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Saturday, June 18, 2005

'Meet me at Hachiko'
Legend of loyal dog grows with 2 English books
Kevin Wood / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer


Let's meet at Hachiko"--is there a Tokyoite who hasn't heard or uttered that phrase at least once? The life-size statue of the world's most famous Akita dog is also the capital's most famous meeting place.

On my first day in Tokyo, I met my landlord there, and years later arranged to meet my wife there on our first date.

The location of the statue in front of one of the busiest train stations in the world may have something to do with the popularity of the spot as a rendezvous, but the touching story of canine loyalty that inspired the bronze figure has achieved iconic status both at home and abroad.
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Foreign friends
The tale of Hachiko has spawned countless books in Japan and even inspired the hit 1987 film Hachiko Monogatari scripted by Kaneto Shindo and directed by Seijiro Koyama. The publication of two children's books last year in the United States has spread the legend of the faithful canine overseas.

Hachiko, The True Story of a Loyal Dog (Houghton Mifflin), a picture book aimed at young children, was written by Pamela S. Turner and lavishly illustrated by Yan Nascimbene. The award-winning book is told from the point of view of an old man relating his boyhood memories of Hachiko to his grandchildren.

"It's a really touching story and it would be really easy to go over the top and make it really schmaltzy, so using an older narrator made the restraint logical," the author told The Daily Yomiuri between presentations to students at the American School in Japan during a visit to Tokyo this spring.

Turner, who lived in Tokyo from 1990 to 1996, was looking for a writing project after her return to the United States and was surprised and delighted to find that at the time no one else had tackled the story in English. Authenticity was important to Turner and many of Nascimbene's watercolor illustrations are based on photos taken from an old book about Hachiko given to Turner by an official at Shibuya Station.

A Japanese translation of the book was released in the spring.

Coincidentally, another Hachiko book was released last autumn. Hachiko Waits (Henry Holt and Co.) written by Leslea Newman and illustrated by Tokyo native Machiyo Kodaira, is aimed at slightly older readers, but uses the same literary device of a young boy who befriends Hachiko.
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Immortalized in bronze
The current 91-centimeter bronze statue and its 127-centimeter stone plinth is the second monument to mark the spot the faithful canine maintained his daily vigil. The first, a much larger 162-centimeter statue on a 180-centimeter stone base, was created by celebrated sculptor Teru Ando.

According to the artist's eldest son, Takeshi Ando, 82, his father became interested in sculpting a typical Japanese dog sometime around 1930. An acquaintance suggested Hachiko, by then well known in the neighborhood (see sidebar). The dog was repeatedly brought to Ando's Yoyogi studio to model. When the dog's story hit the newspapers, Ando's efforts to sculpt him were mentioned, making him an obvious choice when the movement to honor Hachiko with a statue gained momentum. Ando also presented a replica of the work to Emperor Showa.

The statue was sacrificed to a wartime scrap metal drive in 1944 and Ando was killed in a massive U.S. bombing raid on May 25, 1945.

After the war, Shibuya was a bustling commercial area and a chaotic hub of wheeling and dealing black marketeers. Takeshi Ando told The Daily Yomiuri in a recent telephone interview that local merchants and Shibuya residents wanted something beautiful and moral to provide them with inspiration in the difficult years immediately after the war. A committee was formed in 1947 and Ando's eldest son was commissioned to re-create his father's work.

"I could have made the same sculpture with my eyes closed," he said. While his father had striven to create a statue of an ordinary Akita, Takeshi said he wanted the dog's faithfulness andloyalty to be evident in its eyes and bearing.

"I wanted to create something beautiful to help the country rise from the ashes," the war veteran-turned-artist said.

His creation was unveiled on Aug. 15, 1948. The statue is now nominally owned by the Shibuya Ward government, which took over ownership from Hachiko Dozo Iji-kai (Hachiko Statue Preservation Association) in 2002. The association, made up of local business owners and companies with offices in the neighborhood, is funded by donations from its members and contributes to the maintainence of the symbolic statue.

One of the current corporate members of the association, Tokyu Department Store Co., went into business the same year the current statue was erected. It has operated a small Hachiko-themed souvenir shop near Shibuya Station since 1992.

According to shop employee Hiromi Sugimoto, the store serves between 100 and 200 customers a day, with stuffed plush toy replicas of Hachiko and paw print-patterned hand towels being the biggest sellers. She says that visitors from out of town looking for a souvenir of Shibuya, especially children on school trips, are the main buyers of Hachiko goods.

By far the most common Hachiko souvenir is a photograph taken next to the statue. Spend any time at all around the statue and you can't help but notice the steady stream of people posing for snapshots in front of Shibuya's most famous denizen.

A similar statue erected in front of JR Odate Station in Akita Prefecture in 1935 was also sacrificed for the war effort, but was replaced by two statues. One is of a group of Akita pups called 'Young Hachiko and His Friends" erected in 1965, and the other is one similar to the Shibuya statue that was installed in 1987.

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History of the breed
Genetic research performed at Tokyo University indicates that the Akita dog, along with the chow chow and Hokkaido breeds, came to Japan from the Asian continent before the archipelago was separated from the mainland by the Sea of Japan. Other common Japanese breeds such as the Shiba were brought later by settlers from China and Korea to the Hiroshima area.
Akitas were used as hunting dogs, especially in northern Japan, with mated pairs used to track large game such as deer and wild boar. The dogs were trained to hold the quarry at bay until hunters arrived. Later in the Edo period (1603-1868), the dogs were often pitted against each other in organized fights.

