Houston, We Have a Problem

As much as my blogging of late has been pretty sporadic (for a while now to be honest) ,and it's always been erratic, I was reminded today of why I need to keep blogging about the Nihon Ken. I started my first English blog back in 2009 Kai Ken: The Tora Inu to blog about my experiences with my dogs, and to put to rest a lot of the misinformation about the Japanese breeds that was out there on the internet at the time. False information about their history, poorly translated information on the breeds and their standards, and outright incorrect statements like my personal favorite 'the Japanese breeds are not allowed to be exported because they are national treasures'.

Almost immediately I realized that the Japanese breeds were not doing well in Japan. Numbers of breeders and dogs had been steadily dropping for years, and especially with the medium size breeds, we were reaching critically low levels of breeding animals. This can be attributed to the aging population in Japan, young people moving to urban areas, and their lack of interest the Japanese breeds, and the housing situation in urban areas being extremely unfriendly toward dog ownership (other than for small breeds). The medium and large size Japanese breeds were just not appealing to the general population here, and they are not being promoted properly.

Bucking this trend in Japan, or basically creating a new trend, is a difficult thing. In comparison, the popularity and awareness of the Japanese breeds overseas has been steadily growing. I felt that one of the ways to have a 'plan b' for the breeds was to help breeders overseas set up breeding programs that included as much stock from as many different lines as possible. I moved on in blogging, and since it wasn't just about the Kai anymore, I started this blog The Nihon Ken. As the movement to preserve the Japanese breeds really started to gain momentum due to groups of Nihon Ken fanciers like The Nihon Ken Forum , I set up a website dedicated to handling export requests www.japandogexport.com 

Now here we are in 2018. I've moved several times over the years, with the last one 5 years ago dropping me in the mountains of Chiba prefecture, rebuilding a cabin, hunting, and getting in some surf when possible. Last summer my youngest brother moved out here with me which really consolidated this lifestyle of building, hunting, breeding, and surfing. There's a lot of things we do know that don't really have to do with Nihon Ken (like hunting with Pointers and surfing) so I'm setting up another site for all that other stuff Awa Mountain Dog which is a take off of my kennel name Awa Yamainu Sou.

I think we've come a long way in the almost 10 years I've been involved with the Japanese breeds. I've become a part of amazing friendships that span the globe, been a part of helping a lot of people get their foot in the door with the Japanese breeds. There's a lot of good information out there now thanks to so many people setting up personal and club sites with correct information about the breeds' temperaments, standards, and history. I feel we're heading in a good direction.

And then yesterday I received a call from a board member of the Hokkaido Ken Hozonkai. He casually dropped a comment that perhaps I should try to come to the national show in March as who knows how much longer they'll be around. Apparently there were only 201 Hokkaido puppies registered with the HKH last year. 

Back in January of 2011 I posted this comment to a thread about why Nihon Ken pups were so hard to find.

Why are they difficult to find? Because they are rare breeds even in their native country, and the number of people that actually know about these breeds worldwide is very small. 

Here are the yearly registration numbers for NK in Japan at present.

Shiba 50,000-60,000
Akita (Japanese) 2000-2500 
Kai 900-1100
Hokkaido 900-1000
Kishu 700-900
Shikoku 300-400

The only NK you will find with regularity in pet shops is the Shiba. Recently Hokkaido have gained popularity due to a series of commercials featuring a white Hokkaido named Otousan, and I have seen several in pet shops.

1971 was the peak of HKH registration. That year there were 7061 pups registered. By 1981 that number had dropped to 2217. 10 years later in 1991 we were down to 1432. In 2001 there were 829 registrations, and for several years after that there were around 700 yearly, but from 2013 registration had dropped to around 300.

The Hokkaido Ken has two competing registries, the Hokkaido Ken Hozonkai, and the smaller Hokkaido Ken Kyokai. HKK registrations are around half of HKH numbers I hear, so we are now at around 300 Hokkaido registrations in Japan. That's a huge decline in the past decade from my initial estimate of 900-1000 total. The Hokkaido Ken is hitting a cliff. With so few registrations, the club is going to have a hard time functioning, and an even harder time getting enough dogs together for shows.

