“Hachiko Breeder Saitō Giichi”- Hachiko Snapshot #3: The Truth Behind the Myths

Hachi statue in Shibuya in fall

Hachi was born in the farmhouse barn of Saitō Giichi (1873–1928), the head of the Saitō clan in Ōdate, Akita prefecture, in the northeastern region of Japan. The actual residence address of Saitō was Ōshinai, Niida-mura, Kita-Akita-gun, Akita prefecture. Its current address is 61 Mitsunashi, Ōshinai, Ōdate, Akita prefecture. Saitō was the owner of Hachi’s birthmother, Goma-gō, and Hachi’s birthfather, Ōshinai-yama-gō. It’s notable that Saitō was the maternal grandfather of former United Nations Under-Secretary-General Akashi Yasushi (b. 1931), the first and the only Japanese to have held that position. (Akashi graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Tokyo in 1954, studied as a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Virginia, and later at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.) Akashi recalls that many chickens and dogs were running around in his grandfather’s house, coming and going on the wide dirt foyer (doma). Akashi Yasushi was related to Akashi Bunji (1885–1938), the owner of Ichimonji-gō, the father of Ōshinai-yama-gō, and accordingly, the grandfather of Hachi. I had the privilege of meeting Akashi Yasushi at the United Nations Headquarters in the summer of 1982. He owned an Akita-inu called Lord Lucky Alexander. He stated that when he was walking him on the streets of Manhattan, passers-by marveled at the magnificent dog. Little did I know then that Akashi’s maternal grandfather was the breeder of Hachi! Reviewing Hachi’s roots makes me re-realize just how rare and remarkable an Akita-inu Hachi was. He was born at a time when native Japanese dogs were on the verge of extinction in favor of imported Western breeds. At that time, there were few genuine Akita-inu left in Ōdate, let alone in Tokyo. As a corollary, this indicates that Saitō Giichi was a capable and superb breeder of Akita-inu. The rest is Hachi history. Who would believe a frail puppy would have the strength to capture the hearts of an entire nation…then the world? But as we know, he did. Now, thanks to Hachi historian/author Mayumi Itoh’s landmark research, she traces every step of his miraculous story.  In each Hachiko Snapshot, you can follow Hachi’s incredible journey from sickly puppy to worldwide icon. On the 14th of each month – right here on the blog.  Author Mayumi Itoh is considered the “official biographer” of Hachiko. Mayumi is a former Professor of Political Science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and has previously taught at Princeton University and Queens College, City University of New York. She currently teaches haiku writing at Princeton University. Mayumi is best known to Hachi friends for Hachiko: Solving Twenty Mysteries about the Most Famous Dog in Japan. She is the author of a dozen books on politics, including Japanese Wartime Zoo Policy and Animals and the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster. In addition, Mayumi has written 22 haiku collections including Haikus for Hiroshige’s One Hundred Famous Scenes of Edo.

“Hachi’s Real Birthday”- Hachiko Snapshot #2: The Truth Behind the Myths

Puppy Hachi meets Professor Parker

There is much speculation as to Hachi’s actual day of birth. There is no record of an authentic birth certificate for Hachi, so his precise birthday is unknown. However, the best clue to determine his actual birthdate is the day he left his birthplace at Ōdate to meet his new owner, Professor Ueno. It has been established as fact that Hachiko left Ōdate on January 14, 1924. His breeder Saitō Giichi would send off his Akita puppies when they became two months of age. If puppies were younger than that, they would be too weak to withstand a long trip (there was no air shipment at that time).  In turn, if puppies were older than two months, it would be difficult for them to establish a bond with a new owner. Akita puppies specifically are known for the need for early bonding.  In considering these two age-related factors, my conclusion is that Saitō Giichi must have sent his Akita puppies off as soon as they became two months old. His wisdom matches well with the concern of veterinarians today that many breeders sell puppies prematurely before the age of two months. Providing proper care and treatment is necessary at this critical stage of their growth. The train from Ōdate Station to Ueno Station ran every day. So, it was possible that Saitō Giichi could send a puppy off precisely when it became two months old. All things considered, it’s most accurate to conclude that Hachi was born approximately on November 14, 1923. 🥳 Who would believe a frail puppy would have the strength to capture the hearts of an entire nation…then the world? But as we know, he did. Now, thanks to Hachi historian/author Mayumi Itoh’s landmark research, she traces every step of his miraculous story.  In each Hachiko Snapshot, you can follow Hachi’s incredible journey from sickly puppy to worldwide icon. On the 14th of each month – right here on the blog.  Author Mayumi Itoh is considered the “official biographer” of Hachiko. Mayumi is a former Professor of Political Science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and has previously taught at Princeton University and Queens College, City University of New York. She currently teaches haiku writing at Princeton University.  Mayumi is best known to Hachi friends for Hachiko: Solving Twenty Mysteries about the Most Famous Dog in Japan. She is the author of a dozen books on politics, including Japanese Wartime Zoo Policy and Animals and the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster. In addition, Mayumi has written 22 haiku collections including Haikus for Hiroshige’s One Hundred Famous Scenes of Edo. 

