YOUNG WORLD

Dogged devotion

Symbol of health...

Symbol of health...  

One cold, winter morning we were at a dog show in Delhi. A dog that looked like a bear attracted the attention of my children and they quickly befriended the big fellow. It was indeed called a bear, Akita, in Japanese.

Akita is one of the traditional breeds of Japan and its history is traced back to 500 BC. In Japan, dogfights were popular at one point of time and it was part of the Samurai warriors' training to watch these dogfights, to learn of bravery and aggression. Recognising it as a precious heritage, the Government of Japan made Akita, the national dog in 1931. Later a special postage stamp was issued in honour of the breed. If an owner of an Akita has difficulty maintaining it, the government gives him/her money. Akita is considered a symbol of good health. If a friend were ill, then it would be appropriate to send a small Akita statue to wish a speedy recovery. The standards for the breed were set only in 1938.

But what made the Akita breed popular the world over is the story of Hachiko. This particular Akita belonged to Dr. Ueno, a professor at the Tokyo University. Each morning it would walk with him to the Shibuya station and return at three in the afternoon to take him home. On May 21, 1925, the doctor took the train to the university, but did not return. He had suffered a heart attack and died at the university. However, the dog continued to come daily in the morning and the evening, at the same time. On the evening of March 7, 1935 it was found dead in exactly the same spot where it used to wait for its master. Hachiko became a legend in Japan. A bronze statue was erected in its memory.

Text and picture by S.Theodore Baskaran

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