Akita History: From Natural Monument to Tough Times

The story of some of the oldest and most venerable dog breeds is often a tale of hardship and near extinction, and such was the case in Japan. Though Japan declared its nine native breeds to be natural monuments in 1931, thereby preserving their traditional breeds from deterioration through crossbreeding, the reprieve was short lived. War was brewing, and Japanese Armed Forces began collecting and confiscating dogs to be used for meat, or have coats made from their pelts. Many owners set their dogs loose in the wild rather than have them taken by the Japanese war machine, and by the end of WWII, at least one of these breeds, the Akita, was almost extinct. In fact, some estimates put the number of purebred Akitas left in Japan at less than twenty.

Many American soldiers returning home from Japan related a similar experience: Akitas came out of hiding in the hills and made friends with the soldiers. It’s difficult to discount the anecdotes when so many people shared the same one, and it’s certain that when the veterans came home, they smuggled hundreds of Akitas out of Japan, dogs that became the foundation for the American Akita.

Image of the Akita “Tachibana,” one of the few Akitas to survive the war. His image appeared on a Japanese 1953 issue postage stamp. From the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications of Japan (MPT, 郵政省) 

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