“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.

Do you love your (Hachi) dog more than humans?

I take lots of photos on my travels like most of us. Except, the majority of my holiday pictures are of the local dogs! When I walk down a street I’m often not looking at the people, but dogs. If you find yourself thinking that you care more about your dog than you do about humans… you are not alone.
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A series of experiments by philosophers and psychologists have shown some people, in some situations, care more about dogs than humans!
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Is this as shocking as it might seem at first? Click the link below to read the full article and find out how many people would choose to save their dog over a stranger in a life-threatening situation.
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Question of the day: Do you sometimes feel more sympathy for dogs than for humans? What about all the wonderful qualities dogs have? Let me know in the comments!

Young Italian Fan Pens Love Letters to Hachi

A girl’s devotion to Hachiko has become part of Japan’s long adoration of the loyal dog. At age 10, Stephanie watched Hachi: A Dog’s Tale and was moved by the Akita’s plight. In response, she began writing a series of personal notebooks about the faithful Akita. Stephanie, now 15 and a resident of Bergano in northern Italy, is devoted to keeping the memory of Hachiko’s inspiring story alive. Through online research, she discovered that Kazuto Ueno, 77, a grandson of professor Hidesabuto Ueno lived in Tsu, Mie Prefecture. Stephanie sent messages to the government’s Multicultural Affairs Division seeking to connect with the professor’s grandson. The letters were translated to Japanese and forwarded to Ueno. Soon after, Ueno and Stephanie began a friendship by email. A Personal Letter to Hachiko On March 8, the 80th anniversary of Hachiko’s passing, a statue featuring Hachiko and his owner Hidesaburo Ueno was unveiled at the University of Tokyo. After the ceremony, Ueno’s grandson placed a letter with words from Stephanie’s notebooks: “Dear Hachi, Eighty years have gone by since you were called to heaven to be with your beloved master, but I am sure you are still close to us.” Ueno was so touched by the young fan’s devotion that he placed similar letters at the Hachiko and Ueno statue in Tsu, as well as the bronze Hachiko statue at Shibuya Station. “I have read so many things about how special you are: strong and dignified, pure and gentle, peacemaker among dogs. With lots of love,” wrote Stephanie in one of her notebook passages. Hachi Magic Another devoted fan is Stephanie’s mother, Anastasia, who reveals how it all came to be. “My daughter and I continue to love him as much as ever and when it came to choosing a subject for her end of school mini-thesis, Stephanie had no doubts at all, it had to be her furry best friend! We managed to contact Dr. Ueno’s descendent in Japan and he wrote us some lovely letters. One day a journalist from the Asahi Shimbun went to interview him for an article before the 80th memorial anniversary and Mr. Ueno told him all about Stephanie and her love for Hachiko. We were then contacted by this journalist, who wanted to write an article about it all and was kind enough to take a symbolic little letter from Stephanie “to Hachi”, and this was placed on the New Statue by Mr. Ueno on the day of the ceremony. He then sent us a photograph of that moment and Stephanie almost cried with happiness!! It is indeed a strange story, and Stephanie is convinced that it is Hachi who is working his magic after so many years as indeed we have met some amazing people through all this and have been impressed by the kindness of Japanese people.” Stephanie and her mother hope to one day visit Japan together, and personally say “Hi” to Hachi! As Ueno wrote to Stephanie, “Hachi kept waiting for his owner, so he must be waiting for you forever.” 2018 Update from Stephanie’s mother: “Stephanie was at high school and wrote to Mr. Ueno as she was writing a thesis on Hachi and his legacy. Almost ten years have gone by since then but it seems like yesterday! Most people imagine Stephanie to be younger than she is. A long time passed between her original letter to the Mie Government Office and the arrival of Kazuto Ueno’s letter before the unveiling of the new statue. I think it was the reporter, who found out about Stephanie during an interview with him prior to this event, that convinced him to be a part in this story…in any case it was a wonderful experience.  Stephanie is now married and works for an airline company in Milan, but Hachi still remains firmly in her heart! She travels abroad regularly attending courses aimed at improving customer service techniques.” When I received Stephanie’s gorgeous wedding photo, I could hardly believe it! In my mind, she was still that young girl who was crazy about Hachi! Anastasia and her daughter Stephanie are loyal Hachi friends. We’ve corresponded for years — sending updates on Hachi happenings around the world. In contribution to Hachi’s legacy, Anastasia created the popular Facebook page called Hachi & Friends. Like Stephanie and Anastasia, Hachi’s life compelled me to be a part of his enduring story. That’s how I came to make Hachi: A Dog’s Tale!

