Pets are popular in Japan, particularly since 2003 when they became a preferable alternative to having kids. And though cats are just a bit more popular, dogs are also extremely well-loved in the country. However, out of all the dog breeds in Japan, only six are native to the Japanese islands. Interestingly, all six breeds are from the same family—the Spitz family. What does that mean? It means they all have pointed ears and thick fur.
Considering you’ve likely heard of several Japanese dog breeds, you might be wondering which six are actually native to the country (versus having been imported in at some point). Here you’ll find these six breeds, along with some information about each. Just because the breeds are from the same family doesn’t mean each isn’t unique!
The 6 Japanese Dog Breeds
The Akita comes from the northern extremities of Honshu around Odate. Once used to hunt bears, the breed is powerful; add to that the fact they’re also incredibly loyal to their owners, and you’ll find these pups make fantastic guard dogs. But they’re also extremely affectionate, so they’re excellent family pets, too.
The breed won over American service members in WWII, and some brought these dogs home with them. It wasn’t long before they became popular in the States; in fact, there’s now a variation of the breed known as the American Akita that is a bit larger than the Japanese one.
2. Hokkaido Inu
The Hokkaido Inu is one of the oldest, wildest, and most obscure native Japanese dog breeds. These pups come from the island of the same name and are sometimes called “Ainn Dogs” after the indigenous people who live there. Though medium-sized, the Hokkaido is muscular and athletic, making it the perfect breed for sledding, hunting, and guarding jobs. They have tremendous endurance and stamina, so they hold up well against arduous tasks.
Making excellent guard dogs doesn’t mean these pups are aggressive, though. The Hokkaido is quite docile, loyal, and eager to please its owners. Though sometimes wary of strangers, if this breed becomes comfortable with you, they’ll be playful and friendly. They’re incredibly rare outside of Japan, though.
3. Kai Ken
This is another rare breed that hails from what used to be the Kai Province but is now Yamanashi Prefecture and might be the oldest native dog breed from Japan. Initially bred as hunting dogs, these pups have a strong prey drive and are highly athletic; they’ll even climb trees to hunt down prey! They aren’t just great hunters, though.
The Kai Ken is also extremely sociable and loves affection. This dog will be incredibly devoted to its family and always up for an adventure (as they need tons of exercise!). And because they’re intelligent and ready to please, they can be fairly easily trained. Plus, the Kai Ken comes with the fun nickname of “tiger dog” due to its brindle coat resembling tiger stripes!
4. Kishu Ken
The Kishu Ken is a descendant of tough pups that roamed mountains in Japan centuries ago. Mostly coming from the Wakayama region, these dogs were developed to hunt deer and boar (and are still occasionally used for this purpose today). Prior to 1934, these dogs’ coats came in spotted and brindle, but by 1945 those had disappeared as strictly solid colors became the only accepted coats.
As far as temperament goes, these pups are brave, fierce, and loyal. However, they can be a bit stand-offish with people they don’t know and typically only bond with individuals. That bond is close, though, and can be intense.
5. Shiba Inu
The Shiba Inu is probably the most well-known of the native Japanese breeds, as it is often found in memes. It’s also renowned for its famous “Shiba scream,” which it emits when feeling joy, excitement, or frustration. The smallest of the native breeds, the Shiba has been around for more than 3,000 years and is named for the terrain these pups most often hunted in (Shiba Inu means “brushwood”).
The breed is also one of the most popular dogs in Japan as they are full of life, independent, good-natured, and agile. Confident and friendly, the Shiba Inu truly does make a remarkable pet!
This native Japanese dog is also called “Kochi-ken” or “Shikoku Inu” and originated as a hunting dog on the smallest of the main islands of Japan. They were highly valued as trackers, particularly when it came to wild boar, and originally came in three varieties—Hata, Awa, and Hongawa. However, today there is strictly one type.
These pups have kept much of their primal instincts, so they have garnered the nickname “Japanese Wolfdog”. Those instincts don’t stop them from being calm and reserved, though, around both people and other dogs. They’re also obedient to their humans and can make fantastic watch dogs due to their alertness and intelligence.
Though a few dog breeds are labeled as being from Japan, there are only six breeds native to the islands. These dog breeds have been around for eons, but a couple of the breeds are much rarer these days, and most are hard to find outside of Japan. If you are lucky enough to find a Japanese dog, though, you’ll have found a pup that makes a wonderful pet and, most likely, a guard dog. However, it’s best to start looking for one now if you’re dead set on a Japanese breed, as it could take a while to locate one!
Next on Your Reading List: