Japan is a country renowned for the world’s finest sushi, incredible anime (or manga) stories and awesome sneaky ninjas. But did you know Japan is also home to many unique and widely popular dog breeds as well?
Kabosu (Japanese: かぼす), arguably the most famous dog on the internet, is a Shiba Inu – a dog breed originating from Japan. And as you can guess, popularity of Japanese dog breeds have sky-rocketed in recent years.
In the country of Japan, a “pet boom” can be traced back to the year 2003. At least in the eyes of the Japanese, dogs quickly became a viable and realistic alternative to raising a child.
Since 2003, the combined number of cats and dogs have outnumbered the number of children in Japan. This gap is only widening with increasingly more pets being introduced into the economy every year.
The rise of the popularity of Japanese dogs is real. There is no denying it. So without further a due, here are 13 amazing Japanese dog breeds in order of popularity.
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Table of Contents
Japanese Dog Breeds by Popularity
Note: Many names of Japanese dog breeds have the word “Inu” in them (e.g. Shiba Inu, Akita Inu, etc.). This doesn’t necessarily mean that the breeds are closely related.
Rather, the word “inu” means “dog” in Japanese. Likewise, the word “ken” also means “dog” in Japanese. So, the Kai Ken and Kishu Ken are different breeds with distinct bloodlines.
13. Sakhalin Husky
Highlights: Loyal, Diligent, Confident.
The Sakhalin Husky is by far the rarest Japanese dog breed in the world today. They are nearly extinct. In 2011, there were only two known purebred Sakhalin Huskies recorded in Japan. However, there is an unknown number of this breed still living on the Sakhalin Island.
Sergey Lyubykh, the only Sakhalin Husky breeder in the world, died in 2012. Not long before his death, Lyubykh mentioned that there are not enough Sakhalin Huskies in this world to continue breeding, as there needs to be enough genetic diversity.
This breed first became known because of the infamous Japanese research expedition to Antartica in 1958. An emergency evacuation was made, which left 15 huskies behind with the intention of coming back. Weather conditions became too bad and the rescue never happened.
After a year, a new expedition arrived and found two of the dogs still alive. Today, Taro and Jiro are national heroes in the country of Japan. In fact, these dogs are featured on monuments and statues all over Japan.
Sakhalin Husky Temperament
These huskies are extremely devoted to their owners. They have been known for be very affectionate dogs and will obey when asked. However, they are not overly anxious to please.
The Sakhalin Huskies are working dogs, meaning they don’t like to spend time alone or doing nothing. Some people describe these dogs as highly intelligent, independent, alert and confident. They tend to play well with children and other dogs.
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12. Ryukyu Inu
Highlights: Courageous, Intelligent, Alert.
The Ryukyu Inu is a Japanese dog breed that few have heard of. They originate from the southern island of Japan, called Okinawa (the Hawaii of Japan). These dogs are so rare that there’s estimated to be as few as 400 of them in 2015.
History and origins of these dogs are unclear. However, many researchers believed they were originally bred to hunt and track wild boars on the island.
What’s special about these dogs is their dewclaw on the back of the foot. Through evolution of living in the rainforest, the Ryukyu Inu developed this unique physical characteristic. As a result, they’re able to effortlessly climb trees.
The ability to track from such high vantage points is what makes them adept hunters.
Ryukyu Inu Temperament
For the most part, the Ryukyu Inu is a calm and docile dog. Despite their gentle nature, there are few things that they fear. Their courageous attitude is how they thrive as great hunters for wild boars, which are extremely dangerous animals.
The Ryukyu doesn’t bark much, but they’re always alert of their surrounding environment. They are dogs with high prey drive, as expected from such capable hunting dogs.
Because of this, they’re not recommended to be with small animals, such as cats or rodents. Not only do they hunt with single owners, but also work great in packs.
Despite popular belief, they are quite intelligent dogs. Though they require a ton of physical and mental stimulation to live a happy and healthy life.
11. Japanese Terrier
Highlights: Cheerful, Vigilant, Affectionate.
The Japanese Terrier, often referred to as the Nippon Terrier, is classified as a small dog originating from the country of Japan. Many locals believe that this breed was discovered through the breeding of fox terriers, pointers and other indigenous Japanese dog breeds.
Although they’re amazing dogs, they are an extremely rare breed – even in Japan. Historians believe that the ancestors of this terrier were brought to Japan by the Dutch merchant ships at the Nagasaki port. Still, there is no concrete evidence to confirm this theory.
Japanese Terrier Temperament
This terrier dog was bred for the sole purpose of being pets. In other words, they’re excellent lap dogs. They’re described as lovely dogs with a cheerful personality and lively attitude/temperament. These dogs are perfect as family pets because that’s what they’re intended for.
