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THE AKITA DOG'S ROOTS IN SOUTHERN AKITA
As seen by Tamejiro Ishibashi, Kiyoshi Komatsu,
Ryoichi Ohara, Mutsuo Okada and Kaneharu Miyahara
(Editor of the Aiken Journal )
In this concluding article, the panelists continue their discussion of the black mask, the hunting and heavy dog type, coat and colors, size, blaze, etc. related to the restoration of the Akita dog to the Japanese dog type as stipulated by the natural monument principle.
Reference Aiken Journal 232: 64-69 - February, 1979.
Could you tell us more about the Akita Nikkei line?
Ishibashi: As Mr. Okada has stated, I also believe that the Akita Nikkei line came from the Iwate matagi dogs, which were used to restore Japanese dogs. However, when one tries to bring out the features of the Nikkei bloodline, their faulty high-standing ears appear. When this fault is corrected, the problem of the low neck angle begins to show.
Okada: One does not see any clear features of the Nikkei line today nationwide. However, in the past, their breeding with Goromaru produced Oryu ( see photograph in Part 2 ) and Bankomaru ( see photograph in Part 2 ) at one end represented the Goromaru line with the black mask. These dogs were well accepted at dog shows then. Oretsu (see photograph in Part 2), Oshun (see photograph in part 2) and others with white masks and red coats were present also. The latter were true representatives of the Nikkei line and thus, two types were produced.
Komatsu: True. Two distinct groups.
Okada: However, black mask was favored in those days as true Akita dogs. Dogs with white masks were considered as medium Japanese dogs. Kiyohime (see photograph in Part 3) was referred to as a "fox," which meant she was not an Akita dog. Therefore, she did not bring in a good price. No one wanted her, unless one appreciated her true value. However, at that time, Mr. Kyono told me to use "Esu" Oshun for breeding. My bitch happened to be in heat. I had originally planned to breed her to Oryu, who was a wakainu (ten to eighteen months) then. Mr. Kyono told me, "Oryu is a good dog, but use Esu instead." Although Oryu and Oshun were littermates, I favored Oryu at that time. I did not use Esu, who was allowed to roam freely. Soon, Esu died. As I look back today, both dogs were different from each other. I have regretted my decision many times.
Ishibashi: We have all regretted it to this day.
Okada: This does not mean Oryu and Bankomaru were poor specimens. They were champions in their day. They were good dogs, even by today's trends.
Ishibashi: Dogs resembling the Akita Nikkei line with the yellowish red coat and white mask means the Nikkei line is dominated, while white masks were placed in the Junyu (Good) class. Today, the reverse prevails. Therefore, leaders today have a great responsibility. In the past, Mr. Ishihara was the sole contrarian. Today, almost everyone has moved to his side.
Ishibashi: That is no exaggeration.
Komatsu: I agree.
Editor: However, smaller entries at the Akikyo show certainly creates a lonesome feeling.
Okada: This may be due to trend or popularity. We are expressing our viewpoints as pure Akita dog enthusiasts, and not as officials or judges of Akikyo.
Ishibashi: Membership fluctuation is a separate matter.
Komatsu: True. That is a separate matter.
Editor: This is not a question of whether dogs shown are faulty or not.
Ishibashi: We are merely discussion dogs.
Okada: Mr. Ishihara contributed much to the Akita dogs of today. Undoubtedly, such an informed person as he contributed much to progress. We need a leader with a clear guideline. This is similar to the laying down of a railroad tracks to let trains take a certain course.
Ishibashi: That is true. However, when one suddenly changed course by stating that black masks are undesirable, many breeders were caught off-guard and were confused.
Komatsu: As a person becomes older, he may become more set toward a certain direction.
Ishibashi: For example, Mr. Ishihara probably feels he would like to see a dog or two of the ideal type, while he is still living.
Editor: Such a feeling is understandable.
Ishibashi: Even though much discussion for and against the black mask was carried on , one was unable to win at the dogs shows, unless his dog had a black mask.
Okada: It was a drastic change.
Ishibashi: Although it was a drastic change, I believe it was for the best.
The Removal Of Black Masks
Komatsu: Three of us went on a tour once to discuss this very topic and come to the same conclusion. It seems Mr. Ishihara also had the same opinion.
Ishibashi: Yes. We discussed what route we should take. One of the questions raised was whether we should gradually phase out the black mask, which was usually associated with unclear coat colors. We discussed whether it was time to upgrade the purity of the breed by eliminating the black mask. We also discussed whether we should do this as Mr. Kyono's group. This was before Kumomaru or Tetsuyuki, when undesirable features such as faulty neck, faulty movements, deep red, dusty brindle and other unbecoming coat color were common. However, when Bankomaru became a champion, I asked Mr. Ishihara, "Sir, would you say that the Akita dog has now reached one of its peaks?" He replied, about sixth place without his black mask. Then the Akita dog will not be far from its goal." Since then, we have followed the plan of gradual elimination of the black mask to this day. Thus, Akiho and Akikyo began to eliminate the black mask rapidly.
