6 Authentic Japanese Dog Breeds: Cuteness from Shiba Inu to Akita Inu


There are 6 Japanese dog breeds that are called “Nihon-ken” and are treated as Japan’s national dog. The Nihon-ken include: Shiba Inu, Kishu Ken, Shikoku Ken, Hokkaido Ken, Kai Ken, and Akita inu. (Akita Inu is the type of dog known as “Hachiko”!)

This standard was established in 1934 by the Nihon-ken Hozonkai, a Japanese public organization responsible for preserving and maintaining records for the six native Japanese dog breeds.

Here we’ll tell you all about each of the 6 authentic Japanese dogs, plus provide useful information for people who want to have a Japanese dog as a pet – and even typical names for Japanese dogs!

akita inu
Have you heard of Hachiko – the adorable pup whose legacy lives on as a Japanese dog statue in Shibuya? Then you know the Akita Inu.

Another well-known Japanese breed is the Akita Inu. But unlike the Shiba Inu, the Akita Inu is bigger and bulkier.

You will not see much of this breed in the city. Akita Inus are part of the beetle family and therefore have traits that are ideal for cold weather, such as a thick, long coat and a double coat. They have a bear-like face and a large bone structure.

The Japanese Akita can be sesame, brindle, red, fawn, or pure white, but should have urajiro markings on the chest, cheeks, and tail.

Fast Akita Inu Facts

  • Weight: 32 – 45 kilograms (about 70 – 100 pounds)
  • Size: 61 – 71 centimeters (24 – 28 inches)
  • Personality: Akita Inus are dominant dogs and are known to do poorly with other dogs of the same sex. However, they are very good with children.

2. Hokkaido Inu

Hokkaido Inu
The Hokkaido Inu (or Hokkaido Ken) is believed to have an older bloodline compared to the other Japanese dog breeds. Hailing from Japan’s northernmost island, the Hokkaido Inu has a thicker outer coat, larger legs, and smaller ears to help them handle the frigid cold.

Intelligent, strong and devoted, the Hokkaido Inu was bred to be hunting dogs, able to handle wild boars and even small bears. As a result, they are still a very strong-willed breed and can show aggression towards other dogs. They tend to develop very strong bonds with their owners and require a fair amount of attention.

  • Fast Hokkaido Know Facts
  • Weight: ~20 kilograms (~44 pounds)
  • Size: 46 – 52 centimeters high (18 – 20 inches)
  • Personality: Strong, committed, intelligent

Kai Ken
The Kai Ken is one of the most distinctive of the original Japanese dog breeds. It’s easy to know why they are affectionately nicknamed “tiger dog” due to their coat colors.

The Kai Ken were bred to hunt game, including boar, deer, and fowl. Since the breed originated in the mountainous regions of Japan, they evolved to be fast, with well-developed muscles. They are also incredibly intelligent, learn quickly and tend to be quite independent although they love to please their owners.

Given their heritage, the Kai Ken is a very active dog with an intact hunting instinct. As a result, you’ll want to make sure you don’t go for a walk with a Kai off-leash, as they’ll probably be on to something more interesting!

Fast Kai Ken facts

  • Weight: 4 – 9 kilograms (10 – 20 pounds)
  • Size: 33 – 43 centimeters high (13 – 17 inches)
  • Personality: Independent, active, highly intelligent

4. Kishu Ken

Kishu Ken
The Kishu Ken is a hunting dog that is still relatively rare, even in Japan. According to a Japanese legend, the Kishu Ken actually descended from wolves.

In temperament, they are intelligent, courageous and independent, but also more impulsive than the other Japanese dog breeds. They have a strong natural hunting instinct and as a result should not be left alone with other smaller pets. They like to be active and outdoors, but be careful: their intelligence also makes them excellent escape artists!

  • Quick Kishu Ken Facts
  • Weight: 14 – 27 kilograms (31 – 59 pounds)
  • Size: 43 – 55 centimeters high
  • Personality: Active, brave, intelligent

Shiba Inu
Arguably the most popular Japanese breed, the Shiba Inu is a Japanese national treasure. The Shiba is the smallest of the spitz dog breeds in Japan.

Recently, however, smaller Shibas have been used to breed a cuter and more apartment-friendly unofficial ‘mame’ size, or bean sized Shiba – certainly a darling among Japanese dogs.

Shiba Inus have small pointed ears, a wedge-shaped muzzle, and a curled tail.