I checked in to see how the other breeds are doing.
Shiba registrations with NIPPO last year: 30,100 (plus JKC 11,829)
Kishu: 372 (JKC 2 probably exports, not pups)
Shikoku: 288 (JKC  23 probably exports, not pups)
HKH: 201 (JKC 33)
HKK: 107

KKA registrations for 2016: 840 (holding steady) JKC 178 (holding steady)
I didn't get around to calling AKIHO today.

Basically today I made time to blog to sound the alarm. The Hokkaido is in trouble. For all of you that have continually been bugging me for Hokkaido males to import, I'm not hiding them, there just aren't any! 

I got involve with the Shikoku mostly because they were the breed at the time that needed the most help. Here are the numbers:
2009: 357
2010: 370
2011: 233
2012: 297
2017: 288 so at least we're holding pretty steady.

The key to this is letting the breeders now that if they breed, I'll help them find pups. More pups out there finding homes is good for the breed.
Lord help me I don't want to have to get involved with the Hokkaido, I don't have the space for another breed, but maybe some of you have the resources?

This year I'm going to work on promoting the Japanese breeds within Japan. That's my resolution for 2018. Y'all are doing great overseas with clubs like the Hokkaido Association of North America HANA promoting the breeding in North America. It's time to figure out how to get Japan back on track, getting new, young, members into these preservation societies and push back us back from the cliff of genetic extinction.


  1. I think you've touched on the two main problems these breeds are having, and why they're in decline.
    1. Their original purpose and working role is disappearing. If these dogs are meant to be hunters first and foremost, then from what I know you're in the worst country as everything I've read about hunting in Japan is that it's almost impossible to take up as a hobby and your living under one of the strictest gun control regimes in the world.

    Hunters are aging and young people aren't following in their footsteps (a common problem afflicting hunting traditions all over the world) and naturally their dogs become "unemployed" as well. It's quite ironic in a country that has some of the highest boar and deer populations in the world.

    2. They're underappreciated in their country of origin. Despite being national treasures, you seem to have more interest in these breeds from people in North America than at home, while I suspect
    Most Japanese, if they want a dog at all, would rather have a western breed. It's human nature; when something is exotic is has more perceived prestige.

    I would love to come hunt in Japan someday. Pursuing Sika deer, boar and copper pheasant in one of the most fascinating lands of all has been a long time dream of mine. But given the current laws there I doubt it will ever happen.

    As someone who has followed your blog since 2011, i do think your best hope of preserving these breeds in their true form is promoting them in a country that is friendly to both dogs and hunting. If you haven't already, Canada is a destination worthy of consideration.

    I'm not a breeder but if you choose to consider this I could help you make connections here to that end.

    1. Yes, the current laws here don't make it possible for people to zip in for a hunting trip. It's really unfortunate actually, because like you said, we have huge boar/deer populations that need control.

      There's a lot of hunting breeds out there that have made the switch into the being popular pets. I'm pretty confident that the Nihon Ken can find their niche (look at the Shiba), it's just going to take a little work.

      Thanks for the comment. It reminds me people are actually reading the blog haha

  2. Great post Shigeru, a lot of really good information regarding the Nihon Ken and their current state. I think that you're going a good direction in promoting the breed. You've definitely made a huge impact on the North American populations.

    I'm looking forward to seeing the development and future posts from your new blog. Best of luck!

    1. Thanks, Trey. Now if I can figure out how to make more of an impact over here in Japan...

  3. Sad to hear this news as they are great dogs and are increadably attached and intelligent(when they want to be). My Hokkaido has been very popular in Aus and we definely have the space for them

  4. I think traveling with the dog aroubd Japan as a sort of ambassador is really good. When I took my Kai out on a road trip and if I take him out to festivals over the weekend usually at least one person will remark on him, not knowing what type of dog he is. Someone recently confused his breed with a Tosa so at least they were still in the obscure nihonken ballpark. I think it's really good for people to meet nihonken other than Shiba, especially children. Usually older people are fine with him but so so many Japanese children are nervous around (mid-sized) dogs and hesitate to pet him even while he's licking their parents face. I often have to show them how to greet a dog properly as well, I assume because they're used to approaching the smaller daucshunds and poodles most people seem to keep.

  5. Hello.
    I'm looking for a hokkaido pup. Male. Am hoping you can maybe point me in the right direction. Your assistance would be greatly appreciated. Please feel free to contact me through email. mje81ta@hotmail.com.
    Thank you and take care.

    1. Hello. There aren't any available now, and if I hear of some that need homes, they'll be up on the blog.


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