The most popular Akita in the world may be the loyal Hachiko, whose life was made into a Hollywood film. A bronze statue dedicated to Hachiko can be found in Shibuya train station.
The Akita was named after his hometown called the Akita Prefecture, which is the northernmost region of the island of Honshū, Japan. Belonging to the Spitz Group, the breed has existed since the 1600s.
The Akita is a descendant of the Matagi dog. He is known to hunt during winter in northern Japan. Legend says that the birth of the breed was made possible by a wayward nobleman.
He was banished by the emperor to the northernmost province of the island of Honshu. The aristocrat was tasked to become a provincial ruler for the rest of his life.
It turns out that the man was a devoted dog fancier. He urged barons to develop large dogs that are versatile, with great hunting ability. This started the creation of Akita dogs. They were often lone hunters, but sometimes they work in packs.
The Akita can take down Japanese deers, wild boars, and Asian black bears. Because he has a soft mouth, he was also used for flushing out animals for hunters. He was also used as a guard dog.
The Akita dog used to be exclusively owned by the imperial family and their court. However, the times have changed, and the breed is accessible even to common folks as a loyal and protective family companion. Due to his admirable nature, he is lovingly described as 'tender in heart and strong in strength' by his native country.
The Akita has even become a symbol of protection and a good luck charm in Japan. Parents with newborn children are given a small statue of the dog, which is a gesture of good health and long life. The statues are also given to sick people as a sign of wishing them a quick recovery.
In 1931, the Japanese government proclaimed the Akita as one of Japan's national treasures and national monuments.
The Akita breed was first brought to the United States by writer and activist Helen Keller in 1937. An Akita puppy named Kamikaze-Go was given to her as a present and a gesture of respect. Sadly, he died at an early age because of canine distemper.
Helen received another Akita puppy in 1938 as an official gift from the Japanese government. She named him Kenzan-go, and the dog became her cherished companion for many years.
World War II nearly eradicated the Akita breed as food became more and more scarce. The dogs were also used as food by starving people. Since the Akita was considered a non-military dog, many were killed through orders of the government to prevent the spread of disease.
Despite the harrowing experience of the Akita, the breed survived with the help of a few people. The surviving dogs were sent to remote mountainous areas where they can mate with their ancestors. Some people crossed Akitas with German Shepherds so that they can serve as military dogs. This saved the breed from becoming victims again of the rampant culling.
More Akita dogs were brought to the USA by servicemen after World War II. The American Akita was introduced in the UK in 1939 and was Kennel Club-registered since 1986. Throughout the early 20th century, the dogs were crossed with other breeds including the Tosa Inu, Great Dane, English Mastiff, and Saint Bernard. Breeders were aiming to give the Akita specific fighting dog features.
The kinds we see today were developed in the United States. On 4th April 1973, the American Kennel Club approved the official breed standard.
The Akita breed is referred to as the 'great Japanese dog.' The Kennel Club recognises two varieties of the breed. The first is the Japanese strain called the Japanese Akita, also known as Akita Inu and Akita Ken. The other one is the American strain called American Akita.
Free breeding between the two is not commonly done. This stemmed from the controversy of creating an American variation of the Japanese Inu, which is considered the national symbol of Japan. To avoid further issues, strict breed standards were put in place for careful breeding. It is essential in making a clear distinction between the two Akita breeds.
Today, the Akita breed works as a military dog, personal protection dog, and therapy dog aside from being a dependable canine companion.