80th Anniversary of Hachiko’s Passing: New Statue Celebrates Professor Ueno’s Professional Accomplishments

Hachi fans will be delighted to learn that on March 8th, a new statue featuring Hachi and Professor Hidesaburo Ueno will be unveiled. The bronze memorial will stand on the University of Tokyo campus where Professor Ueno (1871-1925) taught at the agricultural department This latest monument emphasizes the joyful affection between the professor and his beloved canine friend. In addition, this monument brings attention to Professor Ueno in another way. Accomplished in his own right, his advances towards the technology of arable land readjustment and drainage were utilized for the imperial capital revival after the devastating Great Kantō earthquake of 1923. Professor Sho Shiozawa, a professor of irrigation drainage and rural engineering at the university, was instrumental in spear-heading the project. An internet fundraising effort raised about half of the targeted 10 million yen ($99,000) required to complete the new statue. While Hachiko’s Shibuya statue depicts the heart-broken Akita waiting for his master’s return, Shiozawa believes that the bond, rather than the separation, needs to be memorialized. “We insisted on a design that depicts the person (Ueno) and his dog looking into each other’s eyes and coveys the affection and bond between them,” says Shiozawa. “We hope the statue will become something of a mascot at the university and draw many visitors.” Tsutomu Ueda, 39, a sculptor in Nagoya, was thrilled with the chance to create another iconic sculpture of the beloved Hachiko. “I have loved dogs since I was very young and became familiar with Hachiko through movies and by other means,” said Ueda. “My biggest aim will be to convey a sense of connection between the two.” I visited the statue and could feel the intense bond radiating between the celebrated pair. I can truly say that the excitement in Hachi’s eyes is palpable and powerful. Just look at his eyes! The original statue was erected in 1934, but was melted down for its much-needed metal during the war. It was replaced in 1948 and still presides over the Shibuya Station entry. It’s one of the most popular tourist destinations in Tokyo. Can you feel the emotions in this newer statue?

Hachiko comes alive in  “Pawprints In Japan”

Looking for a way to bring this emotional story to life? Hachikō book, “Pawprints in Japan” is perfect for remembering such a loyal, loving dog. “Pawprints In Japan” is an enthralling Hachiko book and sure to capture your heart. Painstakingly researched and written by long-time dog lover and Akita owner, Nicholas C. Rhoden. I was recently contacted by Linda Wroth, who shared this book with me. Linda is mentioned in the preface, and is an Akita owner who is devoted to the well being and history of the Akita dog. Exploring dogs in myth and history, Rhoden’s expanded collection of four award-winning articles were previously published in The Akita Journal. Each of the original articles won “Best Article of the Year in a Single-Breed Magazine,” awarded by the Dog Writers Association of America. The first chapter is “Hachi-ko, the Loyal Dog—and the Forgotten Story of an American Tribute.” I learned many details about Hachiko’s life — the kindness of Professor Ueno’s  former gardener, Mr. Kikuzaburo Kobayashi and by the Director of Shibuya Station, Mr. Chuichi Yoshikawa. Prior to Hachi becoming famous, the shopkeepers and locals were generally indifferent towards him. An exception was the famous stage and screen star Yoshiko Kawada who would visit him as a friend. Learn how Hachiko became known as the protector of the “underdog!” Rare Photos Unveiled Included are rare photos of Hachi and a map of Tokyo showing the exact spots that Hachi frequented. We can see the actual distance from Shibuya Station, Profesor’s Ueno’s home, the University, Hachiko’s gravesite and other locations of interest. Through this visual, we get a clearer picture of Hachi’s everyday life can feel as if we’re with him. Numerous little known details of Hachiko’s life is uncovered. On Sunday, April 14th, the Los Angeles Times reported a ceremony attended by the ex-mayor of Los Angeles, Consul General of Japan Mr. Tomokazu Hori and a little girl named Elizabeth Hansen at St. Mary’s Japanese Episcopal Church. In honor of Hachiko, Elizabeth led a famous Airedale named Kentucky Boy lll (the most decorated dog in the US, he was the recipient of 16 medals for heroism) to the platform and officially turned over the containers of pennies, nickels, and dimes contributed by American and Japanese-American school children all over the Southland. The other three chapters are equally fascinating: “Helen Keller: Saint of Three Burdens and the Forgotten Story of Her Akitas—First in America”, “Myths and Legends of the Dog in Ancient Japan: Demon or Demi-God?” and “Taro and Jiro: The Never-to-Be-Forgotten Story of an Incredible Survival—and the Untold Story of an Omen.” A special treat is the over 70 fascinating photographs of Hachiko, Helen Keller with her Akitas, and Taro and Jiro —  the courageous dogs of the Antarctica dog sled team with an incredible survival tale. Reading this book made me feel even more respectful of Hachiko and Akitas for their lasting imprint on our hearts. Do you have any questions about Hachiko’s life? While Pawprints in Japan is no longer available, I call author Mayumi Itoh “Hachiko’s Official Biographer.” Her book “Hachiko: Solving Twenty Mystery About The Most Famous Dog In Japan” covers everything you ever wanted to know about the loyal Akita. Check it out!