Foujita painted six dogs into his mural. One of them stands boldly in front of the Koro-Gibashi Bridge - it is “Nishikikaze,” Masakichi Hirano’s beloved Tosa dog . You can see its name carved along its collar. On top of the snow cave behind Nishikikaze is white-furred Shiro, one of Hirano’s Akita-inu dogs, barking as any good pup should.
Originally bred for dogfighting, security, and hunting through the mountainous regions, Akita-inu were kept as multipurpose animals. The breed was originally called “Odate-inu,” but eventually took on the name of their native region, Akita, after being listed as a Natural Monument of Japan in 1937.
With their triangular ears, curly tails, black noses and fine, delicate fur, Akita-inu are beloved by many households. Their faithfulness and obedience are immortalized by the world-famous statue of Hachiko in Shibuya.
In fact, the breed has become so famous worldwide that, when one hears the word “Akita” in English, odds are good they are referring to this breed. Spurred by this fame, Russian figure skater Alina Zagitova was given an Akita-inu named Masaru as a sign of good Ruso-Japanese relations.
However, it hasn’t always been easy to ensure the pedigree of the Akita breed. At the height of World War 2 in 1944, there was a nationwide movement that forced households to give up their cats and dogs. Large-size breeds like the Akita-inu were especially prized for their meat and cold-resistant fur. It was an era where such extravagances as owning pets while others were starving were judged as “unpatriotic.” Despite that, the citizens of Odate raised around a dozen Akita-inu in secret at a charcoal maker’s hut. It’s said that, if not for their efforts, the Akita pedigree would have died out.
The Akita breed is the first living creature to be recognized as a Natural Monument of Japan, reportedly for its “crucial significance in researching the origins of the Japanese people.” In other words, they believe that the long-standing history of loyalty between man and dog is innately graven within this wolfish breed.
At “Akita Station,” inside Akita City, you can meet and greet with these remarkable dogs. In fact, they train dogs that have been rescued from abandonment and euthanasia, and provide a place where they can bond with potential owners. With the Akita as its spark, Akita Station’s purpose is to provide the experience of being surrounded by pets, so that people understand how valuable these magnificent animals are.
※For more chances to play with good Akita pups, you can also visit the Akita Dog Hall and the visiting center “Akita-inu-no-Sato” in Odate City, as well as the “Namahage Village ‘Ogare’” in Oga City.