zimt2003 (CC0), Pixabay

Japanese dogs (Nihon-ken) have become very popular around the world and for good reasons. They are known to be very faithful and combine this with a special kind of dignity and refinement of their own. Some have become heroes in movies like the Akita-inu and Shiba-inu which you can find in many posts on Instagram.

In Japan the term Nihon-ken actually covers six different breeds. They are so popular that they have been nominated “Japanese Natural Treasures”. They are Akita-inu, Shiba-inu, Kishu-ken Shikoko-ken Kai-Ken and Hokkaido-ken. They often have brown, white, or black fur. Common characteristics of their appearance include triangular ears that stand straight up and face forward, tails that are either curled or point forward diagonally, and quite muscular legs.  Their appearance reflects a genuine sense of calm and dignity. They often display a special refinement that seems related to their ancestors and history.


Akita-inu is the only large breed in this group of natural treasures. Its history as human companion is going back at least 3,000 years and it’s wild ancestry extending much further. As a companion, this beautiful and powerful dog has been used for many purposes such as bear hunting, use as a guard dog and many outdoor pursuits. Nowadays, it is also used as a family dog and because of its genltle character it is also used a therapy dog for those with anxiety or mental health issues. However, its fierce lineage has not completely left it and can be used as an intelligent working dog when needed.

This breed has also become very popular outside Japan and today there are more Akita-ken dogs registered in foreign countries than in Japan itself. The Akita-inu has even got its own bronze statue Named Hachi near Shibuya Station in Tokyo.

It was the American movie “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale”, starring Richard Gere, that made the Akita-ken quickly know and extremely popular in the West. The movie is a touching true story about a loyal Akita-ken dog that faithfully waited for his master at a train station long after the dogs master had passed away.

In Kita-Akita city, Japan’s first Akita-inu idol group “MOFUMOFU☆DOGS” was created and they have released their own music video you can enjoy here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pyobqOPGPCI


Shiba-inu, on the other hand, is the smallest representative of the Nihon-ken and it accounts for roughly 80% of Nihon-ken dogs in Japan.

Go to the Instagram page https://www.instagram.com/marutaro/ and you will find nice collection images of nice Shiba-ini dogs at home and out-of doors. This page has become very popular among Shiba-inu dog lovers and currently has over 2.5 million followers! The “Maru” dog has therefore has been appointed as the sightseeing ambassador of the Mie Prefecture.

The Nihon-ken breed also include four additional types of medium-sized dogs consisting of the Kishu-ken, which often has white fur; the Shikoku-ken, whose strong appearance looks like “Nihon okami” or the Japanese wolf; the Kai-ken, whose fur colour is often compared to that of a tiger; and finally the Hokkaido-ken, which has fur in a variety of colours including brown, white, and black.

The Nihon-ken dogs were originally hunting dogs. They therefore have a strong independent spirit of their own, while simultaneously being faithful to their masters. It is these characteristics that have made them so popular all over the world. They are true “Natural Treasures” wherever they on the planet today.