11 Top Dog Breeds From Japan

Popular Canines With Japanese History

Japanese Chin

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Since ancient times, the Japanese have cultivated "inu" or dog breeds. These dogs were historically responsible for hunting wild boar to serving as lap companions for society's most affluent members. According to the Japanese Dog Preservation Society, six indigenous breeds are "Nihon Ken" or Japan's national dogs: shibu inu, Akita, Kai ken, Kishu, Shikoku, and the Hokkaido. The ancient roots of these dogs go back thousands of years, dating back to the Paleolithic period.

The Japanese people are proud of their dogs and bestow honors and praise on them. This pride and commitment to their national treasures are why some of the more uncommon breeds are rarely exported.

Most rare breeds can be hard to find, but you can help keep near-extinct bloodlines alive by searching for kennel clubs online or use the AKC Marketplace for a list of trustworthy breeders. Pet transportation services can safely get a dog from breeders to your home.

Breed Characteristics

Each of the six indigenous dogs is a double-coated, intelligent spitz-type breed. Spitzes have long, thick, fur, and pointed ears and muzzles. The tail often curls over the dog's back or droops. Their double coats are suited for colder temperatures, mountainous terrain, and can withstand the unique climate fluctuations of this island country. The five other, non-spitz Japanese breeds were imported to the country, including dogs bred for companionship, fighting, or hunting.

These 11 breeds are the more well-known Japanese canines, including their fascinating histories and why they are revered.

  • 01 of 11

    Shiba Inu

    shiba inu

     

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    Shiba inu means “brushwood” in Japanese for the terrain where the dog would hunt birds and other small game. This ancient breed dates back more than 3,000 years. This dog is one of the smaller members of the American Kennel Club’s non-sporting group that would occasionally hunt with their owners for larger animals, including deer, bear, and boar. The shibu inu is a confident dog known for his “shiba scream," a unique sound of excitement. These small muscular dogs are the most popular companion dog in Japan for their active, attentive, and good-natured personality.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Non-sporting (AKC)

    Height: 14.5 to 16.5 inches (male); 13.5 to 15.5 inches (female)

    Weight: 23 pounds (male); 17 pounds (female)

    Coat and Color: Long coat, heavy shedders; coat comes in black with tan points, sesame, red, or cream/white; undercoat is cream, gray, or buff

    Life Expectancy: 13 to 16 years

  • 02 of 11

    Akita

    Portrait of an Akita, New Mexico, USA
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    The Akita is a spitz breed that shares its traits and ancestry with other similar breeds. These brave, strong, loyal, and affectionate dogs make the Akita a popular family pet, although its thick double coat requires some maintenance. They can also get large, weighing over 100 pounds.

    Smuggled into the United States via plane after World War II, the Akita quickly won American servicemen's hearts and cultivated the breed's popularity in the United States. These quiet, independent dogs are suspicious of strangers but more than happy to share their playful and affectionate side with their families.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Working (AKC)

    Height: 26 to 28 inches (male), 24 to 26 inches (female)

    Weight: 100 to 130 pounds (male), 70 to 100 pounds (female)

    Coat and Color: Burly and heavy-boned dogs with a dense double coat that comes in multiple colors, including white

    Life Expectancy: 10 to 13 years

  • 03 of 11

    Japanese Chin

    japanese chin

     

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    Though the breed is called the Japanese chin or spaniel, these charming, noble dogs likely came from Korea or China more than 500 years ago. The Japanese aristocracy made these dogs popular in Japan; they were revered in their highest social circles. Weighing no more than 10 pounds, these small, dainty dogs were bestowed upon foreign diplomats and other nobility to commemorate their service to Japan. "Chin" means "royalty" in Japanese. They’re an indoor breed and perfectly lovable companion that possesses an unmistakably Eastern look similar to pugs or shih tzus.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Toy (AKC)

    Height: 8 to 11 inches

    Weight: 7 to 11 pounds

    Coat and Color: Long, sleek and smooth coat in black and white, lemon and white, sable and white, and black, white, and tan

    Life Expectancy: 10 to 14 years

  • 04 of 11

    Shikoku

    Shikoku dog

     

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    The Shikoku (also known as the "Shikoku inu" or "Kochi-ken") is a native Japanese breed that was a hunting dog. Japanese hunters highly valued them as a tracker of game, particularly wild boar. These dogs are known for their endurance, intelligence, and alertness. Though they are enthusiastic hunters, the Shikoku is docile towards his master.

    Breed Overview

    Group: AKC Foundation Stock Service; not an AKC recognized breed

    Height: 17 to 22 inches

    Weight: 35 to 55 pounds

    Coat and Color: Outer coat is harsh and straight, while the inner is soft and dense; comes in red, black and tan, or sesame

    Life Expectancy: 10 to 12 years

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  • 05 of 11

    Tosa Inu

    tosa inu

     

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    The largest of all Japanese breeds, the Tosa inu is a rare Japanese mastiff-type breed that was bred to become an ultimate fighting dog. It originated in the Tosa region, where dogfighting was once an important and celebratory sport. It is also called the Tosa ken, Tosa token, Japanese fighting dog, and Japanese mastiff. It is still used in dog fights today; dogfighting remains legal in Japan.

    Tosas are eager-to-please dogs, attuned to their owners but are not only overly athletic. With a potential weight of up to 200 pounds, these massive and intimidating dogs have been banned in some countries. Today's Tosa is quietly affectionate with families but can be somewhat aloof with strangers. They are highly watchful of other dogs, mainly unknown dogs.

