Karafuto Ken (Sakhalin Husky)

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!