Friday, October 23, 2020

Vega x Momo: 30 Days Old

 So I've slacked in that 2 litters are on the ground at my house, but I have posted nothing about them on the blog. Oops. They are on my Instagram feeds though.

Anyway, here is the Vega x Momo litter at 30 days old. The mating was natural. Threw Vega and Momo together, they did all the humping. The birth was natural, Momo did all the work. Quite happy with my kennel camera system, as I was on my way home and saw the first pup pop out while I was still 30 minutes away. I sat with Momo and watched the rest enter the world while having a nice bento. In a world where there are so many breeds that 'need help' to mate, and are unable to give birth naturally or on their own, I find it refreshing to have a litter like this. It seems, well, right.

There were 4 pups, 3 females and 1 male. This is the male.

Female 1

Female 2

Female 3

I've been taking regular videos of them as they mature, which hopefully I will have time to edit and put up on the blog to help people evaluate their NK litters.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020


 So a bit of a rarity here today. This is Taka, a black and tan Shikoku, and he has a sashi-o (pointed tail, or sickle tail). He's only the second sashi-o Shikoku that I've seen, the other being Kuromasa (Masamine's sire). I figured I would snap some pictures to have on record, and to show that this is tail type that is correct and present in the breed. While we're at it, we can talk about some of the other aspects of this male.

He's a smaller male, around 50cm ish, but has a lot of bone as you can see. He's got a very masculine head going on, eyes are set back in the skull very nicely (oku-me).

You can see he's got white coming up too far on his front legs (it's only allowed up to the elbow), and he's got quite a bit of flecking which is something else we don't want. He's got really nice eye and cheek markings. See how in the circular markings there is red, fading to white? Eye and cheek marking should be like that. You don't want them completely red, or completely white.

In the picture above you can see that in profile his muzzle ends in a bit of a point, and the lower jaw is a bit hidden. That's not entirely preferable, but not terrible. Just being aware of things like this is important so you can select away from it in the next generation. Another thing I'd point out is that the white urajiro on the tail is coming through very nicely toward the end of the tail. In many black and tan dogs you'll see they don't have white extending far enough toward the tip.

Taka was owned by an old timer (and friend) that has been in the Nihon Ken for longer than I've been alive. This gentleman has taken best in show at the NIPPO grand national, and he's owned/bred Shiba, Kishu, and Shikoku. Over recent years his niche was hunting with his black and tan Shikoku (he owns three of them). Alas, the years catch up to all of us, and this gentleman's wife had to go into care. He's unable to reliably care for 3 adult Shikoku, so I took Taka in to find him somewhere to go. Luckily, it only took a few days.

Thursday, October 8, 2020


 I've always loved dogs with a bit of speed on them, and like the concept of the Lurcher, a non-pedigreed working dog, bred to purpose. Just stumbled on a video of this great team of dogs, ferrets, and human, working in tandem to hunt rabbits. An old style of hunting that is still as relevant as it ever was.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Will a Pup Hunt?

 So someone asked me:

Let's say theoretically if you cross to working hunting dogs, are all puppies likely to inherit that? Or is it an unsure percentage? And how much of it is pure instinct and how much would you say is how they're started/introduced to the hunt?

That's a difficult question to answer, since there are so many different types of prey, and different styles of hunting. I would say in my experience (primitive breeds, NK) whether or not your dog will hunt is almost 100 percent instinct (they are born with the necessary data). 

The Nihon Ken is a complete, primitive hunter, like a wild canid. It goes through the entire hunting cycle: find, chase, stop/kill. Many dog breeds have been bred specifically to only do one part of the hunt sequence (ie bird dogs taught to find/point).

The complete hunting package for an NK requires it to have hunting drive, good nose, speed, etc etc and enough grit to stop/attack its prey. Every generation you create that is not bred to specifically maintain hunting functionality is mathematically decreasing the odds of producing a litter of working dogs.

