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.


  1. Dear Shigeru-san, this is such an important post!
    I've been feeling like this for quite some time now, ever since my first trip to Japan.
    I got to see these breeders and Kennels, I got to see quite a few dogs brought back from Japan.
    It's discouraging honestly. I love the Japanese people, love the country, love the traditions... but this, feels to me like a big stain (as a dog and NK enthusiast)
    The western breeders are no saints of course, but I had a very difficult time realizing the situation.
    May I write a post in my Hebrew blog with reference to this one? I get a lot of questions about Import from Japan.


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