There are many different types of Japanese dog breeds, each with its own unique personality and physical characteristics. From small and delicate Shiba Inus to large and powerful Akitas, there is a breed of Japanese dog to suit every taste.
But what exactly is a Japanese dog?
By definition, Japanese dogs are part of 6 breeds recognized as the national dogs in the country. These include the Akita, Shiba Inu, Kai Ken, Kishu Ken, Shikoku Ken and the Hokkaido Ken. These dogs are all native to Japan and have been bred there for centuries.
Here is a brief overview of some of the most popular Japanese dog breeds:
21. Sakhalin Husky (Karafuto Ken)
The Sakhalin Husky is named for its region of origin, which is the largest island in the Russian Federation. Although that is a completely different country, the island’s close proximity to Japan and the strong history and presence of the Japanese earned the Sakhalin Husky a spot here as a Japanese dog breed.
Unfortunately, this dog is dangerously close to extinction despite efforts by breeders both in Japan and Russia, with less than 10 of them in the world as of 2015.
20. Japanese Spitz
The Japanese spitz is often confused for other similar breeds, including the white pomeranian and samoyed. As a result, it is not recognized as a separate breed by many regulating groups, including the American Kennel Club.
This white ball of fur can either be a small or medium dog, with both being equally as adorable. Their loyal and affectionate personality makes them fantastic as companion pets, especially in homes with young children.
19. Japanese Chin (Japanese Spaniel)
The Japanese chin has a very rich history as a popular lap dog among royals not only in Japan but also in Europe. With their cute little faces, toy dog size, and endearing personalities, it is not so hard to see why they are still a hit to date.
Their smooshed face further contributes to their visual appeal but, unfortunately, mean a lot of trouble for their health. This includes issues like breathing difficulties and heat intolerance.
18. Japanese Terrier
The Japanese terrier has quite a unique appearance, with a predominantly white body and a black or brown head and neck. They are known for their lively personalities and their love for the outdoors.
Another key standout feature about this dog breed is the fact that, unlike other Japanese dogs, it does not have the typical spitz-type aesthetic. This is largely due to its mixed heritage, which includes genetic contributions from European breeds like the Dutch Boerenfox.
17. American Akita
Contrary to popular belief, the American Akita is actually a completely separate breed from the Japanese Akita Inu. However, both are considered Japanese dog breeds.
The American variation is different from the Akita Inu mainly in terms of size. They tend to be larger both in height and weight, with averages of 24 to 28 inches and 80 to 140 lbs, respectively.
The American Akita also tends to have a broader head and a deeper set of eyes.
16. Tosa Ken
This is one of the rarest Japanese dog breeds on our list. It is also unique from the typical spitz-type seen with most breeds in the region. In fact, it resembles European breeds like the Bull Mastiff and Great Dane, with which the Tosa Ken was often mixed in the 19th century.
This dog is very fearless and aggressive and thus subject to a lot of regional restrictions around the world. This temperament is primarily due to its fighting dog history.
15. Ryukyu Inu
Technically speaking, the Ryukyu Inu is not recognized as a standard dog breed by any kennel club in the world. Unfortunately, its constantly dwindling numbers and lack of standardization as a result of mixed breeding do not make matters any easier for this unique dog.
It is known for its brindle coat color patterns that can either be red, black, or white. These give the dog a kind of wild aesthetic to it. Despite outward appearances, this is one of the calmest and most gentle dog breeds on this list.
14. Sanshu Inu
The Sanshu Inu is one of the more recent dog breeds on this list. It is not a purebred dog and is actually a mix of Chow Chow and a variety of other Japanese breeds. The result is a dog very similar in appearance to breeds like the Akita Inu and the Shiba Inu.
However, the Sanshu variation stands out with its markedly straight tail as opposed to the curved and fluffy appearance of most spitz-type dogs.
13. Yakushima Ken (屋久島犬)
The Yakushima ken is popular in Japan but very rare in other parts of the world. This medium-sized dog is popular for its loyal and intelligent traits. They are also known for being very independent and can hold their own when left outdoors for long periods of time.
As a result, they are often bred for use as guard dogs which is a job that they do very well.
12. Kawamaki Ken (川上犬)
The Kawamaki Ken dogs are extremely rare, which is a shame given their awesome combination of aesthetics and personality. If you like the wolf aesthetic in dog breeds, you will love the triangular faces, dark eyes, and perky ears on these pups.
This strong likeness is because this breed is a direct descendant of Japanese wolves. In addition to the look, the dogs inherited their bravery and love for the outdoors from their wild ancestors.
11. Mino Shiba (美濃柴犬 – Variation of Shiba Inu)
This is one of the 5 main variations of the Shiba Inu. It is known for its very beautiful, deep, red coat coloring. It also has more of a squared-out face than the sharp, triangular silhouette of the standard Shiba Inu’s skull.
It also stands out from other Shiba Inu variations in that it lacks the “urajiro” marking which is white fur on the sides of the jaw, muzzle area, inside the ear, and chest area.
10. Sanin Shiba (山阴柴犬 – Variation of Shiba Inu)
The Sanin Shiba variation stands out mainly with its coat characteristics. Where most Shibas have smooth short to medium fur, the Sanin variation has a significantly thicker and rougher-looking coat. The muzzle is narrower and the eyes are also rounder than those of the standard Shiba Inu.
