Shiba-inu: the doggy star of Japan

One thing you might not know about Japanese people is that they are crazy about their pets. Although in major cities like Tokyo or Osaka, many apartment owners or agencies ban tenants from keeping their own animals, this ペット pet passion certainly doesn’t look like going away. Starting with cats, which as in many other countries are the runaway stars. In Japan, they still generate as strong an interest as ever through Neko cafés (cat cafés).

But there is another pet which is just as popular, especially since the 2000s: the dog, preferably small and inevitably kawaii (cute). Few people can resist a puppy, singletons, couples or families, young and old alike. So much so that there were an estimated 11.5 million dogs in Japan in 2012, compared with nearly 10 million cats. Is it any wonder that this canine madness has spilled over into merchandising, with an amazing number of accessories on sale? This phenomenon, together with the falling birth rate since 2006, means there are now more dogs in Japan than children under the age of 12. This despite the fact that Japanese kennels put down most of the dogs they find.

At the end of 2013, the site Pasha to My Pet (via) listed Japan’s five most popular dog breeds: the chihuahua and the poodle came top followed by the dachshund, the Affenpinscher and the Pomeranian. And these are the most popular names in order:

  • マロン maron (Chestnut)
  • ソラ sora (Sky)
  • ココ koko
  • チョコ choko (Chocolate)
  • モモ momo (Peach)
  • モカ mocha (Coffee)
  • サクラ sakura (Cherry)

Hachiko had better watch out!


If cats have the Scottish Fold fans, dogs also have their star: 柴犬 the shiba-inu or shiba-ken (the kanji for ‘dog’ has two pronunciations). They are sometimes confused with akita-inu or Hokkaido-ken, which are bigger, such as Otosan, the famous dog in the Japanese adverts for Softbank.

Designated a national treasure of Japan, the shiba-inu (literally “little dog” in Japanese) is an ancient breed native to Japan. Apart from the fact that it looks appealing, its character fits perfectly with the Japanese way of life: the dogs are quiet, clean, sensitive, curious and proud, and loyal as well as being independent. Training them and caring for them requires a lot of attention and patience.

In  2005, the shiba’s tightly coiled tail was on the cover of the first version Nintendogs. More recently, Internet culture also brought acclaim propelling the breed into the role of doge, a hilarious meme. You can also find lots of videos of adorable shiba filmed by the Japanese, for example:

In mid-2014, a Shiba made the news in a suburb of Tokyo when it helped out its master at his small tobacconist shop:

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Posted by Gael
Editor in chief
Gael is founder and responsible for Kanpai's publication. In love with Japanese culture, he travels to Japan regularly since 2003 and shares his information and tips.
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