20 years ago the idea that I wanted to live a bit more ethically, no, naturally is  a better word for it, hatched in my brain. I'd come back to Japan as a 20 year old, and having loved dogs and animals since I was a toddler, I got into rescue and had my first dog, a big Newfie mix. Being against factory farming, I was a vegetarian for a while, but that was a pretty difficult diet for a hard gainer living in early 2000's Japan, working a ridiculous 15 hour 6 day a week salary man job. I ended up eating a lot of tofu and salad, which was not sustainable.

I naturally lean toward being an extremist, but my extreme upbringing ingrained in me a natural safety switch. I grew up in an extremely religious and abusive environment, which has shaped the human I am in many ways, negatively and positively. The safety switch that kicks in when it comes to extremism is thanks to my childhood. Everything in moderation, even the good things, is my mantra. So, I stopped trying to be a vegetarian, and thought that if I was going to eat meat, I wanted it to be sourced as ethically as possible. I started spending my days off fishing, and eventually came up with the idea of hunting as a more economically rewarding way of supplying my protein.

I tend to do a lot of research, on everything that interests me really. I've got a naturally inquisitive mind, and looking into hunting and wildlife in the area I lived at the time told me that there were massive issues arising due to a wild boar population explosion. So I started looking into how they were hunted in Japan, and this lead me to dogs. This was perfect for me since living with dogs is something that I enjoy, and having a job we could do together would be even better. Looking into all the breeds I could hunt boar with, my conclusion was simple: what better breeds to hunt boar with than the working dogs that had evolved naturally in Japan, and were probably most suited to this climate and terrain?

This is how this journey started. 15+ years of my life have been dedicated to and revolved around the Nihon Ken and their preservation. Literally. I've spent my money, I've given it my time. It has brought so much in to my life, so many amazing people, and of course some unforgettable and legendary dogs. But on the flip side there has been a lot of sacrifice. My social life and romantic relationships have definitely suffered, and I always knew I would need to bring this into balance someday in order to be truly happy with the life I've created.

The past couple years have been rough. I've had a lot of questions about how to continue the preservation effort. It's a changing world. Legislation is making it more difficult in Japan for preservation breeders, and there are so many things about the world of show dogdom and breeding that I feel are missing the mark and do not actually help true preservation. It would take a small book to cover all the issues that we are up against, so I won't cover them all here, but after a lot of thought and many conversations I finally started to understand what needs to be done to move forward. I came up with a plan, but realized it would require me doubling down and giving even more of my time, energy, and finances to make it happen. I was prepared to do it, and started mapping the process. And then it struck me. I've started to lose my joy. The simple joys of enjoying life with my own dogs has taken a backseat to some greater preservation effort. 

I love living with dogs, doing every day things with my canine partners in work and life. My current lifestyle has actually taken away a lot of my ability (and time) to do things with them. The truth is I spend a lot of every day replying to Nihon Ken correspondence from all over the world. There have also been large periods of time where I've had large numbers of dogs, 18 at one point I think, and while the preservation effort is surely helped by having breeders who take on large breeding programs like this, it is not for me. Give me a few good dogs that I can work with, and bring out the best in. That's my happiness.

Last year I started talking to a few close friends about this, and started making plans. I began letting my breeding program wind down slowly, and it was accelerated by the retirement of my great hope, Alice, earlier this year. The first eight months of 2023 were actually quite stellar. There was a lot of excitement for me in the idea of change. Many of my friends have commented on this life that I've crafted, they tell me that they envy me. I've worked hard for it, made a living doing things that I enjoy, in a pretty magical part of the world, but I need a break. I need some change. It's a pretty lonely life living out in the countryside, even with all the dogs keeping me company.  

This July I celebrated my 44th birthday with friends and family. It was the best birthday I've had in my life, and truly the happiest I've ever been. As life gives and takes away, the months since have been some of the roughest I've ever faced, but I'm trying to power through and get to next year. I have found great homes for my retired dogs and rescues, and if all goes well there will be a litter of Baron great grand children born here at my house in a few weeks. They should be some pretty awesome working pups. I will also possibly do one last Shikoku litter with Hina when she comes in heat in November, and after that I will be shutting down my breeding program. I plan to enjoy this hunting season with my dogs and my friends, and next year I will probably be traveling a lot and maybe doing some writing.

I don't have any definitive plans for what I will be doing, or where I will be in the future. I can't say this is the end of my Nihon Ken journey, but it may be. For now I'm just going to call it a sabbatical, and enjoy what comes. I'll still blog as I have time, and when there are things to talk about. Thank you all for being here on this journey with me. It's been a pleasure and a privilege.


  1. Congrats Kato, I’ve been following your blog or lurking for many years. This blog has transitioned many designs :) The love for these dogs is so beautiful to witness through your lens. I almost tried to muster up the courage and follow up to adopt Alice but glad she has found a new home. Hope you continue to post every now and then so we can continue to learn about Nihon Ken.

    Loyal reader


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