If you’re looking for a skilled hunting dog or an attentive watchdog, then the Japanese Terrier may not be for you. Instead, try looking at a breed from the six native dog breeds of Japan (Shiba, Akita, Shokiku, Kai Ken, Hokkaido, Kishu Ken).
However, a big plus is that they’re a hypoallergenic dog breed. In other words, they’re the perfect Japanese dog for allergy-sensitive dogs owners.
10. Tosa Inu
Highlights: Alert, Fearless, Sensitive.
The Tosa Inu is a rare dog breed from the indigenous area of Tosa Japan (now referred to as Kōchi). Because of their grand size, the Tosa is often referred to as the Japanese Mastiff. They were originally bred as fighting dogs, but are generally raised as excellent guard dogs today.
Starting from the 19th century, the Tosa Inu were bred in Japan using the indigenous Shikoku Inu along with many other European dog breeds. Such dog breeds included: the Mastiff, St. Bernard, English Bulldog, Great Dane, German Pointer and the Bull Terrier.
Today, breeding Tosa dogs happen all around the world. Yet surprisingly, Tosa Inus bred in Japan are much smaller than those bred outside the country. In fact, they are roughly half the size in Japan. Because of this, Tosa Inus can come in all different shapes and sizes.
Tosa Inu Temperament
It should be no surprise that the Tosa Inu is a highly aggressive and potentially dangerous dog breed. They were, after all, bred to be huge fighting dogs. They don’t do well with other dogs and can even become a lethal predators to cats.
Although the Tosa’s not generally aggressive towards familiar human, it can certainly happen. Never let them play with children unsupervised.
These dogs are definitely not recommended for first time dog owners nor for the casual dog owner. To limit the chances of them harming other people and animals, Tosa dogs require extra attention. This means they must be socialized at an early age and go through proper obedience training.
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9. Kai Ken
Highlights: Devoted, Courageous, Reserved.
The Kai Ken is a rare dog breed, even in the country of Japan. Belonging to the group of six indigenous dog breeds of Japan, the Kai Ken is considered a national treasure to its home and protected by the Nihon Ken Hozonkai (Nippo).
They are excellent hunting dogs and were bred to hunt deer, boar and bears in steep mountainous regions of Yamanashi.
This breed has been seen in Japanese pop culture through numerous manga and anime, which certainly helped in popularizing the Kai Ken. For example, the dog is featured in Ginga manga series (along with both of its sequels) and Kacchū no Senshi Gamu.
Kai Ken Temperament
The Kai Ken is highly intelligent dog with natural hunting instincts. Because they’re brave, alert and often aloof with strangers, they are considered excellent watch dogs for families. They’re especially good with young children and tend to get along well with other dogs.
They love the outdoors and live to be around nature. Taking them away from their natural habitat and sticking them in a metropolitan city may not be the best idea for them.
Most Kai Kens love to run, as they are very agile and quick. Many of them also love to swim and have been known to chase prey by swimming across rivers and streams.
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8. Kishu Ken
Highlights: Docile, Proud, Loyal.
The Kishu Ken (sometimes referred to as the Kishu Inu) is one of the oldest dog breeds to come out of Japan. They have been bred in the country for over a thousand years. The name of the breed originates from the old Kishu region (now called the Wakayama prefecture).
Like the other six native dog breeds of Japan, the Kishu was originally bred for hunting deer and boar. Instead of barking to intimidate prey, they carefully and cautiously stalk them in their hunt.
They physically resemble the Hokkaido the most, but temperament is often said to be more like the Shiba Inu.
The Kishu Kens are known to be courageous and brave, making them great hunting dogs. They’re considered a quiet dog breed and tend to get along with cats and other dogs (if properly socialized as a puppy).
Kishus are touted for their immense loyalty to their family and are excellent with young children within the family. They’re very observant dogs and like to keep an eye on things from high grounds, making them fantastic watch dogs.
However, they’re very dominant and strong-willed dogs, making it absolutely necessary for proper training as a puppy.
7. Hokkaido Inu
Highlights: Brave, Dignified, Faithful.
The Hokkaido dog gets its name by being native to the most northern island (and prefecture) of Japan – also named, Hokkaido. Other names for the Hokkaido include: Ainu-ken, Seta, Ainu dog.
Although their appearance look eerily similar to the Shiba and Akita Inu, they are medium-sized dogs. Bigger than the Shiba, but smaller than the Akita.
They have long, thick fur – primarily for combating the harsh winters of Hokkaido. Originally, they were bred to be hunting dogs by the indigenous Ainu people of Northeast Japan. This means the Hokkaido dogs have a ton of endurance and are extremely agile in cold, snowy terrain.
Perhaps the greatest and most well-known trait of the Hokkaido Inu is its loyalty to the owner. They are generally confident dogs and will prove their bravery to their owners with opportunity.
