pp. 63-71, 1975, Shin Journal-sha, Tokyo, Japan
By Naoto Kajiwara
The History of The Akita Dog: The Early (1926-1945) Showa Period (1926-1989)   [Read]

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(pp. 56-62, 1975, Shin Journal-sha, Tokyo, Japan)
By Naoto Kajiwara

The History of The Akita Dog: The Taisho Period ( 1912-1925 )

Information on Japanese dogs from the Taisho Period ( 1912-1925 ) are relatively scarce. However, a few reprints of articles from the magazine, Inu ( Dogs ), published during the 1910s in Tokyo are available. One such article on the Akita dog entitled "Protect The Japanese Dogs" ("Waken wo Hogoseyo") by Mr. Genji Hayashi of Odate promotes the Akita fighting dog as a means of preserving the Japanese dog.

Dr. Shozaburo Watase (Professor Emeritus, Department of Science, Tokyo Imperial University), a drafter of the Natural Monument Preservation Principles, studied the relationships of surviving Japanese dogs of different regions with the origin of the Japanese people. His first article, "Nihonkenzoku no Keito" ("Ancestry of Japanese Dogs") appeared in the sixth issue of Dogs ( Inu ), followed by other articles such as "Nihonken ni Tsuite" ("Japanese Dogs") and "Inu to Nihonbunka" ("Dogs and Japanese Culture"). In the seventh issue of the same magazine, Mr. Kyozo Ginbayashi has written an article entitled, "Jun-Nihonken ni Tsuite" ("Pure Japanese Dogs").

In the eleventh year of Showa (1922), Professor Watase delivered a lecture entitled "Nihonken no Kigin ni Tsuite" ("The Origin of Japanese Dogs") at the Tokyo Dobutsu Gakkai Tokyo (Zoological Academic Society) meeting. This lecture was published in volume 22 of the Rigakukai ( Scientific Society ) and reprinted in various publications.

Mr. Eiichi Nakagami and Mr. Kuniichiro Fujita have also written about Japanese dogs in the magazine, Shuryo to Chikuken ( Hunting Dogs and Pet Dogs ). Other dog articles mainly refer to matches between Akita fighting dogs and the Tosa fighting dogs or to hunting dogs.

Earlier in the third year of Taisho ( 1914 ), the Akita dog gained some prestige when the silver and bronze medals were awarded to two Akita dogs during the Taisho Exposition at the Ueno Park in Tokyo.

According to the stories that I heard from the old timers from Odate, shortly after the dog fighting ban went into effect in Odate, Akita fighting dogs were taken to nearby Kuroishi in Aomori, where no such ban on dog fighting was in effect then. Dog fighting was continued there somewhat openly. However, with the relaxing of regulations, dog fighting was revived soon thereafter in Odate. At first, dog fights were held secretly after dark on the temple grounds or in remote open fields, due to fear of authorities. Dog fighting was in full swing again in four or five years.

Due to public demand, various types of the two dog breeds were produced. The fighting skill of a named dog were the topics of conversation at fighting dog club meetings. The size and weight of Tosa fighting dog had increased from around the 30th year of Meiji ( 1897 ) and became equal with the Akita fighting dog. However, only a few Akita fighting dogs with equal fighting dog abilities with the Tosa sighting dogs were available, due to the dog fighting ban in Odate.

Details of matches between Akita and Tosa fighting dogs, which included various techniques are described in the article, "Rekishi ni Nokoru Akitainu no Omokage" ("Memories of Historical Akita Dogs") by Mr. Hideo Amano in Akitainu Tokuhon ( The Akita Dog Book ). Much of this information is based on his correspondence with old timers. According to old timers, Akita dog fans admired the Akita dog's strength and courage, while the Tosa fighting dog fans admired the Tosa fighting dog's stamina. These topics of conversations on both sides made the fighting dog matches exciting. Each side began to respect the opponent dog's superior characteristics. Thus some Tosa fighting dog enthusiasts began to take a large number of Akita dogs home through arrangements with Mr. Yaichiro Tayama , chairman of the Odate Aiken Kyokai ( Odate Akita Dog Society . Likewise, more Akita fighting dog owners began to crossbreed Tosa fighting dogs with Akita dogs to improve the fighting dog abilities. From around the 5th year of Taisho ( 1916 ), dogs resulting from these crossbreedings were called the "Kairyoinu" ("Improved Dogs") or "Shin Akita" ("the New Akita Dogs"). Classification of these dogs were based on the appearance of the dog's tail. The "Shin Akita's" curled tail distinguished them the from the Tosa fighting dog.

