11 Fascinating Japanese Dog Breeds

shiba inu with cherry blossom

Whether acting as our faithful companions, providing vital assistance to those most in need in society, or performing any number of important jobs, dogs are universally adored for the multitude of ways they can bring happiness and value into our lives. There’s a reason we often describe dogs as man’s best friend.

Although geographically distant from American shores, Japan’s rich culture and history shares our deep affection for canines. In centuries gone by, dogs were bred across Japan to fulfill specific roles – just as we have seen in European and North American countries.

While dogs are still commonplace in Japan, the most recently available data actually indicates that dog ownership is declining. Since 2013, when 8.7 million dogs were reported as pets in Japanese homes, there has been a steady downward trend. The latest data for 2022 shows that just over seven million dogs reside in Japanese homes – a drop of almost twenty per cent in the past decade.

Despite this decline, dogs remain a popular choice of pet in Japan. In this article, we’ll celebrate some of the dog breeds originating in the country – a few of which have become popularized around the world.

1) Akita


Height: 24-28 inches (61-71 cm)
Weight: 70-130 pounds (32-59 kg)

The Akita is regarded as a powerful and noble breed. It traces its origins to the Akita Prefecture in Japan. Initially bred for hunting large game and guarding, Akitas evolved into symbols of loyalty, bravery, and protection in Japanese culture.

Their strong and dignified demeanor makes them excellent family companions. Today, modern Akitas exhibit their intelligence and loyalty as therapy dogs, guide dogs for the visually impaired, and participants in dog sports. With their striking appearance, thick double coat, and curled tail, Akitas continue to embody both historical significance and contemporary companionship.

2) Japanese Spitz

white japanese spitz

Height: 12-15 inches (30-38 cm)
Weight: 11-20 pounds (5-9 kg)

Descendants of European Spitz breeds, Japanese Spitz dogs bring their friendly and charming nature to households. Originating in Japan in the early 20th century, they were initially companions to families.

Their snow-white coats, expressive eyes, and joyful personality make them irresistible. Japanese Spitz dogs thrive as beloved family pets due to their affectionate and adaptable nature. Their compact size, coupled with a graceful and elegant presence, makes them ideal companions for various living environments. 

3) Shiba Inu

shiba inu being petted

Height: 13.5-16.5 inches (34-42 cm)
Weight: 15-24 pounds (7-11 kg)

The Shiba Inu, Japan’s oldest native breed, boasts a spirited history rooted in hunting small game. With a fiery personality and a dash of independence, Shiba Inus exude a captivating charm. Over centuries, they transitioned from tenacious hunters to cherished family companions. 

While Shiba Inus are known for their strong-willed nature, their intelligence and alertness contribute to their adaptability as pets. Vigilant yet playful, they form deep bonds with their families, proving that small stature can house a mighty heart. Shiba Inus can make good apartment dogs if they have an outlet for their energy.

4) Hokkaido

hokkaido dog

Height: 17-20 inches (43-51 cm)
Weight: 35-65 pounds (16-29 kg)

Native to the northern regions of Japan, the Hokkaido reflects its resilient roots in its robust build and thick double coat. Originally bred as hunters, Hokkaidos developed into versatile working and companion dogs. Their loyalty and agility equip them for their modern role as active family members. 

As energetic and spirited companions, they thrive on physical and mental stimulation. The Hokkaido’s adaptability to various environments, coupled with their devotion, make them the ideal match for individuals and families who value both playfulness and steadfast companionship.

5) Japanese Chin

japanese chin

Height: 8-11 inches (20-28 cm)
Weight: 4-9 pounds (2-4 kg)

The Japanese Chin, a toy breed with an aristocratic lineage, transcends its historical palace roles to become a cherished lapdog. Hailing from ancient China, these small dogs entered Japan as gifts to the imperial court. Their refined elegance, captivating expressions, and gentle nature quickly endeared them to their human companions.

