Hachiko -- Japan’s Favourite Dog
Many visitors to Japan will know the story of Hachiko, the dog who waited faithfully at a Tokyo railway station every day for almost 10 years for the arrival of his deceased master.
A famous statue of Hachiko stands near an exit at Shibuya station, where Hachiko waited in vain. The station is one of Japan’s busiest and tens of thousands of people pass the bronze statue every day. Many pause to take a photograph. It’s a popular meeting place.
In the shops nearby, one can buy a Hachiko furry toy, its left ear drooping as the real dog’s did.
How true is Hachiko’s story? The central facts of his life are well documented and there seems no reason to doubt them. He was an Akita, a Japanese breed, born in November 1923 in the city of Odate, north of Tokyo. Old photographs of him exist. His name was a combination of hachi, the word for ‘eight’ (a lucky number in Japan), and ko, a suffix indicating affection.
His master, Hidesaburo Ueno, was a professor at the University of Tokyo, well-known in his own right as an agricultural expert. He adopted Hachiko in 1924.
Hachiko would greet the professor each day at Shibuya station on his return from work. After the professor died of a brain haemorrhage in 1925, his gardener is said to have given Hachiko a home. But the dog insisted on continuing to walk to the station every day to wait for his master.
One of the professor’s former students began writing about Hachiko and his loyalty, and the dog became famous in his own lifetime.
The first statue of Hachiko was built at Shibuya Station in 1934, while he was still alive. It was melted down to assist the war effort in World War II. The statue that stands today was built in 1948.
What some visitors may not know is that a second statue of Hachiko exists in Tokyo, and it reunites him with his master. The University of Tokyo’s agriculture department, where Professor Ueno worked, erected it on its campus in 2015. It shows Hachiko joyfully greeting the professor on his return from work.
He is also honoured in his home city, Odate. A statue of him stands outside the railway station there too, and a museum is dedicated to him and the Akita breed.
At least two movies have been made about Hachiko: the 1987 Japanese version ‘Hachi-Ko’ and the 2009 English-language movie ‘Hachi: A Dog's Tale’.
The first sticks closely to the true events of Hachiko’s life. The second, starring Richard Gere, retains the central tenet – Hachiko waiting almost a decade for a master who never returns – but relocates most of the story to the American state of Rhode Island.
Some uncharitable souls have suggested that Hachiko’s main reason for going to the station in his later years was to get food. While it’s surely true that people fed him there, especially after he became famous, his primary reason genuinely seems to have been to wait for his master.
When Hachiko was found dead on a Shibuya street in March 1935 at the age of 11, he was cremated and laid to rest beside his master in Tokyo’s Aoyama cemetery, an unusual honour for an animal. A small monument to Hachiko stands beside the professor’s grave.
Visitors looking for Hachiko’s statue at Shibuya Station can get confused by the sheer size of the place. It’s a huge complex of railway and subway lines serving more than 2 million passengers a day. Visitors should head for the aptly-named Hachiko Exit on the west side. It’s the station’s busiest exit and leads not only to the statue but to the famous Shibuya Scramble, one of the world’s busiest intersections.
Those who want to see the newer statue should take the Nanboku Line on the Tokyo Metro network and get off at Todaimae Station. It’s a short walk from there to the university’s agriculture faculty campus. The statue is just inside the faculty’s main gate.
The station nearest to Aoyama cemetery is Aoyama Itchome. Visitors to Hachiko’s monument are likely to find doggie treats and toys placed there by admirers. His loyalty resonates as much today as ever. The large, park-like cemetery is also renowned for its cherry blossoms in spring.
Header image: Manesh Prabhune