To become well acquainted with the true Akita dog, one must diligently study the history of the development of the Akita dog from the ancient to modern times. In this way, one will be able to appreciate the temperament, character, and be able to visualize the true Akita dog.
Note: Bold print and words in italics by the translator.