  • Quick Shiba Inu Facts
  • Weight: 7 – 10 kilograms (about 16 to 22 pounds)
  • Size: 33 – 45 centimeters high (13 to 17 inches)
  • Personality: Shiba Inus are independent, territorial, and proud. They need to be socialized early.

6. Shikoku Ken

Shikoku Ken
The Shikoku Ken is a beautiful Japanese Keeshond type breed with a wolf-like appearance.

Like its smaller cousin, the Shiba, the Shikoku dog is a national treasure of Japan. This Ken is extremely rare and hard to find, even in Japan.

Shikoku Kens are known to be easier to get along with than Shibas and Akitas as they are not as stubborn and more friendly with other dogs.

  • Quick Shikoku Ken Facts
  • Weight: 15 – 20 kilograms (33 – 45 pounds)
  • Size: 43 -53 centimeters high (17 – 21 inches)
  • Personality: The Shikoku Ken are great companion dogs for people outdoors.

Other Japanese Dog Breeds

Japanese Keeshond

japanese keeshond
If you are looking for a cute and cuddly companion dog, try the Japanese Keeshond. This small, fluffy Japanese breed makes the perfect companion dog and was bred for city dwellers. They have close genetics to Siberian Samoyeds, characterized by its thick, long coat of white fur.

Like other Keeshond breeds, it has a wedge-shaped muzzle and pointed ears. The Japanese Keeshond is energetic and obedient, but can bark a lot if not properly trained. This breed gets along very well with children and other pets.

Fast keeshond facts

  • Weight: 5 – 10 kilograms (11 – 20 pounds)
  • Size: 30 – 38 centimeters high (12 – 15 inches)

Japanese Terrier

Japanese Terrier
The Japanese terrier, or Nihon terrier, is another small Japanese dog. They are believed to be descended from smooth-haired fox terriers from the Netherlands, pointers, and native Japanese breeds.

Japanese terriers usually have a black face with a white body. They have pointed ears that fold forward, and their tails are usually docked.

They make great companion dogs for quiet households. The Japanese terrier is rare, even in Japan.

Fast Japanese Terrier Facts

  • Weight: 2 – 4 kilograms (5 – 9 pounds)
  • Size: 20 – 33 centimeters high
  • Personality: Japanese Terriers are sensitive and playful.

Japanse Mastiff / Tosa Inu

Tosa Inu
The largest Japanese breed is the Japanese mastiff, or the Tosa Inu in Japanese. Unlike many of the other Japanese dog breeds, the Tosa Inu is a mastiff type and not a keeshond type. The Japanese mastiff is a hunting and fighting dog.

The Japanese mastiff has short, smooth hair that is red, fawn, or brindle in color. Tosa Inus are sensitive, loyal, and calm. They make excellent watchdogs and are good with children.

Fast Japanese Mastiff Facts

  • Weight: 31 – 61 kilograms (80 – 135 pounds)
  • Height: 62 – 82 cm (24 – 32 inches)

Getting a Japanese Dog

Regardless of which Japanese dog breed you are considering, it is certainly more difficult to get one outside of Japan. For this reason, many people come to Japan in the hope of buying a pet.

Exporting a Japanese dog from Japan comes with its own challenges. Not all breeders will want to export certain Japanese dog breeds, as they are considered a kind of “national treasure”.

The next hurdle is cost. Prices of dogs in Japan vary, but in general younger puppies (2 months old) are cheaper than older puppies.

Once you’ve selected your Japanese puppy, there will be additional costs to prepare for export. These costs include vaccinations/microchip, dog crate, kennel costs, export pedigree, Animal Quarantine Inspection, and other costs.

The actual shipping costs for sending a dog from Japan will vary by country. Before you buy a dog in Japan, check if your airline carries pets! Also check the associated pet fees – it could very well be over $200.

You will need to know the import laws for your country. Many countries, for example in the EU, require a rabies vaccination and a 21-day quarantine period in Japan.

In general, you will find it much less of a hassle to find a Japanese dog breed exporter who can put you in touch with a breeder and take care of all the paperwork for you.

Japanese Dog Names

Now that you’ve chosen your Japanese dog, naming him or her can be exciting and difficult. In Japan, you can find dogs with names ranging from Ryuu to Lucky to Sausage. Take a look at some of these popular Japanese dog names.

List of Japanese dog names

For male dogs

For female dogs

  • Momo
  • Nana
  • Sakura
  • Hana
  • Natsume

Conclusion: Japanese Dog Breeds

Japanese dog breeds are beautiful! These pets make great companions. You can find Japanese breeds that are small, large, fluffy, or smooth! Next time you’re considering a new fur baby, check out these Japanese breeds!


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