The lord of Odate Castle in what is now northern Akita Prefecture is known to have been a devotee of dog fighting and the demand for larger and more powerful dogs increased in the 1890s, leading to crossbreeding of Akitas with the bigger Tosa breed.
Concerned that the purity of the Akita breed was being lost, Odate Mayor Shigeie Izumi formed the Akita-Inu Preservation Society in 1927 and the Akita was officially recognized as a national monument in 1931.

Rabies epidemics in 1899 and 1924 nearly resulted in the extinction of the breed as many dogs were destroyed.

During World War II, the government confiscated most dogs to use their fur for military garments. Massive food shortages led to many dogs being killed for food or left to starve as anyone seen feeding a dog was considered a traitor. Barely a dozen Akitas survived the war and they were often crossbred with German shepherds in the late 1940s, when they became a popular pet for U.S. soldiers to take home.

The first Akitas to be introduced in North America belonged to blind and deaf American lecturer and activist Helen Keller, who requested and was given an Akita named Kamikaze-go after learning of Hachiko's story when she visited Japan in 1937.

The dog succumbed to distemper less than a year later and was replaced by Kenzan-go, one of Kamikaze-go's older brothers bred in Odate that became Keller's constant companion. She praised the breed for its contribution to peace when she visited Japan again in 1947.


Traditional canine values

Moving stories of loyal dogs abound, from the true story of Edinburgh's Greyfriars Bobby, the famous Skye terrier who stood by his master's grave for 14 years, to fictional canine heroes such as Old Yeller from Fred Gipson's novel of the same name, immortalized in the 1957 Disney film, and Buck from Jack London's The Call of the Wild.

While cynics may speculate that it was the regular handouts from yakitori vendors that kept Hachiko coming back--a number of wooden skewers were found in the dog's stomach after he died--it is the element of unyielding loyalty that has earned Hachiko his place in the nation's cultural pantheon.

"The story of Hachiko is particularly appealing to the Japanese because of the high value Japanese culture traditionally places on fealty to the group, boss or master--even if the master is absent in death," said Jesse Glass, a professor in the Foreign Language Department at Meikai University in Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture.

History bears out Glass' analysis. In 1936, the story was included in moral education textbooks for primary schools as an illustration of loyalty to one's master, intended to encourage patriotic fealty to Emperor Showa.

Turner agrees. "I think the story of Hachiko strikes a chord with Japanese because of the value Japanese culture puts on the faithful retainer. The most famous story in Japan is the story of the 47 ronin, who are celebrated not for winning a battle or for their bravery, but for being faithful to their master, even after his death and even when it meant their lives...Hachiko embodies these great traditional Japanese values of loyalty and faithfulness," she said.

Ando denies the statues were ever conceived as symbols of loyalty to the Emperor or embodiments of fealty, but says they were meant as iconic representations of the universally appealing values of unconditional love and devotion.

Yasuo Maruyama, deputy stationmaster at JR Shibuya Station, explains Hachiko's appeal this way: "The story tells of a sense of duty and for people today, that kind of morality is being lost. That's why the story inspires people."

He said the busier people become and the more they miss this sort of loyalty and sense of duty in their daily lives, the more the story of Hachiko means to them.

A dog's life

The male Akita later named Hachiko was born in Odate in northern Akita Prefecture in November 1923 and given to Hidesaburo Ueno, a professor at the School of Agriculture at Tokyo Imperial University (now Tokyo University) by a former student who knew of the professor's affection for the big, strong dogs traditionally bred in the town.

Hachi, so named because he was the eighth dog Ueno had owned, would accompany his master from home to nearby Shibuya Station each morning and then come back each afternoon to await his master's return on the 3 p.m. train. On May 21, 1925, Ueno suffered a fatal stroke at work. Despite a few initial efforts to send the dog to be adopted by new owners, Hachiko continued to go to the station every day to wait for Ueno and would spend his nights sleeping on the porch of the late professor's house in Shibuya.

Cared for by Ueno's gardener Nenokichi Takahashi and the stationmaster, the big cream-colored dog became a fixture at the station, often begging food from the numerous street vendors in the neighborhood.

Despite becoming nearly lame from arthritis in his last years, Hachiko continued to show up at the station like clockwork just before 3 p.m. each day, waiting until dark to return home.
His fame spread beyond the district in 1932, when he was the focus of a series of newspaper articles. Contributions poured in from across the country and even from overseas, and a statue was unveiled at the faithful dog's regular waiting spot on April 21, 1934, bearing the words "Chuken Hachiko" (Loyal Dog Hachiko), using an affectionate diminutive form of the name Hachi.

On the evening of March 7 the following year, the dog was found collapsed at his post in front of the station and died early the next morning.

The story headlined newspapers across the country and a day of mourning was declared.
Hachiko was stuffed and mounted and can still be seen at the National Science Museum near Ueno Station in Tokyo, but his bones are interred with those of his master in Aoyama cemetery.
Copyright 2005 The Yomiuri Shimbun

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