During the Ice Age, the archipelago that now comprises
the Japanese Islands was a crescent-shaped strip of land surrounding an
inland sea. At the northern end was the Siberian peninsula, and at
the southern, what is now Korea. Stone age nomads followed game across
the land bridges, migrating from different areas of Siberia into Alaska
and into Japan. The earliest stone tools found so far indicate that people
were in Japan as early as 15,000 years ago.
The descendants of these immigrants lived into modern
times with the descendants of the spitz-type dogs who accompanied them
and helped in the hunt. Excavations of Joman Period (about 10,000 years
ago) sites have yielded the remains of these dogs, which are similar in
type to those found with many of the primitive people of the Arctic as
well as Korea, China and Japan Indonesia, and Australia.
Recent archeological findings indicate that migrations
from Korea and China began an agricultural society which gradually pushed
the nomadic tribes northward. The melting ice sheets of North America caused
drastic changes through-out the world. In Japan, the rise in sea
level created a chain
of islands stretching about what is now the Sea of Japan. The
islands vary in size and topography as well as climate, which ranges from
tropical to almost Arctic.
Once the land mass separated into islands, the
necessity for some type of raft or boat for travel between the mainland
and the islands or between the islands themselves greatly restricted the exchange
between them. Differentiation between the native spitz-type dogs
would have begun with the resulting isolation, and over time, each area's
dogs would have become more suited for an area's narrower hunting needs.
These dogs would also become less generic in appearance as the number of
breeding choices decreased. However, the basic spitz type remained
and persisted as this 16th-century manuscript illustration demonstrates.
(courtesy of Les Ray)
Trade routes from the north reached the Ainu people of Hokkaido
and Karafuto from Siberia and Mongolia. In the south, the Japanese
alternately fought and traded with Korea. Their premier partner was
the already-established empire of China. Their vigorous trade relationship
stretches back over 2500 years ago.
China fascinated the Japanese, who at first enthusiastically
embraced Chinese ways. They adopted Chinese writing and melded their native
Shinto religion with the Chinese form of Buddhism. They also imported the
techniques for planting and harvesting rice.
Between the court aristocrats, dogs were a favorite
and favored gift. The Chinese sent many dogs to Japan. They varied from
the little "Chin" lap dog so popular with the Japanese ladies and their
Chinese counterparts to coursing hounds that worked with hunting hawks.
Among pictures of dogs used by the Chinese for coursing are ones that look
like a stockier, hairier Saluki than we have today. These dogs were undoubtedly
introduced to China from the Middle East and Europe by caravan trade along
the Silk Road.
Although they assimilated many Chinese ways into their
culture, in a cycle repeated many times, the Japanese gradually became
more insular and underwent a period of isolation. By the turn of
the sixteenth century, the lucrative silk trade was carried out by an intermediary
with ocean-going ships. The Portuguese, through Jesuit missionaries, had
its sole custody, and through them, some European dogs found their way
to the Japanese Court.
The end of the Portuguese stranglehold on commerce
with Japan began when the crew of a Dutch East Indies shipwreck washed
up on Japanese shores in 1615. With them was an English pilot, named
William Adams, who caught the attention of the first Tokugawa Shogun, Ieyasu.
Ieyasu made Adams a samurai, the only Westerner ever so honored, and called
him Anjin (Pilot). Adams and his adventures were the model for James Clavel’s
book and miniseries Shogun.
Under Ieyasu Tokugawa, Japan shed its isolation for
a while and opened its ports to foreign ships from other European countries.
With these Westerners came even more foreign dogs (kari inu). Most
of these were of a sight-hound type. Ieyasu is reported to have kept 60-70
of them to course deer. (Kuga, "JD," 56) The popularity of foreign dogs
coupled with little interest in breeding might have spelled an end to the
native dogs had Ieyasu’s descendants had the same interest in foreigners.
However, by 1635, the Japanese retreated again to a
period of national isolationism. In 1640, Ieyasu’s son and heir closed
all of Japan except the port at Yokohoma to foreigners except for trade
with Mongolia, Korea, and China. Japan’s isolation remained unbroken
for two hundred years, ending when U.S. Admiral Perry sailed into Tokyo
Bay and declared it at an end. His warship sitting in their harbor backed
up his demands.
Open to the US and Europe
Once again, Japan began a cycle of interest in all-things
foreign, focusing on the Western world this time. European mining
engineers began working in the mines of northern Honshu's mountains.
Part of this area is now known as Akita Prefecture,
but during the 1800s, it was called Dewa, and the main city, Odate.
Located far from
the cities of the western plains, it was a mountainous, rugged, cold area.
The large game of this area consisted of boar, elk, and the small Yezo
bear, like this one. The dogs
used for hunting in the north had long been known for their larger size.
According to breed lore, a long-ago nobleman developed
one strain of dog especially suited for this type of hunt. An excellent
candidate for this legend was the scion of the Sanehide family who took
refuge in the Akita area when the family fell out of favor with Ieyasu
Tokugawa. Dewa was the perfect backwater for a Daimyo with little to do
(Sanson, 415). His breeding efforts could well have been the beginning
of the large Japanese hunting dog.
In contrast to the rural areas, Japan’s densely populated
cities commonly had dogs of mixed native and foreign stock. Except for
the Japanese Chin, no one seems to have made any effort to develop or preserve
Dog fights had been a favored sport of the samurai
caste for centuries. While these dogs in earlier times would have
had other jobs like hunting , with the changes brought about by Westernization,
some dogs were dedicated to this sport. A favorite was the Tosa Fighting
Dog, a crossbred from the native Tosa (Shikoku) Dog and various imported
To increase size and fighting prowess, the same kind
of crosses went on in the north with the native dog of the Dewa/Akita area.
Breeds likely to have been used were Great Danes (Deutsche Dogges)
brought from home by German mining engineers. and Tibetan Mastiffs brought
with Mongolian traders.
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