Komatsu: This trend probably began with Esu's (Oshun's) face and Oretsu's white mask and beautiful coat,
Ishibashi: Mr. Seijiro Sato tended to publicly criticize someone else's dog by comments such as, "This is a mongrel." I believe that was improper.On the other hand, when he saw "John" (Daisanshiranami) with a white mask, he would say, "This is a true Japanese dog." Such comments led people to believe he was the "great master" in the evaluation of dogs. The topic of eliminating the black mask came up in a discussion whenever his name was mentioned.
Okada: In those days, both Akiho and Akikyo had difficulties finding good dogs. Introduction of a new bloodline due to
necessity often resulted in failures. They were often ridiculed by those who said that the Akita dog has receded to the level where it may be necessary to use the Eskimo dog to elevate the Akita dogs level.
Ishibashi: Mr. Okada once saw a short movie of two dogs on the shores of Lake Baikal in the Soviet Union. Therefore, when one of my friends visited the Soviet Union, we discussed the possibility of purchasing and bringing back such dogs.
Okada: These dogs were one of the breeds of the Laika hunting dogs that resembled Oretsu.
Ishibashi: After such discussions, plans to eliminate black masks were started.
Okada: Two such Laika dogs were obtained recently. They are indistinguishable from Japanese dogs. They are at the home of Assemblyman Isshin Fukunaga. Someone once suggested he show them at the Akikyo show as reference dogs. The first male dog had a goma (sesame) coat. He bought a red female, after being advised to do so. Seven puppies were produced from this breeding.
Editor: I also saw some Laika dogs many years ago. However, there are many different types.
Okada: Fourteen different types, apparently. The Soviet Union covers a large area. Some of these dogs closely resemble Japanese dogs.
Editor: The Alaskan Malamute resembles Japanese dogs.
Okada: That is true. I understand that the exportation of Laika dogs is banned. However, a photograph of a presentation ceremony of such a dog to Prime Minister Fukuda from the Soviet ambassador is available.
Ishibashi: What kind of dog did Mr. Uemura have when he crossed the South Pole?
Komatsu: Eskimo dogs.
Ishibashi: Wouldn't you say that those dogs have good facial features? (Laughter)
Okada: Someone jokingly asked if it was necessary to bring in bloodlines of these dogs also. (Laughter)
Ishibashi: Resulting in the white masks of today.
Komatsu: Yes. Laika dogs of Lake Baikal and others do not have black masks. Neither do pure medium and small Japanese dogs. Only dogs of mixed breedings such as the Tosa fighting dog have black masks. Thus one slowly began to have the idea that dogs with white masks do not remind one of dogs of mixed breeding.
Editor: I now fully understand the point about the black mask. Much progress has been made along this line in the development of today's Akita dogs.
Ishibashi: One could say that the bloodline of the Akita Nikkei line is nationwide in the Akita dog today, and the place of its origin is Yuzawa. (Laughter) Therefore, should one take some time out to cross the mountain pass to Sawauchi, one will then appreciate the hardships faced by our predecessors as they crossed this mountain pass. With the arrival of the fall colors there, one could notice resemblances to the red and yellowish-red colors. (Laughter) Selling bagged game was a means of livelihood for the people of Sawauchi. These were not birds either. They were unable to earn a living, unless they hunted larger animals.
Okada: Their staple was Japanese chestnut. They had a custom of sprinkling rice. Since rice was a rare commodity, it was shown only to a dying patient and sprinkled just before the patient died.
Ishibashi: Therefore, hunting with dogs was not mere pastime. Their livelihood depended solely on whether that dog was able to help bring down a bear nor not. Thus dogs were invaluable to these people.
The Hunting Dog Type and the Heavy Type
Editor: Some Japanese dog breeders often say that the Akita dog is not a hunting dog. Would you say that this was not true originally?
Okada: Akikyo seems to desire the hunting dog type used in the mountains, whereas Akiho seems to retain the heavier fighting dog type.
Ishibashi: Akita dogs of today cannot be used for hunting. They differ from the matagi dogs.
Komatsu: We are told that should we obtain a puppy from a hunting Kishu dog today, it will lose its hunting ability in about two generations. Dogs brought into the city are very difficult to train for hunting.
Editor: Wouldn't you say that the important question for the Akita dog breeder or any breeder to keep in mind is, what is their ideal image of their dog breed?
