July 20, 2020

How Many Did You Know? 9 Japanese Dog Breeds AKC Recognizes

Written by Kumiko Toya

When it comes to Japanese dog breeds, most people think of Shiba or Akita, but Japan has so many more wonderful dog breeds. We have brought together 9 Japanese dog breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club® and AKC Foundation Stock Service® so you can learn more about their history, habits, and unique personalities!

okyo maruyama 2Okyo Maruyama "Puppies", 1784. They are believed to be Shiba puppies.  public domain

At one time, it was feared that some Japanese breeds would go extinct after years of poor breeding and mating with foreign breeds that were introduced to Japan. Even Shiba, the popular household pet in Japan and across the world today, was almost wiped out around World War II. Fortunately, many of these Japanese breeds have flourished in the years since, thanks to the government and breeders’ continuous effort to preserve them.

Images at the top credit fubuki_akita  (Akita) and maomi (Tosa)


akita 5Photo credit fubuki_akita

Height: 26-28 inches (male), 24-26 inches (female)
Weight: 100-130 pounds (male), 70-100 pounds (female)

Akita is a fearless, intelligent, and extremely loyal dog with a large body and characteristic small triangular eyes.

akita puppy
Do you know Hachiko? He was an Akita who was known as the most faithful dog to have ever lived. Every day, Hachiko waited for his master’s return from work nearby Shibuya station. This continued for a couple of years until the master died suddenly at work, and Hachiko was left waiting at the station. Not able to understand that his beloved master had passed, Hachiko continued to show up at the station when the afternoon train would appear, patiently awaiting his master, every single day for ten years until his own death... (Just stating the story is making my eyes water.)

He became a national sensation and a symbol of loyalty.

akita hachiko 6Statue of Hachiko near Shibuya Station, Tokyo


In 2009, a movie based on the Hachiko story was released. Hachi: A Dog's Tale, starring actor Richard Gere, directed by Lasse Hallström.

Japanese Chin

japanese chin 1Photo credit kunji_japanese_chin

Height: 8-11 inches
Weight: 7-11 pound

“You cannot own a Japanese Chin, because he owns you.” This is an old saying portraying the breed rather accurately. They thrive as the center of attention. They are described as having a cat-like attitude: sensitive, intelligent, clean,  affectionate to their owner but aloof with strangers, making them a perfect lap dog.  

Queen_Alexandra,_when_Princess_of_Wales_-_Fildes_1893 public imageQueen Alexandra of Great Britain and Facey, her Japanese Chin. Painting by Luke Fildes, 1893, public domain

They had been beloved by Japanese high-class ladies as a companion dog and given as a gift to foreign diplomats and state guests, and this is how Japanese Chin became popular among people of wealth in Britain and the United States.

japanese chin 5Photo credit kunji_japanese_chin

When I was a child, there was a neighbor who had a Japanese Chin, though I had never seen the dog on the ground! The little dog was eternally in the owner’s arms. Even my usually friendly dog seemed confused whether to bark or greet it when we met them during our walks.


hokkaido 3Photo credit toboetsuki

Height 18 - 20 inches
Weight 44 - 66 lbs

hokkaido 2Photo credit toboetsuki

One of the oldest breeds of Japanese dogs with roots dating back nearly 8,000 years ago, Hokkaido are a powerful dog with a broad chest and strong jaw.

hokkaido 1Photo credit toboetsuki

They guard, defend, hunt and sleds, and the Ainu people (native Japanese who lived in Hokkaido, the northern island of Japan) revered this breed.


tosa Wystawa_Rybnik_02.10.2011_tosa_inu_1plPhoto credit Pleple2000  Wikimedia Commons

Height: 21.5-23.5 inches
Weight: 100-200 pounds

Formerly bred ultimately for dog fighting but now primarily used as a family pet and show dog, Tosa is the largest of all Japanese dog breeds. This rare breed, also called Japanese Mastiff, originated in the Tosa region of Shikoku, where dog fighting was a celebratory sport.

tosa puppy 2photo credit GOLDSANSOX

Often referred to as the "Sumo wrestler of the dog world", Tosa make excellent guard dogs. (No intruder wants to come across this ferocious looking beast!)

tosa 1Photo credit Riona Centrum

Despite the robust looks, Tosa have a very docile temperament in a family environment and they are eager to please their master and their family members. They do not require a lot of exercises like other dogs do. Instead, they love to spend the lazy afternoon on couches!


Kishu_Ken 2 CJ HammondPhoto credit CJ Hammond from Wikimedia Commons

Height: 17-22 inches
Weight: 30-60 pounds

Kishu are native dogs in Kishu, a west region of Japan. They were bred to hunt boar and deer. They are tough and persistent, able to stalk its prey until they are hunted down.The hunters preferred the white color because of easy visibility.

kishu 1photo credit passerellewan


kai 1photo credit Mari Vammelvirta

Height: 15.5-19.5 inches
Weight: 20-40 pounds

Kai descends from an ancient breed in Japan and comes from the province called Kai, a mountainous region in Honshu island. Kai are unique and recognizable because of their tiger stripe fur, which is why Tora Inu, or Tiger Dog is the other name they are known by.

kai 2photo credit Mari Vammelvirta

They are an excellent hunter and highly valued because of their persistency to keep on its game for great length. They run steep trails, swim to cross the river, and are even said to climb trees to get his prey!

kai 3photo credit Mari Vammelvirta

Japanese Spitz

spitz 10

Height: 12-15 inches
Weight: 10-25 pounds

The Japanese Spitz are believed to be descended from white German Spitz that were brought over to Japan in the 1920s. With pure white fluffy coat, little prick ears and large oval eyes, Japanese Spitz is a very cute dog, and they act like they perfectly know who they are!

spitz 9
They are often called a “Cloud Dog”, due to their fluffy white appearance. In the 1950s, around 40% of registered dogs in Japan were Japanese Spitz!

spitz 8



shikoku 5image credit Kagawa_ymg

Height: 17-22 inches
Weight: 35-55 pounds

shikoku 1
Shikoku were an ancient hunting dog breed in the mountainous region on the Island of Shikoku in Japan. They are a medium sized dog with a well-balanced body and sufficient stamina to run through a mountainous region.


shiba inu 4

Height: 14.5-16.5 inches (male), 13.5-15.5 inches (female)
Weight: 23 pounds (male), 17 pounds (female)

The oldest of Japanese dog breeds, Shiba were around people as a hunting dog since around 7,000 B.C. They are so old that nobody knows for certain where the name “Shiba” came from. (It could be from “autumn color brushwood” from the color of their coat, or “small size”, both words pronounced close to “shiba” in old Japanese.)

shiba puppy
They have prick ears, black nose, and a very thick double coat that gives them a foxlike look. Though sometimes Shiba are said to be independent and proud, I have known many Shiba who are as friendly as Labradors!

shiba inu large
Shiba were relatively unknown in the U.S. until a San Francisco based Shiba breeder posted Shiba puppy cam on the web in 2008. It became an internet sensation, and soon, Shiba doggo memes, photos, and videos swept over the internet. (You might remember Kabosu, who was behind the memes, and Maru, who has 250M Instagram followers.)

shiba-07Shiba Mom and Puppy motif is one of our most popular Chigiri-e kits! Check it out! 
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