So yes, a pup from two working parents has higher odds of hunting, but there's never a litter (from any breeding) that you can say will 'work' 100 percent. More than just two working parents, you need generations behind the parents of solid, tested, working dogs. If you have that, your odds get pretty good. I would say the percentage of dogs that will work boar, from a purpose bred line, will vary according to the skill/selection of the hunter breeding them. But to have 90 percent of pups produced turn out as even half decent hunters, well those are impressive numbers (and I respect any kennel turning out those pups). 

There are very few purebred Nihon Ken (of any of the breeds) that have dedicated working kennels/lines. So, the percentages of purebred dogs that will work is not extremely high, but is better in some breeds over others. If you're hoping to hunt boar or dangerous game, the Kishu is still rather viable, while the Akita is most likely not going to work out. It's a numbers game.

I'm very much a proponent of Nature over Nurture. You can tone down what is in a dog through nurture/training, but you cannot put something in there that wasn't there to begin with.

Monday, September 21, 2020


 There are little boar everywhere this time of year, every year. The older boar are smarter and have learned where not to be. The little boar, not so much. They're getting up in everyone's yards, fields, and on the roads. The new generation.

So, one unlucky little boar made its way into one of my traps. We got Hina (Shikoku 1yr) and Miya (aka Memester, Kishu 3months) looking at their first boar. I wasn't super hopeful about Hina. The odds of Shikoku (which are pretty much all show line at this stage) turning out as boar dogs is pretty low, but I'm still trying to select toward a proper working dog. Her reaction is as you see it: lot's of interest, but nervousness and not liking the pressure the boar puts on. 

That is what I try to tell people about 'real' hunting (you're dog is not a great hunter because it likes to chase cats or kill lizards). Real prey, and especially boar, put a lot of pressure on hunting dogs. If they don't have a lot of drive, and a lot of smarts, things are not going to work out. Anyway, I don't consider this a fail. A fail is a dog that just wants nothing to do with the boar, tucks tail and makes for the hills. Or worse yet, a dog that does not recognize the threat the boar poses, and is unaware, or tries to ignore the boar.

We took Miya's mom, Karen, along for moral support. Karen's a 100% bailer (bays,barks) and is not a gritty dog at all. That's what I'm trying to produce: Kishu with drive, smarts, good voice, not so gritty, great family dogs (safe around other people and dogs), and healthy. In short, dogs that are a joy to own, and will be around a long time to help you keep putting boar in the freezer. Memester looks to be another step in the right direction. She's ridiculously smart, driven, clever, and ridiculously athletic. Check this three month old pup out doing this.

She's the next generation of Kishu here. We'll just keep moving forward with the Shikoku as well, until we get 'there'. Hunting season starts in just under 2 months, we'll see what that brings. 2 of my Shikoku girls will be giving birth in the next 2 weeks, so the rest of 2020 is going to be busy!

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Let's Talk About Eyes

Let's talk about Shikoku eyes. Someone asked me about this recently, and there's a thunder storm going on. I'm going to wait it out and walk the dogs afterward.

There's different types of eye sets in the 6 Japanese breeds. The basic rules of the shape are the same however.

The angles however, are slightly different, and what is preferred in a male or female are different. A male can have a sharper eye, while that would not be a very feminine look (and vice versa). Sexual dimorphism is a very important part of the Nihon Ken standard.

In the Shikoku, the different 'lines' also have slightly different eye types. What is acceptable for one line, may not really suit a dog from another line. When you start out-crossing dogs (which happens a lot especially overseas) you are mixing types, so will see a lot of dogs that are a mix-match of the lines.

The standard calls for a 'roughly triangular shape, with the outer line of the eye angling upward'. Round eyes are a no-no, as are eyes that are not 'okume' (set back in the skull). What is 奥目 okume? Think of it as the eyes looking like they were pushed back into the skull with your thumbs. Not a great analogy? Maybe. But this is what gives the Nihon Ken that strong, deep, piercing gaze. The polar opposite of this would be a Chihuahua eye, all beady and popping out of the skull.
In the medium size breeds, the lower line of the eye should point upward toward the bottom outer corner of the ear. In the above diagram you can see that 'A' is the line for the medium size breeds (most angled, sharpest eye), 'B' for the Shiba, and 'C' for the Akita. The Akita has the least angled, least sharp eye.

