10 Japanese Dog Breeds Everyone Loves

by Jillian Giandurco

We’ll probably never have a clear answer on which dog breed makes for the best companion, but dog owners in Japan could make a pretty good argument for their favorite Japanese dog breeds. Whether you’re on the hunt for a new furry friend, you want to know more about your favorite four-legged friend, or you just want to take your knowledge of your favorite animal to the next level, here’s a rundown of everything you need to know about the top 10 most beloved Japanese dog breeds. 

10 Japanese Dog Breeds Everyone Loves

Japan’s love of dogs has been evident in the country’s history for centuries, and has been illustrated through literature, art, and ancient funerary rituals for thousands of years. Literary works like The Pillow Book and The Tale of Genji describe dogs roaming freely all over the early capital of Heian-kyō, meanwhile hunting dogs became vital for the ancient sport of falconry during the Kamakura period (1185–1333 CE). Researchers even discovered a haniwa (terracotta figurine made for ritual burial use) from a Kofun period (300–538 CE) site that depicts a dog wearing a collar, which means dogs have had a heavy influence on the culture for much longer than you’d expect. One of the most famous and revered dog stories in Japan is the story of Hachikō, a Japanese Akita dog who was known for greeting his owner, Hidesaburō Ueno, at the Shibuya Station in Tokyo everyday on his commute home from work. While he was at work, Ueno unexpectedly passed from a cerebral hemorrhage, and Hachikō continued to wait for his owner at the same spot and time everyday for nine years following Ueno’s death.

Today, the relationship between dogs and the Japanese people is just as apparent and stories with anthropomorphized dogs still have a high level of popularity, though you’re probably more likely to encounter the story through an advertisement than in literature.

Dog Breeds

Now that you have an understanding of the role dogs play in Japanese culture, it’s time to learn about the most popular dog breeds in the country.

1.   Shiba Inu

Probably the most popular and recognizable of the Japanese dog breeds, Shiba Inus are known for their bushy coats, fluffy tails, and meme-worthy personalities. Shibas tend to be energetic and require a fair amount of exercise throughout the day, and despite their cuddly appearance, Shibas are not an overly affectionate breed.

Group

Non-sporting group

Height

13.5-16.5 inches

Weight

18-24 pounds

Coat Color

Red and black (sesame); black and tan

Life Expectancy

12-15 years

Temperament

High energy

Shedding

High

2.   Japanese Spitz

A white Japanese Spitz.

Japanese Spitz are a small dog breed that are known for having fluffy coats, tiny little bodies, and a whole lot of personality. The spirited Spitz has a loveable heart and a calm yet playful energy, which makes it a great breed for families with children or an affectionate dog owner who loves to pamper their pups. Plus, Japanese Spitz are typically a quieter dog breed that don’t bark all that often, too.

Group

Companion

Height

10-16 inches

Weight

17-32 pounds

Coat Color

White

Life Expectancy

12-16 years

Temperament

Playful, loyal, affectionate

Shedding

Moderate

3.   Japanese Chin

A black and white Japanese chin.

With a chin like that, how could you not love the Japanese Chin? This silky-coated breed may have a small chin (and body), but its heart is anything but. The Japanese Chin is affectionate and loving towards people he trusts, yet is still open to getting to know strangers in new situations. Japanese Chins are known to be an intelligent breed, which makes them easy to train, and would often rather spend the afternoon lounging on the couch than running around at the dog park.

Group

Toy

Height

8-11 inches

Weight

7-11 pounds

Coat Color

Black and white; black, white, and tan; sable and white; red and white; lemon and white

Life Expectancy

12-14 years

Temperament

Loving, intelligent, sensitive, independent

Shedding

Moderate

4.   Akita
An Akita on the ground.

At first glance you might mistake an Akita for a Shiba Inu (the two breeds are related, after all), but Akitas have some key differences in personality and looks that sets them apart from their Shiba relatives. For example, Akitas are one of the largest Japanese dog breeds, while Shibas are a smaller breed. The protective nature of the Akita makes for a great watchdog, but they can be aggressive towards other dogs and don’t get along well with kids.

Group Working Height

25-28 inches

Weight

70-100 pounds

Coat Color

Brindle; white; sesame; red fawn

Life Expectancy

10-14 years

Temperament

Quiet, protective

Shedding

Seasonal

5.   Tosa

A Tosa dog on the ground.

