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If you’ve heard the story of the Japanese Akita Hachikō, then you know about the Akita dog breed’s unwavering devotion to its owner. Hachikō would greet his owner at the train station every day after work, appearing precisely when the train was due. One day, the owner died at work and never returned home. For nearly the next 10 years, Hachikō went to the train station at the same time each day to wait for his owner to come home, until his own death. Today, a bronze statue of Hachikō’s likeness stands at the train station in Japan as a national symbol of loyalty. Hachikō is a remarkable example of the faithful Akita, a powerful, courageous and dignified dog from the Japanese island of Honshu. Akitas were originally used for guarding royalty in feudal Japan, as well as for tracking and hunting wild boar and black bear. There’s also a spiritual significance attached to the Akita dog breed: When a child is born in Japan, the family usually receives a small statue of an Akita signifying health, happiness and long life.

Named for the Akita province on the Japanese island of Honshu, where it’s believed to have originated, the Akita is a large and powerful dog with a noble and intimidating presence. The courageous and up-for-the-challenge Akita was originally used for guarding royalty in feudal Japan, as well as for tracking and hunting such dangerous animals as wild boar and black bear. Renowned American author, educator and political activist Helen Keller is credited with bringing the first Akita to the United States in 1937, after she received one as a gift from the Japanese. Popularity in Akitas then increased in the United States after World War II, when American soldiers serving in the occupational forces in Japan took Akitas home to their families because of their great admiration for the dignified dogs. The Akita is also a fearless and profoundly loyal guardian to his family, yet he’s also affectionate and amusing when properly trained and socialized. Perhaps that’s why the Japanese describe the Akita breed as “strong in strength and sensitive to heart.”