A round eye is bad in the NK, but roundness is a good thing, especially in a female dog’s eye. It’s just that the angles have to be right and present. Of course the eyeball of a dog will be round, the angles we're talking about are the outer lines. There are a lot of Nihon Ken out there with eyes that are too small, or too angled, or too round.

Personally, I like this female's eye. She throws true to the eye type seen in this line.

You can see how the inner line of the eye rises well, the top line of the eye has good angle and length going toward the cheeks. The bottom line also has proper angles, while also showing some roundness, and it angles toward the bottom outside corner of the ear. The eyes are set back well in the skull, they have good size (length/width), and they really make this female's expression. 

一に眼、二に眼、三に眼 This is something I was told way back when by the former NIPPO vice chairman when we were discussing what traits were most important to look for and preserve in the Nihon Ken. ichi ni manako, ni ni manako, san ni manako 1st, the eyes. 2nd, the eyes. 3rd, the eyes. Obviously this is an exaggeration, but it explains the weight that the eyes have on a dog's expression. Perhaps this is what  draws one to the look of the Nihon Ken, without often being aware of what we are seeing?

What do we want in a Nihon Ken's eye? Well what do we want to see in the entire dog? 力 chikara which means strength. From the tip of the nose, to the tip of the tail, in all aspects of the dog. But what is encapsulated in this strength? It's not over angulated, hyper typed, showiness. Strength comes from fullness, having those proper angles with fullness, functionality, and depth. So we're not looking for an eye that looks so thin that you wonder how the dog can even see out of it. That's the extreme end of the spectrum. At the other end, you start going toward round eye (hence my Chihuahua comment). The truth (and strength) is in balance, somewhere in the middle. To see the fullness of all the standard's criteria being met in the dog's expression.

So, say you're trying to decide which puppy to keep, and you're looking at eye type.
A point to keep in mind is that a puppy’s eye should not look like an adult dog’s eye. The outline will change as the head and skull develop. A puppy that already has a harsh, angled eye, is only going to get more so as they mature. In the end, the expression will most likely be harsh, but lack strength and fullness. So one should not expect a puppy or young dog to have the perfect eye. That’s something that we can judge in a adult dog (once they’ve stopped growing and we can see if all the proportions are correct), but we do want to get a general idea of what we want in an adult dog, and then understand what type of puppy eye, develops into that eye.

All judging and judgement of a dog before it is an adult comes with an asterisk.
The true quality of the dog is ascertained once it is an adult.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

What You Look At

 "What do you think of this dog?". The age old, loaded question, where one is expected to give a (hopefully) correct opinion.

If you're an ordinary (or extraordinary) dog owner, you may be drawn to a dog's temperament, or vivid color. If you're a breeder, you might be drawn to its structure or type. A judge will hopefully be drawing on all of these points, along with knowledge of what the breed should be like. My point is that depending on who you ask, you will get a different answer. And that goes for judges as well. A NIPPO judge and an FCI judge will most likely place different weight on particular aspects of the dog.

My 師匠 (shi-shō) and I are always talking dog, evaluating dogs, and several years back now, we had a conversation about a certain dog. The word shi-shō translates to 'mentor' or 'teacher' in English. In Japanese however, it carries much more weight. It implies that the person being referred to is a true master of their craft. Their student would be referred to as their 弟子 (de-shi). This relationship shows great respect both toward the teacher, since the student deems them a true master of their craft, and toward the student, since the teacher deemed them a worthy individual to pass on their knowledge to.