    Breed Overview

    Group: AKC Foundation Stock Service; not an AKC recognized breed

    Height: At least 21.5 to 23.5 inches

    Weight: 100 to 200 pounds

    Coat and Color: Short, dense coat comes in colors including fawn, red, apricot, black or brindle; can also have white markings on their chest and feet

    Life Expectancy: 10 to 12 years

  • 06 of 11

    Hokkaido Inu

    hokkaido dog

     

    Katsuaki Shoda / Getty Images

    Considered one of the oldest and wildest dogs of Japanese descent, the Hokkaido inu is a bold, athletic, and muscular breed tasked with the job of guarding, hunting, and sledding. This breed is extremely rare outside of Japan. The Hokkaido is a faithful, dignified dog with a great deal of stamina and endurance. They are docile and very alert. They make loyal and dedicated eager-to-please companions; however, they can become overly wary of strangers if not socialized properly.

    Breed Overview

    Group: AKC Foundation Stock Service; not an AKC recognized breed

    Height: 18 to 20 inches

    Weight: 44 to 66 pounds

    Coat and Color: Double coat in white, red, black, brindle, sesame, or wolf grey that has protective, coarse outer guard hairs, along with a fine, thick undercoat that sheds seasonally

    Life Expectancy: 12 to 15 years

  • 07 of 11

    Kai Ken

    japanese breed Kai

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    The Kai ken is one of the six native Japanese breeds; it hunted a wide range of game in Japan's Kai mountains. The highly intelligent, eager-to-please breed is another rare find. These dogs are devoted and trustworthy guardians of their families. The Kai ken is athletic with a strong drive to hunt. They can even climb trees and will swim rivers while in pursuit of their prey.

    Breed Overview

    Group: AKC Foundation Stock Service; not an AKC recognized breed

    Height: 15.5 to 19.5 inches

    Weight: 20 to 40 pounds

    Coat and Color: Unique camouflage-friendly brindle coat that comes in three colors: black brindle, brindle, and red brindle

    Life Expectancy: 12 to 15 years

  • 08 of 11

    Ryukyu Inu

    ryukyu dogs

    Ryukyu Mike / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    A scarce breed, the courageous yet docile Ryukyu inu hails from Japan's southern islands (Okinawa) and is called the "national treasure" of the island. They look similar to the Kai ken, but their history remains a bit more unclear. They were likely bred to hunt and track wild boars on the Japanese island. This breed's dewclaw enables these dogs to climb trees and track their prey from higher vantage points while hunting in the rainforest.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Not an AKC recognized breed

    Height: 17 to 19.5 inches

    Weight: Up to 40 to 50 pounds

    Coat and Color: Short and long; single and double-coated; brindle, black brindle, white brindle, black, white, sesame, ivory, liver, and red

    Life Expectancy: 12 to 13 years

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  • 09 of 11

    Japanese Spitz

    The Japanese spitz was developed in Japan in the 1920s and 1930s by crossbreeding other spitz-type dogs from Australia, Canada, China, Siberia, and the United States. Records about the specific breeding program were destroyed during World War II, so the dog's exact details are a mystery. In the United States, the United Kennel Club recognizes the Japanese spitz as part of the Northern Breeds group and the AKC Foundation Stock Service, the first step toward eventual full recognition. It is a small, fluffy, white companion breed that is friendly and fun-loving.

    Breed Overview

    Group: AKC Foundation Stock Service; Northern Breeds (UKC)

    Height: 12 to 15 inches

    Weight: 10 to 25 pounds

    Coat and Color: A straight and stand-off outer coat paired with a short, soft, dense undercoat; pure white coat

    Life Expectancy: 12 to 14 years

  • 10 of 11

    Kishu

    The Kishu ken developed from tough, medium-sized dogs that roamed the mountains of Japan many centuries ago. They were used for hunting boar and deer and considered a "memorial of nature." The Wakayama region is best known for the breeding and development of the Kishu. The hunters preferred the white color because they were easier to see. Before 1934, there were Kishus in white, red, brindle, and some that were spotted. But the solid colors became the only accepted colors, and the spotted-coat Kishus disappeared by 1945.

    Breed Overview

    Group: AKC Foundation Stock Service; not an AKC recognized breed

    Height: 17 to 22 inches

    Weight: 30 to 60 pounds

    Coat and Color: The coat is short, straight, and coarse with a thick undercoat; most are white, but can also be sesame, red, and black and tan

    Life Expectancy: 11 to 13 years

  • 11 of 11

    Japanese Terrier

    Around 1700, during the Edo Era, a primitive English smooth fox terrier bred with a mix of native Japanese small breeds and eventually Italian greyhounds. By the 1900s, they were called Kobe terriers, named for the region where they lived. Today's Japanese terriers are a mix of those Kobe terriers with English toy terriers and toy bull terriers from the West. They were recognized by the Japan Kennel Club in the 1930s and spread throughout Japan in the 1940s. World War II and the rising popularity of other Western breeds nearly wiped them out. They continue to hunt boar to this day and are a friendly, agile little breed.

    Breed Overview

    Group: AKC Foundation Stock Service; not an AKC recognized breed

    Height: 11 to 13 inches

    Weight: 5 to 10 pounds

    Coat and Color: Smooth glossy coat in white and tan, black and tan, and black

    Life Expectancy: 12 to 15 years

Breeds to Avoid

Dogs that emerged from Japan make sense for the island nation's varied climate regions—most are double-coated to withstand cooler temps. One type of dog that Japan has no great use for is a hot-climate, equatorial, or desert-loving breed. Japan has extreme sub-Arctic temperatures in its mountainous regions. It can get warm in the subtropical southern areas, but not desert-hot. Breeds to avoid include hairless breeds like the Chinese crested and Xoloitzcuintli, including many Latin American breeds.