Dogs have been companions to humans for thousands of years — and we’re talking, like, almost 10,000 years. And throughout that span of time, a handful of native Japanese dogs emerged and have become companions to people all over the world.
There are 10 distinct Japanese dog breeds you should know about in case you come across one of these dogs in your local shelter or adoption center. But there are six breeds that are “Nihon-ken” or “Nippo,” meaning they are native to Japan. These breeds are the Akita Inu, Hokkaido, Kai Ken, Kishu, Shikoku and Shiba Inu. Other breeds that are commonly found in Japan are not necessarily native to the country, but were brought from other nations over time.
If you want to learn a bit more information about these Japanese dog breeds, we’ve compiled a list of the 10 most common breeds found in Japan and included some info that will help you get a good idea of their history and characteristics.
Japanese dog breeds
So which dogs reign supreme in Japan? Here are the 10 most popular Japanese dog breeds in the country.
Akitas were originally excellent hunters. They have webbed feet so they can aptly navigate snowy terrain, and their front dew claws are like ice picks to help them gain grip when getting out of icy water. At one point in Japanese history, Akitas were only owned by the Imperial family, but now Akitas are loved by people all around the world.
2. Hokkaido Inu
Hokkaido Inus are a medium-sized breed and will reach an average weight of 45 to 60 pounds at full size.
3. Shiba Inu
Shiba Inus have been a part of Japanese culture since 7000 B.C. and originated as hunting dogs. It’s super common to come across this breed of dog in Japan today, but they were almost extinct after World War II due to the bombings in Japan as well as distemper. Shibas are more like cats than dogs because they spend so much time cleaning themselves.
Shikoku dogs come from the mountains of Kochi Prefecture on the island of Shikoku and were historically good at hunting wild boar. These dogs can have red; black and tan; or black, red and white coats, which help them blend into their wintery surroundings.
5. Tosa Inu
The Tosa Inu is the largest of all Japanese dog breeds. Tosas can weigh between 100 and 200 pounds, and their love and loyalty for their families runs deep. Tosas are steadfast and patient with those they love.
6. Kai Ken
Kai Ken dogs are great swimmers, climbers and trackers, and their brindle coats (mottled black, brown and sometimes red) help them blend in with their surroundings.
Originating as hunting dogs in dense forested areas in the mountains of Japan, Kishus are well-loved, modern-day family dogs all over the world. They’re super smart and love being mentally stimulated often.
8. Japanese spitz
Similar in appearance to a Pomeranian, the Japanese spitz is a small dog who doesn’t require much grooming despite having a fluffy white coat.
9. Japanese Chin
Funnily enough, Japanese Chin dogs actually originate from China. They were once gifted to the Japanese royal family by the emperor of China and have been an easy-to-spot breed in Japan ever since. They’re companion dogs who are super small in stature — they only stand about 9 inches tall!
10. Japanese terrier
The Japanese terrier is the first terrier breed from Japan. They’re a small breed, weighing between 10 and 30 pounds, and are energetic and love a lot of play and activity.
These breeds, while native to or common in Japan, are adoptable all over the world. If you have your heart set on rescuing one of these breeds, start with your local shelters and rescues, like NYC Shiba Rescue, or check out the adoptable dogs on Petfinder.
If you decide to adopt a Japanese dog breed, know that you’re adopting an incredibly unique, fun-loving pup who will stick by you and your family forever. And it sure helps that they’re all cute, too!