The "Kairyoinu" or "Shin Akita" was in vogue as a fighting dog until the around the early ( mid to late 1920s ) Showa Period. Their appearance was far from the traditional Japanese dog. Thus their value as a Japanese dog was lost, due to much crossbreeding.

Thus it seemed as if the Japanese Akita dog had already disappeared in Odate, which is the place of origin of the Akita dog. However, a few traditional Akita dogs were reportedly seen in the outskirts of Odate, such as in the backwoods and mountain regions where they were used as guard dogs or hunting dogs. True Japanese dog fanciers probably resented the rapid decline of the traditional Akita dog. These were family dogs that were handed down through generations. Some of the crossbred dogs resembled Japanese dogs, in spite of extensive crossbreeding. However, since the majority of fighting dog fans in the Odate area did not favor traditional Japanese dogs, such dogs were either sold or given away. Many of these dogs had excellent Japanese dog features, and unfortunately, many of these bloodlines have vanished.

It seems a reasonable number of Akita dogs with names had survived during the first half ( around the early 1910s ) of the Taisho Period. Old photographs or stories of old timers reveal that dogs with many different body forms existed. These may be divided into two distinct types. In the first group, the male dog has a height of 2 shaku ( 60.6 cm, approximately 24 inches ) having minor faults but having the features of Japanese dogs. Dogs in the second group are the crossbred types with heights ranging from 2 shaku 2 sun to 3 sun ( 66.7 to 69.7 cm, 26.2 to 27.4 inches ) with the brows full of wrinkles and droopy or semierect ears. A glance at the dogs in the second group makes one aware that these are fighting dogs. Probably, dogs of the type between these two types also existed.

Dogs in the first group were Mr. Kurimori's Okido-go , Mr. Izumi's Shiro-go , Mr. Ito's Dainishiki-go, Mr. Kagaya's Tori No Umi-go , Shirafuji-go , Ryogoku-go and Ichimonji-go . The photograph by Mr. Hirashima is that of an outstanding female dog.

Available photographs of dogs in the second group include: Tamanishiki-go , Fuji-go , Tamaarashi-go (Gyokuran-go) and Onishiki-go . The majority of these dogs have curled tails.

Okido-go , the Akita dog mentioned above, was a pet dog of Mr. Hisakichi Kurimori (older brother of Mr. Shinkichi Kurimori , the late Akiho judge ) of Odate and of Osaka. Okido-go was cared for by the younger brother, Shinkichi, whose stately pose as a handler is seen in the photograph. The following data were found on the back of the photograph: Okido-go was 2 shaku 1 sun ( 63.6 cm, 25 inches ) tall, weighed 10 kan ( 1 kan = 8 1/3 lbs., 83.3 lbs. ). His coat was white. Judge Shinkichi Kurimori lived for many years in the Umeda area near my home in Osaka. Therefore, I had many opportunities to visit and hear dog stories at this home. Mr. Kurimori was an enthusiastic scholar of the Akita dog. However, he admired Okido-go more as a fighting dog than as a Japanese Akita dog.

Okido-go and the other dogs mentioned above were born around the late Meiji or at the beginning ( 1912 ) of the Taisho Period. Many of these were active fighting dogs from the 4th to 5th years of Taisho ( 1915 to 1916 ). Information on famous dogs of the Taisho Period ( 1912-1926 ) are not readily available. Goma-go , a female Akita dog known also as Babagoma-go , was born around the 12th year of Taisho ( 1923 ) and Dewa-go ( not the Dewa-go of Kongo-go ) was born in Odate on November of the 13th year of Taisho ( 1925 ) and which became a pet dog of Mr. Kokichi ( Hirokichi, pen name Hiroshi ) Saito later, were the exceptions. The majority of other dogs were of the so-called "New " or "Improved" Akita fighting dog type. Gamata-go , a champion fighting dog of the 13th year of Taisho ( 1923 ) and Denki-go , the champion fighting dog of the 14th year of Taisho ( 1926 ), were well known. However, both dogs were later moved from Odate to Tokyo.

During the most declining period of the Akita dog as a Japanese dog, a movement to preserve traditional Japanese objects such as historical landmarks, scenic spots, animals and plants that were being lost or destroyed was started by certain intellectuals, scholars and celebrities in Tokyo. A project to designate these objects as natural monuments became a reality in the 8th year of Taisho ( 1919 ) when such a legislation was passed. Stipulations for the preservation of certain animals are mentioned in paragraph 8 under the section with the title, "Nihon Tokuyu naru Chikuyo Dobutsu" ("Japan's Characteristic Domesticated Animals").