In addition to its unique appearance, the Sanin Shiba is known for its endearing personality and independent predisposition which can make it come across as a bit aloof.
9. Mikawa Ken (三河犬)
Hailing from the prefecture of Aichi in Japan, the Mikawa ken is yet another type of Japanese dog. The Aichi prefecture was known as Mikawa Kuni (三河国) in the past, hence the name of this native dog.
The Mikawa ken is used mainly for hunting in the past and is currently on the brink of extinction. It is said to be difficult to get your hands on a Mikawa Ken.
There is not much information about the Mikawa Ken, other than its pictures that we are able to get our hands on from the Instagram hashtag #三河犬.
8. Jomon Shiba (Variation of Shiba Inu)
This is one of the older and rarer variations of the Shiba Inu. It is typically described as the most feral looking of all Shibas. This is due to its lean form and wild facial expression. It also has a much narrower head with a thinner coat than the other variation.
The personality definitely matches the wild vibe, as these dogs are considered very hard to live with. They are particularly stubborn, which makes training them especially difficult.
7. Mame Shiba (Variation of Shiba Inu)
Mame Shibas are technically size variations of the Shiba Inu and not breed variations. They are intentionally bred to be much smaller than the standard, medium-sized breed. In fact, the name means bean, with ‘Mame Shiba’ referring to the adorable bean-sized aesthetic of these dogs.
While their small size may make them aesthetically appealing, it comes at a cost to their health, with issues ranging from bone and joint problems to issues with weight.
6. Kai Ken
At first glance, the Kai Ken is very similar to the Ryukyu Inu in terms of appearance, mainly due to the black or brown brindle pattern on their coats. However, the Kai Ken has more spitz-like features. These include the triangular wedge-shaped head and face shape and curled, bushy tail.
They are very intelligent dogs, and when combined with their agility, this trait makes them popular in dog agility sports as they are very easy to train and they execute beautifully.
5. Shikoku Ken
The Shikoku Ken is one of the 6 main Japanese dog breeds and only recently got recognized by the American Kennel Club as an independent breed.
This dog is known for its agility and athletic prowess. It is very comfortable in outdoor environments and will need a lot of playtime and exercise outside as part of caring for it.
These dogs are also known for their stubborn predisposition which can make them a little difficult to train.
4. Kishu Ken
This pure breed is native to the Kishu region of Japan. To this date, they are used as hunting dogs, especially when hunting wild boars. Their strong, muscular bodies, fearlessness, and unrelenting drive also make them perfect for the job.
As far as keeping them as companion pets go, owners have to ensure that they invest in a lot of outdoor playtimes to avoid mental and physical frustration. Otherwise, they are pretty low maintenance.
3. Hokkaido Ken (Ainu Dog)
The Ainu dog has a very endearing aesthetic marked by a “grinning” expression that is sure to melt even the coldest of hearts. These dogs have small triangular eyes angled down towards the bridge of the nose.
Their personalities are quite unpredictable. However, you can rest count on their unwavering loyalty, especially with family members that they bond with. They can also get very loud whether it is random howling or barking when startled.
2. Akita Inu
The Akita Inu is a popular Japanese dog recognized all over the world. They were built for the outdoors and cold weather and their muscular frames and thick coat reflect just that. They are also known for their knuckled, cat-like feet which are responsible for their agility.
What is probably the coolest thing about this breed is the iconic Hachiko statue in Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan. This monument was put up in memory of the famously loyal Akita, Hachiko, who waited for 9 years for his owner after the latter’s death.
1. Shinshu Shiba Inu (信州柴犬）
This is the Shiba Inu that most of us know, the Shinshu Inu variation. When people mention Shiba Inu, they are referring to the Shinshu Shiba Inu Variation
The Shinshu Shiba makes up the biggest proportion of surviving variations of the Shiba Inu. It has a stocky but compact frame with a thick, smooth coat.
When it comes to temperament, Shiba Inu are generally even-tempered but very alert and aware of their environment. They tend to thrive with a lot of outdoor access.
The Shiba Inu is the most popular dog in Japan which is a big deal in a country where 14% of the households have at least one dog. The main reason behind its popularity is without a doubt its incredibly charming personality.
These dogs are very faithful to their owners but this does not stop them from being super social with other people and people and pets.
Shiba Inus are also very alert and fearless and can easily be trained for use as guard dogs.
How Much Is A Japanese Dog?
The price of a Japanese dog depends on the specific breed or variation. Most range between $2,000 and $3,000. The most expensive is the Akita Inu which can go for as high as $4,500. If you want something more affordable, consider the standard Shiba Inu which is often under the $1,000 price point.
Does Japan Kill Dogs?
Hundreds of thousands of dogs are killed every year in Japan. This has drawn a lot of international attention from animal welfare organizations. Most of these are stays that were once pets abandoned by owners who did not want to or could no longer bear the responsibility of taking care of the pet.
What Dog Breeds Are Not Allowed In Japan?
Dogs are very popular in Japan. There are no specific dog breeds banned in Japan. However, there are some whose breeding and importation are strongly discouraged including the American Pitbull. There are also several regional regulations on having specific breeds outdoors, especially in communal areas like streets and recreational parks.