So after that daisy picking, back to my teacher and I, talking about a certain Shikoku. He'll usually ask me what I think, which is always sort of a pop quiz. I think at the time I started listing faults that I could see. He stopped me there. He said, "As an ordinary dog owner, you don't really know what a dog is supposed to be like, so you see what you like. Those are the first things you notice. When you become a student of the breed, you begin to notice faults, and all too often these are the first things you will comment on. But a true breed preservationist/specialist should see the good traits in the dog first. What parts of this dog do you want to pass on to the next generation?" 

I've thought about this a lot over the years, and why it is so important. In trying to breed a better dog, I need to focus on what is good, and try to keep those traits, while carefully removing the faults. If one's focus is always on the faults, you end up breeding toward a 'safer' dog, but you may have lost a lot of the essence of the breed along the way. ただの犬になる (tada no inu ni naru) is something I've heard numerous times in regard to the Nihon Ken. It roughly translates to 'it will become just a dog'. Four legs, prick ears, and a curly tail still make it a spitz type canine, but it will have lost the uniqueness of the aboriginal Nihon Ken.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

RIP Inoue-san

In the early morning hours of August 7th, the legendary Inoue-san passed away. He went quickly due to a pulmonary hematoma.
For everyone who has followed my blog over the years, you know that my first Nihon Ken, a Kai named Haru, was bred by Inoue-san. He was an amazing man, and not just because of the amazing things he did with his kennel Sai no Kuni Inoue Sou. He took Sougou (BIS) at the KKA national show twice, first with Nanyou no Riki, and then again with Shinshuu no Daishin. He won the Terada Cup (RBIS) at the KKA national show twice, first with Sai no Takahime, and then again last year with Sai no Haruka. I don't know of anyone with that kind of show resume in the KKA. That's not to mention the results of dogs that he bred, or were bred from his lines.

But beyond his show results, what he did for the breed was due to the amazing human that he was. I know it's bandied about a lot when someone passes, that they were a great person, but he really was. He was the most kind and giving person you will ever meet. He gave to his own detriment, of his time and energy (and loads of good food!), without ever saying a negative word or complaint. He will be missed at the national show, where he would show up every year with boxes and boxes of fresh fish, all labeled for his friends. He will be missed at the Tsukiji fish market where he was a master at carving up maguro. He will be missed by his family. But, I think he may be missed most by his dogs. He loved them, and they loved him in return. We understand what has happened, but all a dog knows is that his friend is gone.

Inoue-san looked after me when I hit a really rough spot going through my divorce. A call here and there to make sure I was okay, always jokingly telling me to bring a girlfriend over. I can't count how many dinners I've had at their table.

His presence in the breed was nothing less than a positive, his energy drawing people to the dogs, to the breed. He leaves a gaping hole in this world, and in all our hearts. RIP Inoue-san, may we all live our lives half as well as you.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Delete Data From the Database?

EDIT: There have been assumptions made regarding which kennel requested their dogs be removed. I did not list the name of the kennel because the point of this post was not to point fingers at people. I just wanted to publicly announce that dog names will not be removed from here on out, but incorrect or personal data can be removed. With the current discussion of health issues in the Shikoku, people have assumed this was a Shikoku kennel request (assumption is a dangerous thing). It was not. I don't believe this kennel's request was linked to the health of their dogs, more that they (understandably) wanted control over the data of their dogs.

I was purposefully vague about the request, but by not posting details, there has incorrect assumption. I could have taken a bit more time to imagine all the scenarios, and write a better post about this. My apologies. The community preserving the Japanese breeds is a small and passionate one. Let's try to focus our energy and time positively, and find ways to work together to tackle the issues we face.

I have recently been asked by 2 people to have their dogs removed from the Nihon Ken Database (after they had incorrectly been listed as suffering from epilepsy). I was very apologetic, since bad data like this is not helpful at all in tracking health issues in the Japanese breeds. More recently I was sent an email from a breeder in Europe asking for all dogs with their kennel name, and all dogs they had imported from Japan, to be removed from the database. Here is my reply.

