9 Things to Know About Hachiko – Japan’s Most Devoted Dog – At the heart of lively Shibuya, just mere steps away from the world-famous Scramble Crossing, Hachiko (ハチ公) continues to wait for his beloved master.
Or more accurately, an iconic statue of.
Japan’s most beloved dog and a nation-wide icon of devotion, the story of the Akita dog that continued to yearn for his master years after the latter’s passing has long touched the world. There’s even a Hollywood movie based on his story.
If you’re heading to Shibuya soon, don’t forget to look out for Hachiko’s statue. Do know too that Shibuya is not the only Japanese location that pays homage to the faithful pet. Elsewhere in Tokyo, you can even meet him up-close, literally.
Hachiko and Hidesaburo Ueno.
A golden brown pure-bred Akita dog, Japan’s most loyal dog was born on November 10, 1923, in Odate, Akita Prefecture.
The owners of the farm then sold him for ¥30 to Hidesaburo Ueno, a professor of agriculture at Tokyo Imperial University. After settling in his new master’s home in Tokyo, the pet started accompanying his master to Shibuya Station each morning. Before long, he also waited at the station each evening for the professor to return from work.
Sadly, these happy times ended on May 21, 1925, when Ueno did not return. The professor suffered a cerebral haemorrhage while teaching. He died without returning home.
Of note, Professor Ueno didn’t just own one dog. He had two others named John and S. However, Hachiko was the one that regularly greeted Ueno at Shibuya station.
Nine years, nine months, and fifteen days of waiting.
As is famously known, the loyal pet continued to show up at Shibuya Station till his own passing near a decade later on March 8, 1935. The faithful canine did so despite significant personal difficulty.
After Ueno’s death, his partner, Yaeko Sakano, gave Hachiko to an Asakusa household, an arrangement was tough for the despondent dog given the distance between Asakusa and Shibuya. His daily struggles to return to Shibuya Station then saw him returned to Ueno’s house. Following which he was given to Kikuzaburo Kobayashi, Ueno’s former gardener.
Kobayashi resided in Tomigaya, which was near to Shibuya. This arrangement, however, did not lessen Hachiko’s hardship. His daily journeys to the Station resulted in his fur becoming filthy. Initially, the station staff and passengers were also hostile to him.
Because dogs were then regarded by the Japanese as mascots of easy childbirth, even his torso harness was frequently stolen.
Worse, he was often mistakenly for a stray and captured. So it’s said, policemen stationed nearby had to constantly keep a lookout for him.
A nation-wide sensation.
Hachiko’s daily visits to Shibuya Station ultimately caught the attention of Hirokichi Saito, a former student of Professor Ueno and himself an expert on Akita dogs.
After learning the full details from Kobayashi, Saito published several articles. When one of these was featured in the Asahi Shimbun newspaper in 1932, the faithful pet instantly found nation-wide fame. This fame eventually saw the famous statue of Hachiko erected beside Shibuya Station in 1934.
The current statue is a replica.
Regrettably, the original statue was melted for its metal during World War II. However, the son of the original artist subsequently created a copy in August 1948, with this copy still standing today and the legendary one visited by thousands of Japanese and tourists daily. Befittingly, the station exit nearest to the statue is called “Hachiko-guchi,” or Hachiko exit.
Note that his name is just Hachi.
Ueno named his pup Hachi (ハチ) after the Japanese number for eight. (The number represents good fortune in Japanese culture) After his devotion earned nation-wide fame, ko (公) was added as a suffix. Not to be confused with the ko (子) often used in Japanese female names, this suffix means “Sir” or “Duke.” In other words, it’s an honorific reference.
More formal publications refer to him as Chuken Hachiko (忠犬ハチ公) too. The additional phrase before his name simply means “loyal dog.”
Movies and television shows based on Hachiko’s story.
Without surprise, Hachiko’s legendary deeds have been depicted in movies. Most famously, 2009’s Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, starring Richard Gere.
Within Japan, there was also 1987’s Hachiko Monogatari (ハチ公物語).
Outside of these cinematic features, the loyal pet has cameoed in various television shows. For example, Futurama extensively paid homage to him in an episode in season 4.
Appearance in video games.
Without surprise, Hachiko has also appeared in video games. Both Japanese and Western titles.
Atlus’ Persona 3 features a playable canine character named “Koromaru,” whose appearance and personality is clearly inspired by Hachiko. A “Buchiko” statue also prominently stands before Shibuya Station in the sequel Persona 5. Within this sequel, there is even a “book” called “Buchiko’s Story.”
Elsewhere, Hachiko’s Shibuya statue was also an important landmark in The World Ends with You. In this Square Enix game, the heartwarming tale is referenced several times, with an important quest tagged to it.
Other Hachiko statues in Japan.
Though most commonly associated with Shibuya, several other places in Japan pay tribute to Hachiko’s legendary love for his master.
The University of Tokyo has a bronze statue of Ueno and him on its grounds. Unveiled in 2015, this statue commemorated the 80th anniversary of Hachiko’s passing.
At Odate in Akita Prefecture i.e. the pet’s birthplace, a statue of him stands before the main train station. While not as famous as the one in Shibuya, this statue is nearly as old, unveiled only months after its Shibuya counterpart. A short distance away at Akita Dog Museum, there is even a third statue. This was on the original pedestal for the Shibuya statue.
And at Tokyo’s National Museum of Nature and Science, you could meet him in “dog!” Here, his fur and appearance are preserved and permanently exhibited.
Lastly, for those who wish to pay homage to him in a more spiritual way, Hachiko’s grave is in Aoyama, Tokyo. He lays at rest beside his beloved owner, Professor Hidesaburo Ueno.
The Hachiko Bus.
Having walked to Shibuya Station each evening for near ten years, surely there’s no other canine more familiar with the roads of the vicinity than Hachiko?
Well, the Shibuya City Office manages several bus routes around the district, all of these operated by mini-buses featuring the gentle Akita dog. When in Shibuya, hop on any and explore the sights with the ward’s most beloved canine mascot!
You could bring Japan’s most devoted dog back home with you!
As a modern icon and mascot of Shibuya, souvenirs based on Hachiko are naturally widely available. For example, plushies of him are commonly sold throughout the area surrounding Shibuya station.
Elsewhere, there’s also a variety of other products inspired by the loyal canine companion. If you see a Japanese children’s book with an illustration of an adorable Akita pup, chances are, the story would be related to the legendary Hachiko!
Other Interesting Facts to know about:
- Hachiko was delivered to Tokyo from Odate on an express train numbered 702.
- Unlike most dogs nowadays, “Sir Hachi” wore a studded leather torso harness. This is included in his display at Tokyo National Museum of Nature and Science.
- On March 8 each year, a ceremony is conducted at Shibuya Station in his memory.
- In March 2011, it was established that Hachiko died from terminal cancer and a filaria infection.
- Regrettably, claims have surfaced in recent years that Hachiko traveled to Shibuya Station every evening not to wait for Ueno, but to enjoy the food given to him there. (These were in part fueled by the discovery of Yakitori skewers in his stomach after his death) The claims are disputed, with one book stating that even if true, it could have only happened after the pet was featured in Asahi Shimbun in 1932.
A devoted solo traveler from Singapore who has loved Japan since young. His first visits to the country were all because of video game and Manga homages. Today, he still visits for the same reasons, in addition to enjoying Japan’s culture, history, and hot springs.