Because they were originally hunting dogs, they have an innate sense of smell and direction. A lost Hokkaido doesn’t usually stay lost for long, as they’ve been known to find their way home despite distance.
The Hokkaido are considered to be intelligent dogs, but best of all, they are food driven. This means that training a Hokkaido will be fairly easy to do.
As long as you have treats and provide solid obedience training, they will listen. A Hokkaido raised in a common family environment may not exhibit the same temperament as those raised in hunting kennels.
6. Sanshu Inu
Highlights: Affectionate, Loyal, Sweet-natured.
The Sanshu Inu is a Japanese dog breed developed in the early 1900’s (estimated 1912). They’re a cross between the Chinese Chow Chow, Aichi dog (ancient Japanese dog) and other Inus.
Although they’re relatively popular in Japan, the Sanshu is extremely rare outside the country. They were bred to be excellent guard dogs and affectionate companions for Japanese families.
A Sanshu Inu looks very similar to an Akita or Shiba Inu, at least physically. They’re smaller than an Akita, but larger than a Shiba. Some claim that they look most similar to the Hokkaido Inu.
However, the biggest difference is in the tail. This breed has a much straighter tail than the other more popular Inus. Most Inus, such as the Shiba, have a trademark look with their fluffy curly tails. Furthermore, these dogs come in a variety of coat colors: tan, red, fawn, gray and pied.
Although they’re excellent guard dogs, the Sanshu is most known for their companionship. With that said, they are very affectionate and loyal dogs. Owners describe them as sensitive dogs, always eager to please their masters.
They often form very close bonds with their family members and protect them at all cost. There’s a reason why they’re popular with families in Japan.
In addition, the Sanshu is a relatively easy dog to care for. They are extremely clean dogs and will often clean themselves up without any help! Obedience training should be approached with positive reinforcement and handled with affection.
They are kind and sweet-loving dogs that need to be reciprocated with love.
5. Shikoku Inu
Highlights: Cautious, Devoted, Lively.
This dog breed comes from the Shikoku Island of southern Japan, hence, Shikoku dogs. The Shikokus are one of the main six native Japanese breeds in the Spitz family.
They were originally bred for hunting in the mountainous regions of Japan. For this reason, they’re extremely versatile hunting dogs with endurance and speed.
With a small stature, pointy ears and a fluffy curly tail, the Shikoku Inu most resembles the Shiba Inu. However, they are slightly larger and officially classified as medium-sized dogs.
Just recently, this dog breed was officially recognized as an AKC FSS standard breed. In addition, the Shikoku Inu has been officially recognized by both the Japanese Kennel Club and the Canadian Kennel Club.
The Shikoku Inu exhibits a lot of great qualities, including bravery and cautiousness. They tend to be extremely loyal to their family as well. Similar to most Japanese dog breeds, the Shikoku are extremely agile in mountainous terrain.
A key difference between the Shiba and Shikoku is the contrast in personality. The Shikoku dog is not as stubborn nor independent as the Shiba Inu. Their personality fits the mold of the ideal ‘family dog’ more so than other Japanese breeds.
Highlights: Independent, Loyal, Alert.
The Japanese Chin is sometimes referred to as the Japanese Spaniel. This toy dog breed has a history of Japanese nobility, making them popular among the aristocrats of Japan.
Although these dogs are named ‘Japanese Chin,’ they are not native to the country. Historians have a hard time agreeing on where they originally came from and when they arrived.
Some believe the Chin were given as gifts to Japan from the rulers of Korea in AD 732. Others think they may have been given to the Empress of Japan in the 6th century. However, most believe that they were, in fact, native Chinese dog breeds. No one knows exactly when and where for certain.
The Chins are unique because of their naturally crossed eyes, also called strabismus. Most dog breeds have two types of coat, the over and under coat. However, the Japanese Chin only has the under coat, which can take nearly 2 years to fully grow out. When it does, the coat is either black & white or red & white.
Japanese Chin Temperament
A reason for this breed’s popularity is because they are very cat-like dogs. For example, they use paws to clean their face and they have an exceptionally good sense of balance – like cats.
In addition, the Chins are alert, intelligent and independent dogs. Like most Japanese dogs, the Chins are very loyal and friendly to their owners and family. They generally are friendly and make great companion or therapy dogs.
These dogs were originally bred to “entertain” the nobleman of Japan. In other words, they are excellent with dog tricks and often perform the “chin spin,” in which they spin in circles rapidly.
They certainly have their quirks, but you’ll never have a dull moment around a Japanese Chin.
Highlights: Affectionate, Playful, Obedient.
The Japanese Spitz is a small dog breed originating from the spitz family of dogs. They are generally seen as companion dogs and closely related to the white Pomeranian, Samoyed dog and the American Eskimo dog.