Today, Japanese Chins are treasured as affectionate and amiable pets. Their small size, combined with an endearing ability to form deep emotional connections, makes them ideal companions for individuals and families alike. Whether gracing a royal court or lounging on a modern couch, Japanese Chins bring joy and companionship wherever they go.

6) Ryukyu

ryukyu dogs

Height: 18-22 inches (45-56 cm)
Weight: 30-45 pounds (14-20 kg)

Also known as Okinawan Dogs, Ryukyus have guarded and protected their homeland for centuries with their strong and loyal nature. Originating in the Okinawa Islands, their distinctive curled tails and watchful demeanor showcase their commitment to their roles as guardians. 

Modern Ryukyus continue to embody their protective instincts, making them trustworthy companions. Their loyalty and affection extend to their human families, and they form strong bonds with those they consider their own. This breed is so rare (only hundreds are believed to be in existence on the Okinawa Islands) that they have protected status.

7) Kai Ken

kai ken dog

Height: 16.5-22 inches (42-56 cm)
Weight: 25-50 pounds (11-23 kg)

The Kai Ken, originating in the Kai Province, carries the spirit of a versatile hunter and a devoted companion. Bred for tracking and hunting boar and deer, their distinctive brindle coats set them apart. Their agility and keen instincts make them excel in various roles.

With a strong sense of loyalty, they bond deeply with their human companions and are known for their alert nature. Kai Kens thrive in active households where they can channel their energy into both mental and physical challenges. Their adaptability and tenacity contribute to their standing as a treasured and dependable breed.

8) Tosa

tosa inu

Height: 22.5-32 inches (57-82 cm)
Weight: 100-200 pounds (45-91 kg)

The Tosa, born from a blend of European and Japanese dogs, bears the legacy of both fighting prowess and protective loyalty. Originally bred for dogfighting, their impressive size and strength earned them a reputation as powerful competitors. Over time, their roles shifted, and they embraced their protective instincts to become valued guard dogs. 

A very large breed, the Tosa’s imposing demands an experienced handler. Their deep bonds with their families ensure they remain devoted protectors, while their calm demeanor contributes to their status as steadfast companions. 

9) Shikoku

shikoku dog

Height: 17-21 inches (43-53 cm)
Weight: 30-55 pounds (14-25 kg)

The Shikoku carries the legacy of its hunting ancestry and the independent spirit of its home. Known for their agility and distinctive curled tails, Shikokus embrace a blend of intelligence, loyalty, and self-assuredness. Their natural athleticism and curiosity make them excellent participants in various dog sports, including agility.

Shikokus thrive in environments where they can engage in both physical and mental activities, making them cherished partners for those who value a mix of companionship and adventure.

10) Japanese Terrier

japanese terrier
(Photo Credit: Pleple2000, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Height: 8-13 inches (20-33 cm)
Weight: 5-9 pounds (2-4 kg)

A lively and energetic breed, the Japanese Terrier originates from the country’s history of vermin hunting. With a compact size and a short, sleek coat, they possess a charming and endearing appearance. 

Japanese Terriers are known for their vivacious personalities, making them engaging and lively companions for active households. Their energy and agility lend themselves well to various play activities and exercises. Despite their small stature, they exude confidence and a strong sense of curiosity.

11) Kishu

kishu dog

Height: 15.5-22 inches (39-56 cm)
Weight: 30-60 pounds (14-27 kg)

The origins of the Kishu lie in the region of the same name. Kishus carry a dignified presence rooted in its history as a hunting companion. Known for their fox-like appearance and erect ears, Kishus possess a reserved and stoic demeanor. Over centuries, they evolved from skilled hunters into devoted family companions. 

Their loyalty and calm nature make them excellent partners for those who appreciate a composed and serene demeanor. Kishus form strong bonds with their human families, becoming cherished members who bring both tranquility and unwavering companionship. 

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