“The Lonely Departure”- Hachiko Snapshot #1: The Truth Behind the Myths

Snowy mountains of Odate Japan

A Japanese Akita puppy was born in Ōdate, in mid-November 1923. This northern Japan setting is located in the snowy northern Akita Prefecture, surrounded by mountains on all sides. The puppy would be named Hachi. He would soon become the most famous dog in Japan. Hachi would grow up to live an extraordinary life, and leave an even more extraordinary legacy after his death. This is Hachi’s true story. On January 14, 1924, in a raging blizzard, the two-month-old Akita puppy got on a train Ōdate Station. All alone, he headed for Ueno Station, Tokyo on Express 702-gō. He was being shipped to his new owner. The long and solitary journey was arduous for the small puppy. The train ride was bumpy, going through many tunnels through the winding mountains. Worse, just before the train arrived in Tokyo, the train was hit by a strong earthquake. It was one of the aftershocks of the Great Kantō Earthquake of September 1, 1923, which claimed a death toll of more than 100,000. The earthquake delayed the train and the train ride took almost 20 hours. When the puppy arrived at Ueno station, he looked as if he were dead. This was how Hachi left his birthplace, never to return. With Hachi’s arrival in Tokyo, not only the history of Japanese dogs was altered, but also popular culture – beyond anyone’s imagination. Who would believe a frail puppy would have the strength to capture the hearts of an entire nation…then the world? But as we know, he did. Now, thanks to Hachi historian/author Mayumi Itoh’s landmark research, she traces every step of his miraculous story.  In each Hachiko Snapshot, you can follow Hachi’s incredible journey to worldwide icon. On the 14th of each month – right here on the blog.  Hachiko author, Mayumi Itoh, offers snapshots into his fascinating life on the 14th of each month. Mayumi is a former Professor of Political Science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and has previously taught at Princeton University and Queens College, City University of New York. She currently teaches haiku writing at Princeton University.  Mayumi is best known to Hachi friends for Hachiko: Solving Twenty Mysteries about the Most Famous Dog in Japan. She is the author of a dozen books on politics, including Japanese Wartime Zoo Policy and Animals and the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster. In addition, Mayumi has written 22 haiku collections including Haikus for Hiroshige’s One Hundred Famous Scenes of Edo.

“The Truth about Hachiko, the Loyal Akita”- Hachiko Snapshot Introduction: The Truth Behind the Myths

Hachiko 1930’s Shibuya

My Journey to Discover the Real Hachi Through my film Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, I’ve had the unique pleasure of being just one “voice” of Hachi through the years. Yet, I’m not a historian on the loyal Akita. Far from it. I’m simply a huge dog fan. In my quest to learn the unvarnished truth, I refer to author Mayumi Itoh. I call her “Hachiko’s official biographer.” I’m honored to announce that Mayumi will be a regular contributor to our Hachi Blog! On the 14th of each month, starting November, Mayumi will share snapshots of the Akita’s remarkable journey in her commentary, “Hachiko: The Truth behind the Myths.” Every corner of Hachiko’s life is fascinating – from his humble birth, life with Professor Ueno, abuse claims, health issues to his meteoric rise to fame. The fact is, there’s no better resource than Mayumi’s extensive interviews and meticulous research. The Darker Side to Fame Fame brings attention and acclaim, as well as untruths and innuendos. Although a dog, Hachiko was subject to the same misrepresentations as any popular celebrity. In fact, it was much worse as he could not speak out to verify the facts.  If you look at the wider picture, truth can be not only stranger than fiction, but more powerful. After all, how did one dog in 1930’s Japan become a universally beloved icon almost a century later? Mayumi cuts through the gossip and controversy of Hachiko’s life and draws us into the mysterious “real” life of the world’s most beloved dog. In each Hachiko Snapshot, you can follow Hachi’s incredible journey from sickly puppy to worldwide icon. On the 14th of each month – right here on the blog.  Mayumi Itoh is a former Professor of Political Science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and has previously taught at Princeton University and Queens College, City University of New York. She is currently teaches haiku writing at Princeton University.  Mayumi is best known to Hachi friends for Hachiko: Solving Twenty Mysteries about the Most Famous Dog in Japan. She is the author of a dozen books on politics, including Japanese Wartime Zoo Policy, The Japanese Culture of Mourning Whales, and Animals and the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster. In addition, Mayumi has written 22 haiku collections including Haikus for Hiroshige’s One Hundred Famous Scenes of Edo.