Thank you for your mail.
I am currently accepting requests to remove private information (if it makes its way to the database accidentally) such as owner names and contact information.
I am also accepting requests to remove or correct, incorrect or unverified health information. 
Because the database has been set up to track health issues in the 6 Nihon Ken, I am not currently accepting requests to delete dog names from the database.

Shigeru Kato

If in the future I am made aware of a legal need to remove dog names from the database, I will do so. Currently, it is not in the Nihon Ken's best interest to remove possibly valuable data. Thank you all for continuing to support the database with your donations, and your data.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

NIPPO Grand National 2020 Cancelled

Now it is official, the NIPPO Grand National 2020 has been cancelled. Hopefully next year we'll have one!

KKA Membership Dues for 2020!

So it's a bit late in the year, and usually we'd have needed to renew our membership by now, but here we are in August. I say we, because I have not yet paid my dues either. Corona. Yup, been too busy.

So for all you KKA members who would like to renew your membership, now is the time to hit me up (as I will be doing all the paperwork in bulk). New members are welcome too!

To become a KKA member costs 5000JPY. Yearly membership costs 5000JPY. 
The KKA ships out a biannual membership magazine, but while the KKA long ago allowed me to start registering overseas members and litters, my end of the bargain is that I have to organize all postage of magazines and pedigrees etc. I have kind of ignored the fact that I have been shipping out magazines and pedigrees to everyone overseas, and paying for the shipping out of my pocket for the past 10 plus years (yikes). So, I will start charging for this from here on out.

If you send me an email at, or hit me up on FB messenger, I'll write up an invoice and let you know how much everything will cost. I'd like to finish all the KKA related paperwork by this Sunday, so please contact me before then if you're interested.

Friday, July 3, 2020

NIPPO Grand National 2020 Update

An announcement was made on NIPPO's website today stating that the due to the global pandemic, the Nagano Branch has declined to host the 2020 NIPPO Grand National. The NIPPO board will be convened in the near future to discuss what steps to take. NIPPO apologizes for any inconvenience or worry caused by this, and asks for everyone’s understanding regarding this matter.

EDIT:This does no mean that the national has been cancelled. It could still be hosted by another NIPPO branch.

Friday, June 26, 2020

NIPPO: Current State of Afairs

On the 5th of June, a news story was run in Japan about the illegal sale of dogs by officials/members of NIPPO. While it did not name any names, it mentioned three persons whom the reporter had interviewed. These three persons are easily identifiable to active NIPPO members in Japan, one as a board member, another as the head of judging, and the third as a Shiba Inu judge.

The Act on Welfare and Management of Animals governs the commercial sale of animals in Japan. I believe it was around 15 years ago that the law was updated to tighten up the licensing requirements and stipulations regarding the commercial sale of dogs. To put it simply, if you are selling more dogs more than twice a year, or more than 2 dogs a year, you need to be licensed. These three higher ups in NIPPO were reported to all be unlicensed. There were some statements given by people interviewed for the story that puppies were being produced for preservation and not for commercial sale, with some people not actually selling dogs but receiving a gratuity. However if these allegations are proven to be true, under the eyes of the law receiving any money whatsoever would make these commercial transactions.

I have had many people from all over the world asking me about what is going on, since every has seen comments about it on social media. As usual on social media, there is truth, untruth, misunderstanding, and a lot of personal opinion and conjecture. Since it takes a lot of time to reply to everyone one at a time, I have finally made some time to write about the basics of the story. I will not be naming names here (and I would warn people who have done so on social media) since if you do not have proof or firsthand knowledge of allegations you are making, you can be sued for libel (and I have heard that some people are currently being sued for comments they have made on social media regarding this issue).

The Ministry of the Environment has jurisdiction over this matter, and is currently investigating. My personal experience in this matter is that there are many older people in Japan, in all the many clubs and preservation societies, that have been breeding dogs for most of their adult lives. They did not make the effort some 15 years ago to become licensed, and according to the letter of the law they would be considered to be operating illegally. This is not a new issue, it is one that NIPPO has actually made continuous announcements about, but the fact that higher ups in the organization were still not licensed is definitely disappointing. 

