It took a determined person to change the “sad plight” of Hachi at Shibuya Station. After learning that Japanese native dogs, including Akitas, were on the verge of extinction, Saitō Hirokichi (1899–1964), an art curator by profession, founded the Society for Preservation of Japanese Dogs in May 1928.
Saitō Hirokichi Discovers his Mission
Saitō was from Tsuruoka, Yamagata prefecture—snow country adjacent to Akita prefecture. He graduated from the Tokyo School of Fine Arts (current Tokyo University of the Arts), but he was drafted as a cadet.
Then, he fell ill with pleurisy. His doctor told Saitō to convalesce and live an idle life for a few years. So he decided to raise a dog. He looked for a dog with upright ears and a curled-up tail, the kind of dogs that were drawn on ancient picture scrolls. But there were no such dogs in Tokyo. Saitō ended up visiting Ōdate, the birthplace of the Akita-inu (it used to be called Ōdate-inu).
The Fateful Meeting with Hachi
Then, in July 1928 on his way home from his search for native dogs, Saitō spotted Hachi and met his owner Kobayashi Kikusaburō. Saitō heard the sad story of Hachi, and how the Akita came to live with Kobayashi. As Saitō observed Hachi being abused at Shibuya Station, he sent an article about Hachi to the Tokyo Asahi Shimbun (now Asahi Shimbun), a daily newspaper, hoping to alleviate the abuse.
The newspaper carried an article about Hachi in October 1932. In it, the reporter exaggerated the story and concocted the “Loyal Dog Hachi-kō” (“kō” is an honorific suffix, to mean “Master Hachi”) out of Hachi’s plight.
This is how the general public first learned about the loyal dog. And in 2023, 100 years after Hachi’s birth, the loyal Akita is being honored around the globe.
In each Hachiko Snapshot, you can follow Hachi’s incredible journey from sickly puppy to worldwide icon. On the 14th of each month, his birthday – 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.