Taro & Jiro, Karafuto Ken/Sakhalin Husky

The Sakhalin Husky, also known as the Karafuto-ken, is all but extinct. The breed comes from Sakhalin (known in Japanese as Karafuto), a large island in the Sea of Okhotsk, just north of the northernmost Japanese island (Sakhalin is part of Russia). The indigenous people of the island include the Ainu, most of which relocated to Hokkaido when the Japanese were displaced from Sakhalin in 1949. The Karafuto Ken is a beloved Japanese sledding dog, but unfortunately is facing extinction. There are currently only 2 known purebreds left, Hana & her brother, Kuma, who are both 12 years old (as of 2011). Hana’s owner has attempted to revive the breed by importing Russian stock, but more than likely, the breed will find its way from the rare list to the extinct list.

A Karafuto Ken may be mistaken for an Akita or a Siberian Husky, perhaps a result of attempts to revive the breed and attesting to the 3 breeds similar ancient origins. The breed is well-suited to snowy climates and sledding, and traditionally was used to pull carts and sleds. It’s actually quite surprising that more Karafuto Ken aren’t seen in dogsledding races, given their traditional use and their claim to fame. Unfortunately, the breed has never been able to make a come back after the decimation caused by WWII.

I mentioned a claim to fame – remember the 2006 Disney move Eight Below? The movie was a Hollywood adaptation of the 1983 Japanese film, Nankyoku Monogatari, (full movie, in French) about the true story of Taro and Jiro, two Karafuto Ken (Siberian Huskies were cast in the movie). In 1958, during an unplanned evacuation at Japan’s Showa Antarctic Research Station, 15 dogs were left tied up outside, as the personnel assumed they’d be back shortly to retrieve the dogs. Unfortunately, personnel were not able to return for a year.

They were expecting to find the 15 dogs dead, but were amazed to see that 8 had slipped their collars, and 2 were alive- Taro and Jiro (the other 6 dogs were never found). The two dogs became national heroes, much like the Akita, Hachiko (in fact, all three dogs have been stuffed & are displayed as national treasures- Hachiko & Jiro at the National Science Museum in Tokoyo, and Taro at the Hokkaido University museum).

Here’s a look at the last few minutes of Nankyoku Monogatari– when Taro & Jiro are discovered alive!

Read more about Japanese dog breeds

American Akita
  • Breed: American Akita
  • Description: The AKC breed standard says it all “large, powerful, alert, with much substance and heavy bone.” Easily recognizable traits are the large, curled tail, a strong, broad head with smallish eyes and small, triangular, erect ears. American Akitas come in a wide variety of colors and patterns with the most common being, white, brindle (grey, blue, red, fawn, etc), and pinto (white background with large, evenly placed patches of solid color or brindle). Many American Akitas have black masks.
  • Temperament: Akitas typically have a high prey-drive and are often same-sex aggressive. Proper socialization and obedience training is very important! Most Akita raised with other animals and/or children will be fine, but an adult Akita who has not been properly socialized with small animals (including dogs and children) shouldn’t be trust with kids or other pets until thoroughly tested. In general, American Akitas aren’t barkers, unless they have a good reason, but they are often talkers. It’s not unusual to hear an Akita “moo.”
  • Height & Weight: Males are generally 26-28 inches & females are usually 24-26 inches (at withers). Weight depends on animal – smaller Akita females may be around 60lbs, while larger males may weigh as much as 125 lbs.
  • Living Conditions: Akitas are not really known for their activity level (but this doesn’t mean that they aren’t working dog!). Many Akitas will be fine living in an apartment, with sufficient exercise. Most Akitas prefer a moderate level of activity, and prefer to have a secure yard to roam & play in.
  • Exercise: Akitas need a moderate amount of regular exercise to keep them fit and happy. Sufficient activity will help keep your Akita from getting into too much trouble when left alone (there’s no guarantee though!).
  • Life Expectancy: typically 10-12 years
  • Grooming: Akitas have a thick undercoat and need regular brushing. 2-3 times a year you can expect your Akita to “blow” its coat. During this time, expect massive amounts of undercoat to come off your dog. Daily brushing to get this undercoat out will make both you and your Akita more comfortable.
  • History: The American Akita is recognized as a separate breed except in the USA, Canada and Australia, where the Akita is considered one breed with two types (American & Japanese). The Akita was introduced to the United States in 1937, when Helen Keller was given a pup named Kamikaze-Go. Kamikaze-Go unfortunately died from distemper a short time later, and was replaced by the Japanese government with his brother, Kenzan-Go. Because of the National Monument status of the breed, it was a very rare gift. During WWII, the Akita breed was saved from extinction by a few dedicated people. The Akita population in the US grew after the war, when many US servicemen brought them home with them. US breeders tend to breed for mass and size, whereas Japanese breeders concentrated on returning the breed to the original type. Over the years, this difference in breeding created the two breeds we now have – the heavy-boned American Akita, and the more delicate Japanese Akita.
  • Group & Recognition:
    • AKC – Working Group
    • F.C.I. – Group 5 (Spitz & primitive types); Section 5 (Asian Spitz & related breeds)
Read more about Japanese dog breeds

Japanese Spitz (Nihon Supittsu)

Coming Soon!

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Japanese Dog Stays by Mate’s Side

Dogs are known to be incredibly loyal to their human owners, and to their pack mates. There are several stories of amazing Japanese dogs exhibiting extreme loyalty – and this video, taken shortly after the devastating earthquake & tsunami on March 11, 2011, should be added to those stories. PS – Apparently both dogs were […]

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Stranded Japanese Dog Rescued

3 weeks after the tsunami struck Japan (on March 11, 2011), a helicopter spotted a dog stranded on a rooftop of a house that had been swept out to sea, along with a lot of other debris. Watch this incredible rescue: Happily, this dog, named Ban, was later reunited with it’s owner:

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Kai Ken

Kai Ken

The Kai Ken is a medium sized breed that is related to the Spitz type dog. It is a national treasure of Japan, where it was bred to hunt deer. The Kai is a rare breed, and is also known as the Tora Inu (Tiger Dog).

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Shikoku Inu

Thumbnail image for Shikoku Inu

The Shikoku Inu is another of Japan’s shika-inus (medium sized dogs), much like the Kai and Kishu. Like many other Japanese breeds, the Shikoku was bred for hunting. These are mountain dogs and are slightly smaller in stature than the Kai and Kishu. The Shikoku is also called the Kochi-Ken, after the Kochi prefecture.

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Tosa Inu

Tosa Inu

Breed: Tosa Inu Description: The Tosa Inu is a large mastiff-type dog, bred for fighting. Their coat is short and dense, and comes in several colors, including red, fawn, apricot, black and brindle. Many have black masks and some have white on their chest and feet. When you look at a Tosa Inu, you should […]

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