The following categories are for animals that were designated as natural monuments:

1. Famous animals indigenous to Japan and its habitat.

2. " " not indigenous to Japan, but important enough to be preserved and its habitat.

3. Indigneous animals in their natural environment.

4. Domesticated animals indigneous to Japan.

5. Famous imported undomesticated animals and their habitat.

6. Valuable animal specimens that are worthy of special mention.

I believe that the foregoing provisions should allow one to acknowledge the Akita dog as a natural monument.

According to Dr. Shozaburo Watase, one of the drafters of the natural monument legislation, the following animals were originally on the list: The Onagadori of Tosa ( the Kochi rooster with the long tail ), the Uzura-o-chabo ( the Japanese bantam with the quail tail ), the Akita dog, the Tosa dog, the Chin [ the Japanese Spaniel (pug) ], the Oki horse, the Tosa pony and the Tanegashima cattle and other horses. The foregoing animals were considered for preservation. However, this list was compiled before any investigations were made, and, therefore, differs from today's list. Dogs eventually declared as natural monuments later were, first of all, the Akita dog, followed by the Kai dog, the Kishu dog, the Koshi dog, the Shiba dog, the Shikoku ( Tosa , not the Tosa fighting dog ) dog and the Hokkaido dog. The Tosa fighting dog and the Japanese Spaniel (pug) were not included on the final list.

In the 9th yer of Taisho ( 1920 ), Dr. Watase went to Odate to officially study the Akita dog. However, as stated before, the Akita dog was at its greatest decline at that time, and he was unable to find any Akita dogs that met his stipulations. Therefore, he was unable to designate the Akita dog as a natural monument then. It seemed for ten years thereafter, that the designation of the Akita dog as a natural monument may not materialize. But it was Professor Watase's official Odate survey that contributed much to the revival of the Akita dog.

During this period, the majority of Akita dog owners in the Odate area were mainly interested in producing fighting dogs. Dog breeders in Odate and other areas at that time never dreamt that the Akita dog would be declared a natural monument. During the official survey by the professor, the importance of preserving the pure bloodlines of the Akita dog was stressed to dog lovers. This led to a movement to restore the Akita dog to the classical form.

In the 2nd year of Showa ( 1927 ), Mr. Shigeie Izumi , the mayor of Odate at that time, organized the Akitainu Hozonkai ( Akiho ) to preserve the Japanese Akita dog. This organization was probably prompted by Professor Watase's official survey that lit the lamp of restoration of the Akita dog. What would have happened if Professor Watase did not perform his official survey in Odate? Would the designation of the Akita dog as a natural monument have occurred thirteen years later? If it had not occurred, we probably would not be able to see the magnificent large Japanese dog, the Akita dog of today. Instead, we would probably still see today the Odate dog resembling the Tosa fighting dog and not see or be called the Akita dog.

Conversations with the old timers and studies of few available records or photographs of Akita dogs of the Taisho Period ( 1912-1925 ) seem to indicate that the Akita dogs were almost entirely of the fighting dog type in those days. Although the occurrence of the mixed bloodlines of the fighting dog is regrettable, some credit is due to the fighting dogs for the existence of today's Akita dogs.

The western dog boom from the Meiji ( 1868-1912 ) to the Taisho ( 1912-1926 ) Periods led to the decline of the traditional Japanese dogs by becoming strays and by losing their purity as a breed. However, Japanese dogs in secluded mountain areas were not usually affected.

The Iiyama dog and the Koyasu dogs, believed to be representatives of the large dogs, have not been seen since the Meiji and Taisho Periods. Only the Odate ( Akita ) dog was been saved and declared a natural monument, because some of the fighting dogs from the olden days had erect ears and curled tails. These dogs were considered as the ideal Japanese dogs and preserved as large Japanese dogs.

Such a journey of the crossbred Akita dogs of the past through the generations was a reality with its merits and faults.

kajiw5.bk 06/05/94, 07/29/97.

bullet  A widespread movement to preserve the Akita dog in Odate and other areas began after the Akita dog was declared as a natural monument in 1931.

Prior to this time, any interest in the preservation of the Akita dog in Odate was almost nil with the exception of Mr. Shigeie Izumi and a few others who were interested in the preservation of the Akita dog as a Japanese dog. [Read more]
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