Okada: Yes. The question is that of the ideal model. When one reaches the level of the ideal model, one should not stray from the model. The term "shuhari" in kendo (fencing), means to defend, tear and separate. During the first stage, one defends, as instructed by his teacher. During the second stage, one progresses to tearing down. This is the stage of questions and criticism. The final step is the stage of separation, when one begins independent research and practices what he has newly developed. This is a new school of thought evolving from the three stages. To remain static forever at the first stage is not desirable. The route which one wishes to take individually to reach the ideal model must also be considered.
Komatsu: Therefore, Akita dog enthusiasts taught by true devotees of the Akita dog are different from ordinary Akita dog
breeders, because they have done deep studies into the breed.
Ishibashi: Yes. Their interpretations differ depending on their point of source. To them, understanding of the dog standard and its interpretation are vary important.
Ishibashi: By the way, I have heard
that Akiho has just built a new headquarters building. What do you see in the interior?
Editor: Displays of hides of famous Akita dogs of the past are in the exhibition hall. One can easily recognize coat colors of Akita dogs from the past.
Okada: However, appearances of hides differ considerably from the living animal. For example, the hide of Goromaru looks quite different from life. I was quite disappointed.
Editor: The condition of the living dog coat color. After death, changes may be more pronounced, but wouldn't one be able to differentiate color in general?
Okada: Yes. If one is able to preserve an animal that died with its coat in its prime. (Laughter)
Editor: That may be a bit difficult to do. But it seems that some dogs of the past had excellent coat colors.
Komatsu: Dogs with the goma (sesame) coat seem to show the lest changes.
Editor: Red coats were exceptionally outstanding.
Okada: Therefore, yellowish red coats are not in vogue today. Some may dislike "chestnut red," but others favor it.
Editor: Is there that much of a difference in color choices among breeders?
Okada: Yes. For example, some in Nippo favor dark red in the Shiba dog. The darker, the better. Others do not. Such differences of opinions exist. Many years ago, Nippo stated that red or white Akita dogs were undesirable. Only the coat color of Kongo was acceptable.
Komatsu: True. At that time only the bloodlines of Kongo and Kinsho were acceptable.
Okada: I regard red and yellowish red as excellent colors. I also raised Shiba dogs years ago.I showed at the Nippo show, a yellowish red Shiba dog that I thought was excellent. They told me then that the coat color was too light. It is a matter of differences in interpretation of the standard.
Editor: Today, Nippo is involved mainly with small and medium Japanese dogs, while large dogs are almost never shown. At their headquarters show, only ten or fewer Akita dogs are shown nowadays. On the other hand, 700 to 800 Shiba dogs are shown, which is quite a growth.
Ohara: Wouldn't it be better if large dogs were eliminated from their shows?
Komatsu: Those raising small hunting dogs follow a different course from those who raise small and medium show dogs, because of differences in ideas. Thus, for coat colors, those involved with dogs for many years prefer the gaudy red favored by hunters. Others seem to prefer yellowish red.
Okada: Only by hunters.
Editor: A true hunting dog is very different from a show dog.
Komatsu: Would you say that Nippo is trying to allow both types?
Editor: For a time, Shiba dogs were considered by some as being too stylish. Nippo has somewhat gone against this trend, and has begun to favor the less stylish and more classical dogs in appearance recently.
We seem to have wandered from the topic of the Akita dog, but would you say that Kincho was the best of Kongo's offspring!'
Okada: Kincho had a very solid structure. His dam was a white dog.
Komatsu: She looked like a medium sized dog.
Okada: Yes. She was about one shaku seven sun (51.5 cm. 20.3 inches) tall. Even the white offsprings of Kinsho were taller.
Larger Dogs From Small Dams
Ishibashi: Dams that were one shaku nine sun (57.6 cm, 22.7 inches) tall produced dogs (66.7 cm, 26.2 inches) tall.
Komatsu: That is true.
Ishibashi: Therefore, smaller dams can produce large dogs.
Okada: Dogs of the Dewa line increased the size of the Akita.
Ishibashi: Kincho was approximately two shaku three sun (69.7 cm, 27.4 inches) tall. His dam was small with a height of only one shaku seven sun (51.5 cm, 20.3 inches). Daiunme (see photograph in Part 3) produced larger Bankomaru and Kumohibiki. Daiunme herself was not very large. She had a good coat, including the coat on her legs.
Okada: Yes. She had a good coat.
Ishibashi: Contrary to some opinions, Akita dogs of today have improved markedly.
Editor: They have improved.
Ishibashi: A dog breeder should be allowed to individually standardize coat color within certain limits.
Okada: Not very many dog breeds have such variations in coat colors.
Editor: Some western dog breeds are allowed any coat color. However, the establishment of a given color is very high.
Ishibashi: With our means of mass communication today, I strongly favor the eventual uniformity of coat color. The brindle coat varies much in the Akita do world.
Editor: Akikyo favors black brindle.
Ishibashi: True. However, different shades of brindles are seen at the Akiho shows.
