8 Japanese dog breeds you should say Konnichiwa to

Shiba Inu, one of several Japanese dog breeds
(Image credit: Getty Images)

There are a lot of Japanese dog breeds, some of which you may be familiar with. Many people have heard of the adorable and wildly popular Shiba Inu or the beautiful Akita, but there are tons of Japanese dog breeds that are lesser-known – and just as cute. 

Many Japanese dog breeds originated hundreds of years ago, while others, like the Japanese Spitz, were only recognized by major kennel clubs in the 1920s and 1930s. The Nihon Ken Honzokai, also know as the Japanese Dog Preservation Society, has recognized six indigenous dog breeds that are considered national monuments. 

These six breeds are known as the Nihon Ken – but they aren't the only breeds that hail from the country. Japanese dog breeds come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and temperaments - you may even see a dog breed on here you'd like to bring into your family one day!

From the incredibly popular Shiba Inu (the most commonly owned breed in Japan), or the gigantic and hard-to-find Tosa Inu, here are 8 Japanese dog breeds you should say Konnichiwa ("hello") to!

PetsRadar's guide to Japanese dog breeds

 1. Shiba Inu

Shiba Inu sat amongst cherry blossoms in Japan

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The ever-popular and beloved Shiba Inu is a Japanese dog breed and Nihon Ken that predates the emergence of modern, recognized breeds in the 19th century. They're considered a "basal breed" which means they are thought to be a dog breed that heavily influenced the development of modern-day breeds via genetics. 

Shiba Inus were bred to flush out and hunt small game like rabbits and birds. They are double-coated to help keep them warm, and can be anywhere from 18 to 22 pounds while standing around 13 to 17 inches tall. Shiba Inus are good-natured, bold, and have an infamously loud "scream" or bark that they can do when stressed or incredibly happy. Shiba Inus are fastidious cleaners - you may find them grooming their paws just like a cat!

 2. Akita

Akita dog

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The Akita is the largest of the Nihon Ken Japanese dog breeds, as they can easily grow over 100 pounds and can stand two-feet-tall or taller. They were bred in the early 17th century as hunting dogs that could comfortably exist in snow, as they originated in the mountains of northern Japan. Akitas also make great guard dogs and are so beloved that newborn children are often given Akita figurines as means of protecting them through a long and happy life. 

Many people have heard the story of Hachiko, an Akita who faithfully waited at the Shibuya train station every night long after his owner passed away. Hachiko has been immortalized through a bronze statue that rests at the station in question. Akitas are usually best in single-dog households, as they can be territorial with property and reserved around strangers. They aren't considered a good breed for first-time dog owners.

 3. Kai Ken

Kai Ken dog

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The Kai Ken is an incredibly rare Japanese dog breed that is also a member of the Nihon Ken dog group. Kai Kens are medium-sized dogs, usually between 17-22 inches tall and weighing about 25-55 pounds. They have a medium-length double coat that can be black, red, or brown brindle. They were bred to hunt for Japanese serow (a deer-like animal native to Japan), wild boar, and bears in steep, mountainous areas. Kai Kens are smart, alert, and make great watchdogs - so they can be a bit reserved towards strangers, but can be very good with children.

 4. Kishu Ken

Kishu ken dog

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The Kishu, or Kishu-ken, is another Nihon Ken dog. Kishus are descendants of ancient medium-sized dogs from the Kishu region and are similar to the Kai Ken. Quiet like Shiba Inus, Kishus were bred for boar and deer hunting, and prefer to stalk their prey rather than bark at it. They are still commonly used to hunt boar in Japan to this day. 

Kishus can be between 17 and 22 inches tall and weigh anywhere from 30 to 60 pounds, and they can be white, red, or black-and-tan. Kishus have a strong prey drive, so they likely won't do well with cats, and need to be socialized as puppies to maximize their chances of being good with other dogs. They can be aloof towards strangers but are easily housebroken and very smart. 

 5. Hokkaido

Hokkaido dog

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The Hokkaido, Hokkaido-ken, or just do-ken, is another ancient Japanese breed that you'll notice looks a lot like the other dogs on this list. Hokkaidos are  medium breed that are around 20 inches tall and around 44 pounds, but if bred outside of Japan they tend to be even smaller. They have double coats that come in a range of colors, from black to brindle, to wolf-grey. They are believed to have been brought over by immigrants from the island of Honshu in the 1140s. 

Hokkaidos are very loyal and brave, with a great sense of direction and smell. They are commonly used to hunt boar and bear and are known for their iconic howls. They are very food motivated, work well with recall techniques, and require long walks to expel their energy. 

6. Shikoku Ken

Shikoku Inu

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The sixth and final Nihon Ken breed on this list, the Shikoku Ken or Shikoku Inu can sometimes be mistaken for a Japanese wolf. Designated a national monument in 1937, the Shikoku (sometimes called Kochi-ken) is a larger dog, standing between 18 to 26 inches and weighing around 50 pounds. Their coats can be red sesame, sesame, or black sesame, with white often found on their underside and tails. Shikokus are very alert, can be a bit wary, and make great dogs for outdoorsy families - though they can be a bit stubborn, so keep that in mind.

 7.  Japanese Spitz

Japanese Spitz

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The Japanese Spitz is a newer recognized Japanese dog breed, and is a descendent of the German Spitzes that wer brought over to Japan in the early 1900s during the war. Sometimes called a "ground cloud" for its short stature and fluffy white coat, Japanese Spitz are tiny little dogs that weigh around 10-15 pounds and stand only 12-15 inches tall. 

The Japanese Spitz tends to shed quite a bit, and their luscious coats require regular grooming. They are active, smart, and loyal dogs that make great companions for families with older adults or small children. They are companion dogs who love to be around their family, but will also happily romp around outside.

 8. Tosa Inu

Tosa Inu

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The Tosa or Tosa Inu is a rare large dog bred in Tosa, Shikoku, that is unfortunately used for dog-fighting, which is still legal in Japan. The Tosas are the only breed legally allowed to be used in dogfighting - which should be outright banned. Tosas vary a lot in size but are usually between 80 to 135 pounds and around 32 inches tall. Breeders outside of Japan often have dogs that are up to 200 pounds, and the dogs are considered the canine equivalent to Sumo wrestlers. Tosa Inus have a short coat that is usually brindle, fawn, or red. 

Tosa Inus originated in the late 19th century and were crossed with European breeds like the Mastiff in order to breed a larger, more powerful dog for fighting. Sadly, because of this stigma they do not deserve, they are a restricted or banned dog in many countries - but not in the US! There are Tosa-specific rescues that are working to break the stigma against them. 


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