The Chi’s Rise in Japan

Few dog lovers living in Japan in 1955 saw it coming.

In 1955, four Chihuahuas were registered in the country. Just four.

Fast forward to 2009, and it had now become commonplace to see Japanese men carrying Chihuahuas in their arms.

As of this writing in the year 2023, Chihuahuas are now the second most popular breed in Japan.

What happened?

“Que-Chan” happened.

Dressed in a black suit and tie, the Chihuahua named “Que-Chan” gained a legion of fans when he appeared in sentimental television commercials for the AIFUL Corporation, one of Japan’s largest Japanese consumer finance companies. The little chap appeared on television and radio commercials, billboard signs, ads in magazines and on buses,  two children’s books, and even appeared on credit cards.

And then came this commercial.

You don’t have to understand Japanese to see why the ad was effective: Daughter-gushes-over-pet-shop-dog. Daughter’s-dad-locks-eyes-with-the-charismatic-dog. Boom. End of story. The dad never knew what hit him. Now the love affair is between the dog and dad. From the perspective of the ad agency, the commercial showed how handy AIFUL was as a source for cash when suddenly needed, like, say, when one has to make an impulse purchase of a dog at a pet shop without being vetted (and yes, that was a little “snarky”).

Some observers at the time pointed to what they termed Japan’s “group-oriented culture” for the Chihuahua’s rise in popularity because of that commercial. In the eyes of others, the ad had an unfortunate impact that was reported by CNN when it described that because of an “immense demand for a Que-chan of their very own, many Japanese are hitting pet shops in desperation.”

But that’s a topic for another time and place.

The AIFUL ad was the first of a series of advertisements that included the tuxedo version, snowboard version, return-home version, and one that centered on painting. Most of the links to those videos are now dead, but in spite of them, the breed didn’t get relegated to being a fad or accessory. Not long after the AIFUL commercials came out, a long haired Chihuahua named, “Momo” (or “Peach”) passed exams to become a police dog in the western Japanese prefecture of Nara. The perky Chi was one of 32 successful candidates out of 70 dogs passing a search and rescue test by finding a person in five minutes after merely sniffing their cap.

These days, media is a powerful influence on how we see dog ownership, and dog breeds. From our perspective, it’s the savvy breed club that takes advantage of any number of free social media platforms to become significant influencers on all aspects of a breed, including grooming, training, performance and conformation shows, let alone if the breed is even a good fit, and where (or where not)  to acquire a sound, healthy one.

The “Que-Chan”commercials proved this in spades.

Our image is AI generated by Dall-e out of a profound desire not to get sued by the copyright holders of the images we would liked to have used…


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