Editor: Even the red brindle is accepted if the coat is beautiful.
Ishibashi: Therefore, I believe one should gradually move toward the black brindle, if black brindle is desirable.
Ohara: Some favor yellow brindle, while other favor the "shimofuri" ("pepper and salt"), etc.
Ishibashi: Various shades of brindles appear in dog shows.
Okada: "Dusty" brindles often lead to whispers behind the owner's back. Do you think "field" brindles will eventually appear?
Editor: Such brindles are rare today. One saw some horrible brindles when brindles were popular.
Komatsu: Some brindles changed to sesame during their later years.
Appearance of The Blaze
Okada: Some brindles have a hint of a blaze that seems unsightly to me. This was noticed by those familiar with Tamagumo and Daiunme.
Editor: Yes. Many such dogs are seen today.
Editor: They decreased for a while, but have increased again. They seem objectionable aesthetically.
Ishibashi: It depends on the judge.
Okada: Fortunately, Goromaru had a very narrow blaze. However, Wakame, out of sire Datenoryu and dam Long, had a
wide blaze occupying a third of her face. Many were confused when pintos were acceptable for a while.
Ishibashi: This was largely due to careless judging.
Okada: This could lead to going in many directions.
Ishibashi: A little leeway could gradually lead to confusion.
Editor: More uniformity in judging is essential.
Okada: The hohogire (split blaze on the cheeks) and the sakuware (split blaze on both sides of the nostril) probably originated with foundation dogs with the kubikire (a wide white ring around the neck) seen in Goromaru and the beauty spot (as seen in King Charles' Spaniel and the Boston Terrier ) seen in Tamagumo's sire Arawashi.
Ishibashi: That is true.
Okada: We were unaware of these for a long time until several generations. It started from Tamagumo with a thin blaze which eventually widened to the cheeks in later generations. Great differences are seen in the same bloodline after several generations, depending on the process of selection.
Ishibashi: These also appeared in the legs and tail - white-spotted brindles.
Okada: The white spotted brindles appeared just prior to this. I was surprised at the rapidity of appearance of the wide blaze.
Komatsu: They are unbecoming of a Japanese dog.
Okada:Therefore, the Akita dog has many essential factors.
Ishibashi: White paws gradually fading from the bottom are desirable. Distinct borders of white and red are not characteristic of Japanese dogs.
Editor: A gradual fading is desirable.
Ishibashi: True. Distinct white and red borders are not features of the Japanese dog breed.
Okada: The darker the color, the more distinct it becomes.
Okada: Fading of the beautiful yellow red is refreshing.
Ishibashi: We see many such dogs today.
Komatsu: They were popular for a time. A distinct lead-colored border between the white and red coat has been seen in the red sesame.
Ishibashi: They came from the St. Bernards. (Laughter) Pinto spots in white areas of the legs reveal a Pointer background. The Pointer was a good fighter included during the dog fighting era. The fighting dog has all kinds of bloodlines, including those of the Bulldog and others. The emphasis then was on strength and large size.
Komatsu: Many dogs had unknown pedigrees immediately after the war.
Editor: Such factors were not penalized
Okada: True. Some of these dogs were even favored for a while.
Editor: Are you saying that those faults were ignored?
Okada: One must gradually eliminate those faults.
Ishibashi: Some may say that these improved dog breeds are acceptable. I question that concept.
Okada: Since this is a mixed breed, some may say that it is necessary. This could lead to the danger of replacing genuine features with faults.
Ishibashi: That is true.
Komatsu: The problem is that of perpetuating faults of a champion dog, instead of perpetuating genuine features. If so, eventually certain faults may soon be accepted as genuine features.
Ishibashi: At that time, dogs had progressed to a certain stage and were able to win top honors. But such dogs may not win today.
Editor: Recently, many dogs have full but loose checks.
Komatsu: Coats have become softer. On a warm sunny day, a soft coat usually dries in thirty minutes. Coats of the past required half a day to dry. Could this be due to differences in coat texture and density?
Okada: Dogs with dewlaps seem to be winning.
Ishibashi: Dewlaps should be eliminated from Akita dogs.
Regarding the bone, in Mr. Ishihara's opinion, no significant differences in bone volume exist between a tall dog with a beautiful body and a dog with a larger head and crowded face. The differences are probably due to the amount of skin, muscles and coat. A dog with an apparently large prominent forehead may be similar in size to a dog with a longer body.
Okada: Therefore, dogs with a crowed face and loose skin should be phased out for necessary improvement. The Akita dog matures in five to six years and shows "shibumi" (mellowness and sobriety) at seven to eight years of age.
Editor: The purpose for seeking the roots of the Akita dog is to ultimately find proper direction for the future. I now close
with my best wishes to you for the further improvement of the Akita dog breed. I want to thank you all for your participation.