Japanese Spitz were born out of Japan in the 1920s when breeders began breeding various types of spitz dog breeds. They are currently recognized by every major international kennel club, except the AKC (American).
Since then, they have grown in popularity because of their favorable temperament and easiness to take care of. Despite having long fluffy hair, debris and other junk tend not to stick to their coat.
Japanese Spitz Temperament
A Japanese spitz will absolutely flourish when included in a family-oriented environment. They are very kind dogs and have immense love and loyalty for their owner(s).
As a result of their undying devotion, they make surprisingly great watch dogs for families. If confronted with unfamiliar people, they will bark to warn its family of the approaching intruders.
They play well with children and can even make a great companion dog for elders. It’s easy to love these dogs and the love will certainly be reciprocated. Because of all of this, is it really a surprise why the Japanese Spitz has grown so much in popularity?
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2. Akita Inu
Highlights: Faithful, Independent, Brave.
The Akita is a very popular and highly regarded dog breed originating from the northern region of Japan. In fact, the Akita is national symbol of Japan – similar to what the Korean Jindo (Korean dog breed) is for South Korea.
For this reason, they don’t come cheap. The Akita Inu is one of the most expensive dog breeds in the world.
Some people call them the large version of the smaller Shiba Inu. However, both dog breeds are very different in temperament – in addition to size.
There are two distinctive variations of the Akita. There is a Japanese “Akita Inu,” but also an “American Akita” (or just Akita for short). The two are considered two separate breeds in every country, except the United States and Canada.
The story of Hachikō, the most famous Akita, was what first put this dog breed on the international stage. Throughout the years, this story has been told countless times in various media formats. Consequently, this fueled the growing popularity of the Akita Inu.
Akita Inu Temperament
The Akita is known to be a territorial breed and can be aloof and/or cautious around strangers. This may be the reason why the Japanese see them as such excellent guard dogs.
According to the AKC, they do not cohabit well with other dogs of the same gender. This is especially true with male Akitas. And even with two different genders, you can’t guarantee there won’t be any scuffles.
They are strong and independent dogs, which is why proper obedience and socialization are so crucial at an early stage. A well-trained Akita will be able to act docile towards non-threatening strangers.
Despite strong personalities, they play well with children. In fact, it is often said they have a special liking towards kids. Consider them an extra furry guardian of your children.
In certain countries, these dogs answer to a higher calling. Their physical traits and temperament make them attractive police or military dog breeds. You can bet to find these dogs in Japan’s law enforcement.
1. Shiba Inu
Highlights: Courageous, Confident, Charming.
The Shiba Inu is certainly the most popular Japanese dog breed in the world. Famous for inspiring one of the biggest and longest-standing joke on the internet, the Shiba is responsible for doge memes.
They are petite and agile dogs originating from the mountainous areas of Japan. But because of increasing popularity, they can now be found in all areas of the world.
These dogs are often mistaken for similar looking Japanese dogs, such as the Akita Inu or Hokkaido Inu. However, they’re much smaller with a distinct blood line.
Shibas are known to be quite independent dogs, much like a cat. This might explain why they tend to get along with other cats. However, not so much with other small dogs or young children. Although with early socialization and a bit of training, they can still be civil interacting with others.
These dogs are bold in spirit, with a certain good nature to their personality. They are considered to have average intelligence compared to other dog breeds, but they are extremely easy to housebreak. And often times, they housebreak themselves.
This breed has a very distinguishable high-pitched scream, often called the Shiba Scream. You may hear this if you attempt to handle the dog in a harmful or unpleasant way. However, sometimes a similar cry can come from great happiness and joy.
The Most Famous Japanese Dog
By far the most popular dog in Japan is Kabosu (Japanese: かぼす). Unsurprisingly, the most famous dog in Japan is also the most popular Japanese dog breed – the Shiba Inu.
The picture above is perhaps the most famous picture of Kabosu. It’s featured in countless dog memes and jokes that gave birth to the name “doge.” The meme has traveled far, and there is even a meme cryptocurrency affectionately named Dogecoin.
Although the picture was first released in February 2010, it wasn’t popularized until 2013 through the power of Reddit and 4Chan.
Kabosu was adopted by Atsuko Sato, a Japanese kindergarten teacher, when a puppy mill suddenly went out of business. She named the dog after a round Japanese fruit (Kabosu fruit) because of the Shiba’s similarly round face.
Has Sato done anything with all the fame? Currently, Kabosu receives nearly $15,000 per month in endorsements from big brands like Purina, Brooks Brothers and Coach.
She has also started a blog as a platform to increase public awareness of the dangers of puppy wills, while promoting adoption of dogs.
So let us know, which is your favorite Japanese dog breed? If you own a Japanese dog, tell us about your dog! Leave a comment in the section below.
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