North American Kai Association

Excellence in a Classical Japanese Dog

As Published in the Northern Breeds Special Issue, Bloodlines, July 2004

The Kai Ken breed is relatively a new breed to the U.S.. The first dogs were imported to the U.S. in the early 1990's. The North American Kai Association has been working with the Kai Ken Aigokai Tokyo Branch to better understand the Kai Ken breed as it exists in Japan. Mitsuko Yanagisawa was kind enough to send us the article that her father, the president of the Kai Ken Aigokai Tokyo Branch wrote. This article documents the history of the Japanese Kai Ken.
-Peggy Graham NAKA Board Member

Kai Ken
Excellence in a Classical Japanese Dog
Written by Takuro Yanagisawa of Kai Ken Society Tokyo Branch
as translated by Nobuko Hasegawa Weeks

What is a Japanese Dog?

There are numerous animals living on this earth, but the only animal living with people by it's own will is the dog. They say there are about 250 kinds of so called family dogs in the world. Among them, Japanese dogs stay primitive without human interference. Whether they were native of Japanese islands or came to Japan with people from other countries, there is no established theory at the present time. Recently some Japanese scholars started to do research on the movement of the human race through studying the history of dogs. In the archaeological field, many dog bones were excavated from the ruins of Joomon (3000 BC-1 AD) and Yayoi Era (750 BC-350 AD). It is proved that even in the year of 7000 or 8000 BC man and dog lived together. When our ancestors made a living by hunting and collecting, dogs must have lived within the group as a hunting animal. In primitive times, both man and dog helped each other by covering the shortage of their abilities.

Dogs know how to act on every day events.Guard dogs are an example. They let you know by a simple bark when someone comes to your door but when you are not home will bark louder in a threatening manner. They do not hesitate to fight to the death if someone or intruder tries to harm you. That kind of judgment does not come from training or trained act. Is there any other animal that behaves like that? What a wonderful thing!

Even if man and dog were doing things together since the beginning of history, there is no document of Japanese dogs. I wonder that dogs were so close to people like sparrows chirping over the village or crows flying the sky at sunset, so they were considered as a natural phenomenon.

After the Edo Period (1600-1867), in the Meiji Era (1867-1912), western dogs were introduced. For the first time during the Showa Era (1926-1988), a small group of people recognized the real value of Japanese dogs and considered their preservation. It was a close call just before the Japanese dog bloodlines were about to be extinguished. Already there were no Japanese dogs in the cities. They only existed among hunters living in the mountains. In taking these dogs out from the mountains, the Japanese Dog Protective League was established. The Japanese government gave them a title called Natural Monument (a rare species protected by law.) They thought that was the only way to protect them.

Kai Ken Coming Down the Mountain

On January 6, 1932, the first Japanese Dog Protective League Conference was held on the rooftop of Matsuya Department Store in Ginza, Tokyo. Among the dogs that came from all over the country, participants paid attention to seventeen neat, tiger-colored Kai dogs from the Southern Japanese Alps. Right after that, Japanese Dog Protective League classified the dogs into three categories: large, medium, and small. As a result, Kai Ken was a little small for medium and too big for the small category. They might fit one of the categories if they remodel the Kai Ken. But the Kai Ken lovers did not want to change their body structure and ability. So departing from the other Japanese dogs, they stayed in the Kai Mountains and continued their own unique living.

YamanashiThe Kai Ken is from what is known as the South Alps in the Yamanashi Prefecture. MountainsThe South Alps have the second highest peak in Japan next to Mount Fuji.
The home of this Kai dog is called "Kai no kuni" in the old time. Now it is called South Alps in Yamanashi Prefecture where they remained as a hunting dog since the old days. Japan's South Alps has the second highest peak next to Mount Fuji. They are part of a big mountain range made by upheaval of the bottom of the ocean. Even if located close to the city, South Alps are undeveloped in comparison to the North Alps. This is because the mountains are too big and deep and the quality of rock is fragile so climbing took real effort and is dangerous. The villages surrounded by these mountains were among the most remote areas until recently when the road was completed. Burning farm fields was still in existence until recent years and there were many full time hunters around. Men and dogs required more effort than ordinary when they hunted in these mountains. Those dogs supported man's daily life by hunting Japanese serow (a mountain goat now protected by rare species law) and carefully protecting and living as part the hunter's family.