Another separate issue that has been making the rounds on social media is regarding the sale of dogs by NIPPO judges, and one well known Shiba judge in particular. While this is not a legal issue, it is a NIPPO issue, as it is against NIPPO rules for judges to be involved in commercial canine breeding/sale. The allegations against this former head of NIPPO judging are not new, in fact they go back around 2 years ago when he had a very public spat with another NIPPO member (a Shiba breeder). Other complaints made against this judge are that he is the head of a NIPPO branch, but physically lives in a different prefecture (NIPPO members automatically become members of the branch that their registered address is located in). Another allegation I have heard is that his dogs were kept in unsanitary conditions, and that he is breeding/selling dogs while unlicensed (he is one of the 3 mentioned in the investigative news report).

In my opinion, NIPPO has been dragging their feet in investigating these allegations, with little transparency regarding the process. This has led to a lot of instability, and a general negative atmosphere. We're here for the dogs, or at least should be, right? None of the information I have just related is new news. This has been circulating in NIPPO for a few years now, but possibly due to frustration regarding the slow process, and NIPPO's seeming inaction, the information has made its way to the national media (and now to you on social media). 

So, with as little bias as possible, that is the basics of what is going on in NIPPO at the moment. I won't comment publicly on the politicking going on behind the scenes, and why all this started in the first place. When all this started 2 years ago, I was actually slandered, and had false rumors spread about me (which I'd be happy to refute if people had asked me directly about things instead of making guesses on the internet). I've had people ask if I'm ok, or if I need them to go to bat for me, or that I should sue people. Really, I don't care. I just want to continue enjoying my passion for the Japanese breeds. Anything I say or do, I want it to be constructive toward making the state of affairs for the Nihon Ken better. Some of this stirring the pot is overdue and necessary to create change I think, but there also has to be some discussion and ideas about how to move forward positively without just tearing people down and creating division.

Just like so many things in the world right now, I feel like NIPPO is in a state of overdue change, and a little bit of an upheaval. Hopefully this is the driving energy to get us to a better place.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Japan Negotiating Travel Bubble

Japan has been working on this idea for a while now. We'll see how it goes, but generally this is how they will be opening the border to the rest of the world: Business visitors first, then students, and tourists last.

Japan reveals more details of its planned travel bubble
Visitors from Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and Vietnam will have to submit negative PCR tests plus an itinerary

When can we travel again? That’s the big question on everyone’s mind. Covid-19 coronavirus has given us major cabin fever, and with summer fast approaching, our wanderlust is growing and we’re starting to plan our dream trips. Whether that’s temple and shrine hopping in Kyoto or gazing at Mt Fuji, we’re already getting excited about exploring Japan. 
Unfortunately, 111 countries and regions are still on Japan’s no entry list, making international travel more of a pipe dream. However, Japan has been considering a travel bubble, which would open the country to travellers from places with similar coronavirus safety measures. So far, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and Vietnam are on Japan’s list of possible travel bubble buddies. 
On June 18, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe discussed the travel bubble with the government’s coronavirus task force team and added more details to the plan. The Japan Times reports that travellers will have to submit a negative PCR test plus an itinerary for entry into Japan; they will also have to save the GPS data of their movements on a smartphone for contact tracing. The travel bubble will apply to business travellers first, then students, and eventually tourists. Other countries and regions may be added in the future. 
The travel bubble is starting to look like a real possibility, although nothing is set in stone yet. 
Japan’s nationwide state of emergency ended on May 25 and Tokyo has already entered stage three of its reopening plan, which allows all venues, including live houses and karaoke parlours, to resume business. All that’s left is international travel, which is still off the table even for foreign residents of Japan, except in special circumstances.
Get live updates on the Covid-19 coronavirus situation in Tokyo and Japan here.

