The history of dogs in Japan dates back to the outset of Japan's recorded history. The findings in the ruins of the Joman period (from 7,000 BC to the beginning of history), suggest that dogs coexisted with men as early as the Stone Age.
The modern Japanese dog has developed through repeated selection of the dogs that settled in Japan after ancient racial migration.
In Nihon Shoki (The Chronicles of Japan), Japan's oldest historical document, and other literature, is recorded the importation of dogs from the Asian continent. Nihon Shoki also indicates that from ancient times it has been custom to name dogs and use them for hunting.
After the Tokugawa period (1603 - 1867) was brought to an end, many kinds of dogs were imported from countries throughout the world together with foreign cultures.
The general trend was to respect things western, and foreign canine species were highly valued. As a result, the indigenous Japanese dogs were gradually being mixed out of existence and the situation became serious in the later years of the Taisho period (1912 - 1926).
The situation prompted some fans of Japanese dogs to move to protect them. Japan's Education Ministry, in full realization of the need to preserve the Japanese dogs, designated them as national monuments -- one of the valuable Japanese properties. This action has greatly helped preserve the pure blood of Japanese dogs today.
Japanese dogs are classified by size, place of breeding and use. The sizes are large (Akita), medium (Kishu, Shikoku) and small (Shiba). By use, all the native breeds of Japan were bred for hunting.
The following description concerns Japan's smallest native breed, the SHIBA-INU.
The name Shiba-Inu is a Nagano prefecture dialect word meaning "Little Brushwood Dog". It is the smallest 6,000 years ago until the third century BC).
Today's Shiba has been bred by careful mixing of many strains of small Japanese dogs. All Shibas originate from mountainous, landlocked parts of Japan where they thrive on the cold winter weather and enjoy living outdoors. Traditionally they are used as family dogs, excellent small guard dogs, and for hunting small ground game. Shibas also have been used to hunt boar and bear. Shibas come in a variety of colors, but colloquially they are also called AKA-INU or "RED DOG" as red is by far the preferred color.
The present day Shiba is the product of select breeding of three different strains of Shibas; the San'in, the Mino, and the Shinshu. The San'in in Shiba derived from the Sekishu and Imba breeds, and was prevalent in Shimane and Tottori prefectures. It was larger than the Shiba standard of today, by some 40 - 50 cm, which would fall into today's medium-sized dog class. Its color was a mottled black, without the white cheeks favored in today's black-and-tan. The well-defined stop of today's Shiba was characteristic of the San'in Shiba. As was Shiba feistiness and independence -- San'ins were known for their lack of affection.
The second ancient breed is the Mino Shiba, which was smaller (36.5 - 39.5 cm) and fiery red in color. These dogs were prevalent in Gifu prefecture. It had the fine deep-brown triangular eyes and fleshy triangular erect ears of today's Shiba. It was also characterized by the Sashi-o (extended tail) as opposed to the curled tail of the other Shibas.
The third ancient breed is the Shinshu Shiba, prevalent in Nagano prefecture and derived from the Kimawa Shiba. These were also smaller and mostly red dogs with thick bristle hair in the outer coat and dense soft undercoat. The best example of this strain is former Champion Matsumaro, but the two weaknesses of this line are a tendency toward round eyes rather than the preferred triangular inset eyes, and a black mask that lingers into adulthood rather than disappearing by the age of 1 - 2 years.
Eyes are one of the critical points for distinguishing Japanese Shiba dogs from western dogs. The eyes of a dog, irrespective of type and species, generally reflect a shade of appeal, fawning or plaintiveness. This is a shade especially evident in the Japanese Shiba dog.
Japanese Shiba Dogs have almond shaped, recessed eyes under thick eyelids. None of them have goggle-eyes like Pekinese, Maltese and Pomeranians. Looking lonesome and quiet, their small almond shaped eyes suggest the burning spirit within.
The first impression the Japanese Shiba Dog creates is a lack of sophistication--a touch of nature that has escaped human forced breeding. Actually the Japanese Shiba Dog has escaped much artificiality that accompanies improvement and fixation of species. They incorporate the beauty of the wild with dignity.
Toughness is another feature of the Japanese Shiba Dog. Sturdily built, he rarely falls ill. He is not fastidious about meals, and can withstand both cold and heat well. They are unusually hardy and robust little dogs that do not require the pampering and grooming that many breeds do. They have short hair and their ears and tail are completely natural. They have a very compact, muscular body which gives them great agility and an attitude of dignity, gracefulness and elegance.
Shibas have a "Fox-Like" look that is captivating. They are cunning in intelligence and some of their behavior is quite close to the primitive--some exhibit wolf-like behaviorism in play, and they sometimes prefer to be nocturnal.
The Japanese Shiba Dog has his own mannerisms. As is often pointed out by dog trainers and Japanese dog fans, this kind of dog does little playing, in a way suggestive of the spirit of the tense, serious samurai.
He rarely leaps at or gambols with people. Nor does he perpetrate mischievous deeds such as chewing and pulling things as an ordinary dog does. When other dogs frolic, the Japanese Shiba Dog often stands back and watches them quietly with forepaws together as if wondering what everyone thinks is so amusing. He seems to prefer solitude to merry-making in packs. This trait sometimes puzzles his man who does not know what the Shiba Dog thinks and wants.
Calm and considerate by nature, the Japanese Shiba Dog understands how man thinks; he remains good friends on tacit terms. The reliability, trustworthiness, and loyalty of the breed to their masters and families is a much repeated statement that is heard from the Japanese people who have owned them. With their natural charm, they fast become an irreplaceable friend. The characters of these dogs suggest ancient Japanese people--austere, valiant, faithful, good-natured and gentle, highly affectionate and sensitive to the kindness of their masters.
There are two clubs in Japan that register Shiba pedigrees. The largest and most prestigious Shiba registry is the Nihon-Ken Hozonkai or "Nippo" ("Association for the Preservation of Japanese Dogs"). More western in structure is the Japan Kennel Club, which provides Shiba pedigrees in English.
©Copyright Julia Cadwell, 1999-2004