How Hachiko the 100-year-old Dog Still Inspires a Nation

by | Nov 12, 2023

Japan’s most beloved dog, Hachiko celebrates his 100th birthday this month, or in dog years, his 700th birthday, which is approaching Dog Methuselah years. Of course, dear Hachiko is no longer with us, having crossed the Rainbow Bridge in 1935 after faithfully waiting for his dead master to return home from Shibuya Station for 10 years. Although Hachiko has been gone for decades, his legacy lives on as a small statue that is one of the most crowded and well-known meeting spots in central Tokyo. In fact, if you say to your friend “Meet me at Hachiko,” you may as well say “Meet me in Times Square” or “Meet me at a Beastie Boys ‘Licensed to Ill’ concert in 1987.” Fun fact about the Shibuya Hachiko statue: it is located outside of Exit 8 of Shibuya Station; the word for eight in Japanese is “hachi”.

snow scupture of hachiko in akita prefecture
A Hachiko snow sculpture made in his home prefecture of Akita.

Hachiko was born in Odate, Akita Prefecture on that special day in 1923. He was an Akita Inu, similar to the other famous Japanese breed, Shiba Inu body shape and the alert, pointed ears atop his densely furry head. Both breeds were bred for hunting, but at up to 4 times the weight of their Shiba cousins, Akita could hunt much larger game. Both breeds are independent and intelligent, but as demonstrated by Hachiko, Akita have a strong sense of loyalty to their pack, humans or canine. There has been some confusion over the years about the differences between the two breeds but if you see them side by side, you’d be able to distinguish between the two as certain as you could distinguish between the twin brothers Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

But the story of Hachiko isn’t really about a dog, is it? The story of Hachiko romanticizes this idea of unconditional loyalty in the face of complete hopelessness. I mean, I watched the version featuring Richard Gere and I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit to shedding a few tears at the plight of poor Hachiko. The idea of loyalty is one that the Japanese worldview can easily latch onto. The cynic in me wonders if some Japanese companies don’t use the story to inspire their workforce to keep doing their best despite not receiving a pay increase for the past 5 years. But the better part of me hopes the story inspires those involved in traditional arts and crafts to continue trying to extend those traditions even in the face of fading demand or financial challenges.

If you’re reading this, you probably have some interest in Hachiko and his touching story. What’s your takeaway from the theme of loyalty and why do you think a single pet dog born 100 years ago has made such an impact on a nation and around the world? In any case, happy heavenly birthday Hachiko, and thanks at the very least for giving millions of tourists a reason other than making a video of themselves walking across a large traffic crossing to use Shibuya Station Exit 8.

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