8 True Japanese Dog Breeds and 3 Imposters

Kelly Roper
The Akita Inu; Copyright: Eric Isselee at Dreamstime.com
Akita Inu

There are a variety of Japanese dog breeds. Some may already be familiar to you, while you may not have heard of the others. You'll even find a few impostors that are not true Japanese breeds.

Ancient Dogs of Japan

The Akita and the Shiba Inu are no strangers to the western world, but the majority of Japan's six original dog breeds are rarely encountered outside of that country.

It's interesting to note that each of these breeds is a Spitz-type dog, even though they were developed in different regions of the country. All were developed mainly as hunting dogs that could withstand cold weather. However, most of these dogs enjoy a place as family companions as well.

You'll often see the word "Inu" or "Ken" after a particular dog's name. Both of thes words mean "dog."

List of Original Japanese Dog Breeds

Shiba Inu; Copyright: Tommy Maenhout at Dreamstime.com Shiba Inu
  • Akita Inu - This is the original Akita bred in Japan. It is similar to the American Akita, but it is not as muscular. It also has a slightly longer muzzle, and its head is not as broad as the American version. These dogs come in white, shades of red and brindle.
  • Shiba Inu - This is another fairly well-known Japanese dog that is gaining popularity in the western world as well. The Shiba is the smallest of the original Japanese breeds, and it makes a good, yet sometimes stubborn, family companion despite the fact that it was originally bred to hunt small game.
  • Hokkaido - An excellent watchdog, the Hokkaido Inu is sharply intelligent and thinks quite independently. However, these dogs are very devoted to their human companions. They are considered perhaps the oldest of the Japanese dog breeds, and they have been bred to withstand very cold winter weather.
  • Kai Ken - Also known as the Kai Inu, the Kai Ken breed is another Spitz-type dog, but it is rangier than the other Japanese breeds. The most distinguishing feature of the this dog is its brindle coat. The Kai Ken is often referred to as the Tiger Dog.
  • Kishu Inu - This is another Spitz-type dog from the mountains of Kishu that was originally bred to hunt boars. Today's Kishu comes in solid colors, and white dogs are the most common. Like many Japanese breeds, the Kishu is a very quiet dog, and it makes a nice, medium-sized family companion.
  • Shikoku Inu - The Shikoku was declared a national treasure in Japan, and its bloodline is considered extremely pure. This is due to the fact that the island where these dogs developed, Shikoku, was quite isolated, and interbreeding with other dogs is strictly forbidden.

More Japanese Breeds

The following dogs are Japanese in origin, but they are not considered part of the original Japanese breeds for various reasons.

  • American Akita - Although a descendant of the original Akita Inu, the American-style Akita's build is noticeably stockier. This led to its recognition in the American Kennel Club as a separate breed. The American Akita can have virtually any color and markings.
  • Tosa Inu - The Tosa is the result of interbreeding the Shikoku with a variety of powerful dogs including Mastiffs and Great Danes. This created a Mastiff-type dog with a powerful build that does not bare any resemblance to the Spitz-type build of the other purebred Japanese dogs. The Tosa was bred for fighting.

Not True Japanese Breeds

Tosa Inu; Copyright: Mfelixphoto at Dreamstime.com Tosa Inu

The following breeds are not native to Japan despite their names. They are simply breeds taken to heart by the Japanese people and further developed in that country.

  • Japanese Chin - Despite its name, the Japanese Chin did not originate in Japan. The Chin actually comes from China, but it became a great favorite of Japanese royalty and was further developed in that country. Once known as the Japanese Spaniel, the name was changed to Chin after receiving recognition from the American Kennel Club.
  • Japanese Spitz - It's generally believed that the Japanese Spitz is the result of down-sizing the Samoyed. These bold little dogs have a beautiful milk-white coat that requires a lot of brushing.
  • Japanese Terrier - The Japanese Terrier is most likely a descendant of Smooth Fox Terriers originally brought to Japan by traders from other countries. These dogs are small and somewhat territorial, but they do make lively family companions.

Whether one of these breeds originated in Japan or it was simply adopted and further developed in that country, there's no doubt that the Japanese people have a great interest in their canine companions. If a particular breed has caught your interest, contact a breeder and schedule a visit to get to know one of these dogs better. Of course, you may have to visit Japan to see some of the rarer breeds in person if you don't already live there, but it will definitely be an adventure.

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8 True Japanese Dog Breeds and 3 Imposters