Friday, May 15, 2020

COVID-19 Affecting Import/Export

As always, many people have been contacting me about importing Nihon Ken from Japan. I just wanted to update everyone on the current situation in Japan regarding the export/import of dogs.

All cargo shipping of dogs internationally has been shut down till at least the end of May. We have not yet received a timetable for when this will open up again.
Japan was under a national state of emergency which was just lifted yesterday for large parts of the country.However the greater Tokyo area is still under a state of emergency, and all but essential movement is prohibited.

Japan's borders are also currently closed to nationals of many countries, so you would not be able to fly to Japan to pick up a dog until this is lifted.
The timetable for opening up the border is also unknown.

So, I guess we will all just have to wait and see how things progress, and if any new information comes my way I will post an update here on the blog.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

The Reality of Japanese Breed (Nihon Ken) Kennels in Japan

This is another blog post I wrote many years ago. It's still relevant, so I edited and updated it today.

I received a question on the blog concerning my export page. I started typing a reply, and it became a long one, so I'm posting it here.

"You've mentioned that you've worked with individuals as a translator looking to export breeds from Japan, in your experience, would you be able to recommended good breeders in Japan that you've come across?"

My first thought is that your definition of a good breeder, and mine, may be very different. I'm often looking for a specific type of dog for breeders overseas, so a good find would be an out cross line of dogs, quality type or working ability etc.
The honest truth is that in the Nihon Ken community here in Japan you will most likely not find a kennel that is a 'good breeder' according to the standards that most in North America and Europe apply.

So I guess then a simpler tack to take is defining a 'bad breeder'. For me a 'bad breeder' would be someone who knowingly sells unhealthy animals, does not breed for an ethical purpose, and lies or tries to rip people off.

I keep the term 'breeder' in quotation marks because the Nihon Ken community, led by the Japan Dog Preservation Society (NIPPO), is one that takes pride in amateurism, and looks down on activity seen as solely for profit. While there are professional Shiba and Akita kennels, the majority are amateur, and you will be hard pressed to find anyone in Japan making a living breeding medium sized Nihon Ken. 'Breeder' is a word that most NIPPO members are not fond of, and many will bristle at being called one.

Going back to the point about good vs. bad 'breeders', there is virtually no health/genetic testing done in Japan on the Japanese breeds. So, a pup you buy could be carrying any number of genetic issues. In the distant past when all the Nihon Ken were hunting dogs, natural selection tended to help cull dogs with bad hips, joints, hearts etc. Now that they are bred primarily for show, the end all is a dog that looks good, standing in the ring. This affects not only structure but temperament as well.

Most Nihon Ken in Japan are not house pets, and are generally kenneled outdoors their entire lives with no training whatsoever other than what is necessary to show in the ring (and some, not even that). They are not socialized, and are usually kenneled or crated singly, often in what would be described as bad (if not terrible) conditions by western standards. Ring temperament often translates into at least slightly dog aggressive dogs here in Japan, as a dog looks much more impressive when it is posturing at another dog.

Many kennels do not vaccinate their dogs, and do not give them monthly heartworm medication (filariasis is extremely common in Japan).
Simply put, most kennels here could be classified as back yard breeders overseas, with the difference being that the kennels here have extensive knowledge concerning standards, history, and breeding know how, as it pertains to their respective breeds. If you are looking for a 'breeder' that does health checks and is knowledgeable about health issues in their breed, trains their dogs, keeps them as companions, socializes their dogs, and houses them indoors, I would not have a single kennel in Japan I could recommend.

Hopefully this helps you understand the current situation, and the risks that come with purchasing a dog from a kennel in Japan. Instead of using vague terms like a 'good breeder' or an 'ethical breeder', you should think about exactly what you're looking for in a breeder and in your future dog. Specifics are important, as I'm sure each and every one of us hasn't different criteria for what we expect from a breeder. Make a list of what you cannot compromise on, and start your search from there, hopefully with an open mind.