19 May, 2016
The Akita is named for the province of Akita in northern Japan, where he is believed to have originated. The Akita’s known existence goes back to the 1600s, when the breed guarded Japanese royalty and was used for hunting fowl and large game (including bears). This valiant breed was introduced to America by a woman of no small stature: Helen Keller. The Japanese held Helen Keller in high esteem and took her to Shibuyu to show her the statue of Hachiko, an Akita who achieved worldwide fame in the 1920s for his loyalty. Hachiko’s owner, a professor, returned from work each day at 3 p.m., and his devoted dog met him daily at the train station. When the professor died, loyal Hachiko continued his daily vigil until his own death a full decade later. When Helen Keller expressed her desire to have an Akita for her own, she was presented with a puppy, the first Akita brought to America. Keller was delighted with Kamikaze-go and was deeply saddened when he died of distemper at a young age. Upon hearing this news, the Japanese government officially presented her with Kamikaze’s older brother, Kenzan-go. Keller later wrote that Kamikaze had been “an angel in fur” and that the Akita breed was “gentle, companionable, and trusty.” After World War II, returning American servicemen who had been stationed in Japan brought back more Akitas. Thomas Boyd is credited with producing the first Akita stud to sire puppies in the U.S., starting in 1956.
The American Akita eventually evolved into a more robust dog than the Japanese Akita and was valued by many for this reason. Yet there were those who wanted to remain true to the Japanese standard. This split caused a decades-long battle that led to a delay in acceptance by the American Kennel Club. Finally, in 1972, the AKC accepted the Akita Club of America — but the split is still wide today and is a matter of great concern to Akita fanciers on both sides. What is never debated is the Akita’s historical and famous combination of fearlessness and loyalty. These traits were once put to the test at the London Zoo, when a Sumatran tiger cub was orphaned. The zookeepers needed special help in raising the cub, and they chose an Akita puppy for this important task. They knew the Akita would not be frightened and could engage in play that would help the tiger cub with necessary life lessons.
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