Beginning in the Showa Era, city people noticed this unique dog, and so the mountain dog joined the wave of Japanese Dogs Preservation Movement. Kai Ken Humane Society was established November 6 (1932). The Ministry of Education gave the medals to Kai Ken which won the dog show held in spring and summer. Inevitably, many Kai Ken were taken down to the cities and placed in kennels. People thought this is the best way to protect these dogs. From the Kai Ken's point of view, they were running into a hard time from that point.

Let the Japanese Dog Return to the Mountain

When everybody thought the preservation of the Japanese dog was on the right track, the human world dashed into World War II and the defeat. Barely surviving, people and dogs had to restart their living in the post-war Japan. At the time, each different kind of dog show is revived. Thoughtful people realized even if the dog's appearance was improved, their hidden true nature was lost. It was considered to be due in part to a show oriented society. The real ability of the dog exists only in the bond between the owner and his dog; so outsiders as the judges could not see this. So it is impossible to express a dog's true ability on the score at the dog show because they put emphasis on the appearance to evaluate dogs.

BondingThe real ability of the dog exists in the bond between the owner and his dog.
There were bigger problems that further contributed to mistakes that were made. The human species who built the civilized world made all kinds of ordinances and laws which took freedom from their best friend and twisted their original life style. As a result, we lost valuable cultural heritage. Mistakenly, people underestimated the difficulties controlling this animal living in the natural environment. We looked for the best way to solve this problem at the time. Fortunately, there was the way they were allowed to live like in the old days. If the dog were used as the hunting dog, they were not restricted by law.

However, it is impossible to change this big trend by only a few people. But we wanted at least a very small number of Kai Ken, among other Japanese dogs, to remain unspoiled. Switching from firearm to hunting rifle after WWII, we started working on returning Kai Ken home to their mountains. We asked the hunters to use Kai Ken puppies from the small number of purebreds. We were very happy that those Kai Ken which hunters raised in their hands for many, many years from Hokkaido, northern island to southern island of Japan, attracted the attention as the family dog with the original nature still attached.

A Form of Kai Ken

Based on the document why Kai Ken was designated as an endangered species protected by law, I will try to describe their characteristics and add my opinion.

They are covered by tiger-patterned, rough hair. In the government document, it was stated as "a mixture of half black and half dark brown color." So we can say it is a medium tiger color. Its rough longer hair compared to other dogs has a roll of protection considered as its merit. Tiger pattern is a camouflage in the hunting field. Ambush and sneaking up is the Kai Ken's big feature. Some Western dogs have tiger pattern and among the Japanese dogs, Akita and Hokkaido also have tiger pattern. Only the Kai Ken has tiger pattern on all of them. One of the interesting current topics is the wild cat called a "living fossil." Nishiomote-Yamaneko (Southwestern Japan wildcat), Tsushima Yamaneko and Western Germany's wildcat all have tiger pattern and they all act like Kai Ken on television. Their tiger pattern must be the reason why those old wildcats survive.

BondingOnly the Kai Ken has tiger pattern on all of them. The tiger pattern is a camouflage in the hunting field.
Since 1931, Kai Ken Society's Show is held every spring and fall and has the oldest history among Japanese dog shows. From 1931 to 1950, the record of drafted dogs for war shows the average height of adult #355 male was 44cm (17.6") and #239 adult female was 40cm (16"). When archaeologists dug up dog bones from Yayoi and Joomon ruins, their measurement of dog bones matched average height of Kai Ken.

After reading the articles written by the people who searched for Japanese dogs in the early Showa Era, the main stream of local dogs that stayed in the mountain area all over the country were little bigger than Shiba and smaller than the medium size dog. Then what was the base of classification of large, medium, and small? We cannot correct this data since most of the people who took part in this work have died. But according to the record around that time, in addition to the eight members of the committee who standardized Kai Ken, three or four army personnel were involved and their voice was louder. This tells a page in history why they need the power of the army. There must be certain pressure from the army to match the measurement of Kai Ken to the "medium size" Japanese dog which was the mainstream for the army use.

