The Japanese Tosa dog breed is also known as Tosa-Inu, Tosa-Ken, and Japanese Mastiff. This large breed of fighting dog has been present in Japan for over 1,000 years, based on written records. His dog fighting history can be traced back to the 14th century.
The Japanese Tosa breed was first developed on the island of Shikoku, Japan, between 1868 and 1912. He was a descendant of a local breed that is called Kochi or Shikoku Inu dog in Japanese. This Japanese dog breed is quite famous on the island for his unrivalled skill in dogfighting.
The Kochi was then crossed with Western breeds, including Bulldogs, German Pointers, Great Danes, and Mastiffs. Some accounts also mentioned that St. Bernards and Bull Terriers were also used in creating the Japanese Tosa breed.
The reason behind using Mastiff and Bulldog breeds to develop the Tosa was to increase his strength and size. The selective breeding of this large fighting dog proved to be a success. It did not take long for the breed to become famous in Japanese dog fighting arenas.
The height of popularity of Tosa fighting dogs happened between 1924 and 1933. It was speculated that there were over 5,000 Japanese Tosa breeders within Japan.
However, during World War II, this large breed was nearly wiped out. The warfare brought famine to the country, and Japanese Tosa breeders have little means to look after these huge fighting dogs.
Fortunately, a small number of Japanese Tosas were hidden away on the island of Hokkaido. These dogs were able to survive the war and increase the nearly extinct Tosa breed population.
Although dogfighting is banned in modern-day Japan, illegal pit fights are still rampant in remote and rural regions. It’s because this illicit activity is highly lucrative. Winning dog fights is enough to fund an entire family's living expenses, as champion fighting dogs can be worth over six figures. Japanese Tosas are still used in illegal dog fights.
Today, this large dog breed is viewed by the Japanese as their country’s National Treasure. Japanese Tosas are revered as ‘Sumo Wrestlers of the Canine World’ and are treated with deep respect and honour in Japan.
In Japanese folklore, young samurais were made to study this tough fighting dog's method to win in arena battles as a part of their training. This way, they will understand the profound meaning of ‘courage in combat.’
Whilst the Japanese Tosa is a virtuous symbol in his native country, this large breed is banned in several countries. These include Norway, Australia, Turkey, Iceland, Malaysia, New Zealand, Cyprus, and Denmark.
In the United Kingdom, this fighting dog is regulated under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. He is banned from the entire council properties by Dublin City Council in Ireland, whilst he is regulated in Trinidad and Tobago. Some states in America also prohibit the ownership of Japanese Tosas.
Because of this, the Tosa dog breed is very rare outside Japan. He is yet to be recognised by the Kennel Club, but he is officially acknowledged as a guardian dog breed by the United Kennel Club in 1998. Then, in 2010, the American Kennel Club added the Tosa into the Working Breed Group.
Why is the Japanese Tosa banned?
The Japanese Tosa is banned in many countries as a dangerous dog breed due to his dog fighting history. He is definitely not a breed for just anyone, but with the right owner, the Tosa will thrive as a loyal and loving canine companion.
What does Tosa mean in Japanese?
The word Tosa in the breed’s name refers to the Tosa Province in Shikoku, Japan, where he was first created. Today, the province is currently called Kochi Prefecture.