Often described as gentle giants, Tosas are a big breed with an even bigger heart. Tosas don’t reach adulthood until they reach four years old, so you can expect these oversized pups to have a youthful spirit. They’re also very patient and obedient, which makes them a great companion for families and kids. That being said, some countries consider Tosas to be dangerous and have even banned ownership of the breed due to their aggressive past as fighting dogs.

Group

Fighting

Height

24-26 inches

Weight

80-170 pounds

Coat Color

Black; red; brindle; fawn

Life Expectancy

10-12 years

Temperament

Gentle, patient, obedient

Shedding

Low

6.   Shikoku

A Shikoku dog in the snow.

Shikoku (otherwise known as Kochi Ken or Mikawa Inu) were originally bred to hunt big game, but don’t worry, because the wolf-like Japanese dog breed never turns down a belly rub and kisses from its owner. Shikoku love to be outside and are quite territorial, and require a lot of exercise that satisfies their high energy levels, too.

Group

Working

Height

17-22 inches

Weight

35-55 pounds

Coat Color

Black; white; black and tan; red; sesame

Life Expectancy

10-12 years

Temperament

Independent, brave, alert

Shedding

Moderately high

7.   Japanese Terrier

A Japanese terrier running.

Introduced to Japan by travelers from the Netherlands in the 17th century, Japanese Terriers are considered to be one of the country’s more modern breeds. Japanese Terriers are highly intelligent, loveable around family, and are bursting with energy. But don’t let their little bodies fool you, because these short-haired pooches are always on high alert and will bark loudly at any strangers or unwanted noises.

Group

Terrier

Height

8-13 inches

Weight

5-10 pounds

Coat Color

Tricolor

Life Expectancy

12-15 years

Temperament

Lively, active

Shedding

Moderate

8.   Hokkaido

A Hokkaido dog in a park.

Another breed that has a similar look to the Shiba Inu, Hokkaidos are an athletic breed with a thick, fluffy coat and lots of love to give. The Hokkaido's protective nature will have them guarding your home, and their friendly, loyal sensibilities make for an ideal canine companion for families with children.

Group

Asian and Oceanian

Height

18-22 inches

Weight

45-65 pounds

Coat Color

White; black; tan; gray; red

Life Expectancy

12-14 years

Temperament

Friendly, athletic, playful, affectionate

Shedding

Seasonal

9.   Kishu

A Kishu dog on a leash.

Though a rather affectionate breed, you probably shouldn’t adopt a Kishu unless you’re okay with letting him roam freely in your yard. Kishus, or Kishu Kens, are large game hounds, so they tend to thrive in open spaces and enjoy protecting their land. Still, it’s their good-natured dispositions and obedient personalities that make them a great pet, especially for people who live an active lifestyle.

Group

Asian and Oceanian

Height

18-22 inches

Weight

30-60 pounds

Coat Color

White; red; sesame

Life Expectancy

11-13 years

Temperament

Athletic, alert, affectionate

Shedding

Moderately high

10. Kai Ken

A Kai Ken dog with snow falling.

As a devoted guardian and loyal companion to their masters, Kai Kens make a great addition to the family. In fact, Kai Kens are known to form strong bonds with their owners, so you can expect your pup to be extremely attentive, and maybe a little needy, too. This Japanese dog breed has a tender, affectionate side to them and are very respectful of the family unit, so your kids are sure to get along sweetly with the double-coated pooch.

Group

Asian and Oceanian

Height

17-22 inches 

Weight

25-55 pounds

Coat Color

Brindle; black brindle; red brindle

Life Expectancy

13-16 years

Temperament

Loyal, affectionate

Shedding

Moderate

Popular Japanese Dog Names and Meanings

If you’re going to adopt a Japanese pup, you might want to give him or her a Japanese name, too. Some of the most popular Japanese dog names include Yuki (which means “good fortune”), Tadeo (“loyal”), Sakura (“cherry blossoms”), Adzuki (“red beans”), and Pochi, which is the Japanese equivalent of the name “Spot.”

There’s no denying that dogs are beloved all around the world. From breeds known across the world like Shiba Inus, to lesser known canines like Kishus and Kai Kens, there are so many reasons to love dogs, especially Japanese dogs.