We can imagine that at that time, a part of Kai Ken Society must compromise with the army and tried to match the measurement to their way. In Koofu Regiment, Major Oohashi, known as a Kai Ken lover, sent several Kai Ken to Army Dog Training Center. They only took half of the time to master high level training compared to the German shepherd. He was glad and thought no need for importing dogs from Germany. But when they sent them to the border between Soviet Union and Manchuria, they all deserted over night. That was the result of forgetting the characteristic of the Kai Ken to be loyal to only one master. If we want to use it as a hunting dog in the mountain now, the best suitable dog is based on the old measurement. The posture of the Kai Ken naturally formed in this country since ancient times can be called a true Japanese dog. Bouncing body. running freely through the rocky area where even the antelopes cannot run.fighting technique of spinning in the air and coming down behind a charging wild boar. Those are typical Kai Ken features. They are never exhausted or killed at big game hunts. This tells of their intelligence and brightness in addition to their physical excellence.

The reason why they never foolishly attack bear or wild boar from the front is that they know their enemies, and they also know themselves. You should not teach any suicidal approaches to these young dogs. We do not need to catch wild boar if there is any risk of losing our dog. After all, we are a dog lover group. All they have to do is hold the game until the hunter rushes to the scene. After that, it's the hunter's turn to catch the prey by using his tools. This dog is essentially good at game hunting but it shows unbelievable ability for bird hunting too.

As a Family Dog

The reason why this Japanese Dog is protected by law as a rare species is its hidden potential. In order to make a good family dog, we sent Kai Ken back to the mountains. Our ultimate goal is the preservation of this dog as a member of the Japanese family.

Since the hunting season is short, the hunter himself has to live with this good family dog longer during non-hunting season. Understanding the innocent mind of people, this dog likes children very much. This close relationship with children is the envy of adults. It must be best for promoting emotional development in children.

BondingTheir beautiful eyes only tell the truth.not knowing lies.
That shows the result of trust after living with people. However, at the time of emergency, we can tell you this dog will protect you at the risk if its life.


The dog lets you know there is a gas leak or small fire before it gets big.the dog saved a child from a pond.the dog chased away an attacker from a woman.the dog caught a thief.the dog saved three families right before the landslide.etc.etc. There are unlimited stories crediting the dog.

One of the stories belongs to my male dog, Ichiro. Training for the wild boar hunting, were we ready for the second season. He was not experienced yet, but he could initiate a barking attack to stop wild boar.

One evening we took a walk and on the way back home we saw a young man suddenly running barefooted out from the entrance of the police station. Running after him was a policeman that I knew. He shouted at me "catch him!" Instinctively, I blocked him by spreading both arms. The man suddenly changed directions and ran into the government employee's housing area. It is the property 150 meter on one side surrounded by a ditch with red bricks and a five story building. The barefooted man tried to escape furiously running between these buildings. It was impossible to catch him. If we gave him even a little time he might escape by climbing over the ditch. That would be the end of it. At that time, Ichiro must have assessed the situation. He looked at me and barked twice loudly. Sounded like he was saying, "you should let me go."

I did not have time to think about what to do, so I unhooked the leash saying GO! With a growl, Ichiro started running making a cloud of dust. It did not even take fifteen seconds to chase the man against a corner of the ditch. Ichiro was threatening the man running left to right barking furiously. The Stop by Barking Act is much easier for him compared to wild boar hunting. I run closer to the man and yell at him, "Don't move! If you move, the dog will bite your throat!" An arrest was made in a snap.

The policeman did not have either handcuffs or ropes, but he could grab the man by his collar because he had lost his willpower to run. Without the leash on him, Ichiro stayed close to the man quietly.

When we came back to the front of the police station, many policemen informed of the incident came out. While putting Ichiro in leash, I told them my dog should get the commendation from the Metropolitan Police Department. If they commended my dog, their shame becomes public. Probably, they did not even list this incident in their night duty record.

Even though my dog and I did not receive any reward, I felt great pleasure that even with out training, Ichiro showed the inner ability to make the right decision according to the circumstance. Ichiro is since gone and the policeman in this story is retired. Everything is past.

-A note from NAKA:
Very special thanks to Kai Ken Aigokai Tokyo Branch for providing us with this interesting and informational perspective of the Japanese Kai Ken. We would also like to acknowledge Nobuko Haswgawa Weeks for translating this article from Japanese to English. Her time and talent is deeply appreciated.