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Hachikō – Tokyo’s Iconic Dog

I’d like to set the scene as Maria in Sound of Music suggests “Let’s start at the very beginning” but maybe it’s better if I tell you first that this is Hachikō, the most famous dog in Japan, and that people come from all over Japan to visit his statue in central Tokyo. We tourists also come, led by guide books and the moving story of the faithful dog who waited at the train station for his owner to return from work, every day for nearly a decade.

Hachikō was a golden brown Akita born in November 1923 in Japan’s Akita prefecture: a year later, still a puppy, he was acquired by Hidesaburō Ueno, a professor who taught at Tokyo Imperial University and lived in the Shibuya neighbourhood of the city.

The pair formed a close bond and their life became one of routine. In the morning Professor Ueno would walk to the Shibuya Station, Hachikō trotting alongside, and take the train to work. After finishing the day’s classes, he would return by train arriving at the station at 3 p.m. on the dot: there Hachikō would be waiting for him.

This continued until May 1925 when the Professor died suddenly at work, having suffered a brain haemorrhage while teaching.

Hachikō, who had come to meet his master as usual on that day, was left waiting at the station. Day after day for nigh on ten years the dog returned to the spot where he had always waited for his owner, patient and loyal despite not being welcomed by the station employees.

The loyal dog, one of only 30 purebred Akitas on record at the time, never gave up hope and although reportedly given away after his master’s death, he regularly ran off to Shibuya Station at 3 p.m. hoping to meet the Professor. Days turned into weeks, then months, then years, and still Hachikō returned to the station each day to wait.

At first, the station workers were not all that friendly to Hachikō, but his fidelity won them over and they began to bring treats for him and sometimes sat beside him to keep him company. Soon, the lone dog and his story began to draw the attention of other commuters. His presence had a great impact on the local community of Shibuya and he became something of an icon.

It is thanks to one of Professor Ueno’s former students, Hirokichi Saito, who also happened to be an expert on the Akita breed, that we know much of this story, because when he got wind of the tale he took the train to Shibuya to see for himself. When he arrived and saw Hachikō there, as usual, he followed him from the station to the home of Ueno’s former gardener, Kuzaburo Kobayashi. There, Kobayashi filled him in on the story of Hachikō’s life.

The student wrote articles about the situation at the Shibuya station one of which was published in the national daily Asahi Shimbun in 1932. The tale spread throughout Japan bringing nationwide fame to Hachikō and people then began to arrive from all over Japan to visit the dog who had become something of a good-luck charm. Many travelled great distances just to sit with him.

For the next nine years and nine months, Hachikō came to the station every day at 3.00 pm on the dot. He was found dead in the street in March 1935, the cause of death (not discovered until 2011) later found to be a cancer. His death made national headlines and after cremation, his ashes were placed next to Professor Ueno’s grave in Aoyama Cemetery in Tokyo. His fur, however, was preserved, stuffed and mounted and is now housed in the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo.

The stuffed Hachiko in the National Museum of Nature & Science, Tokyo

The original bronze statue of Hachikō was raised from donations and erected in the exact spot where he had waited for his master for so many years but after World War ll erupted the statue was melted down for ammunitions. In 1948 however, the current statue was erected in Shibuya Station.

The death of Hachiko: Credit Shibuya Folk and Literary Shirane Memorial Museum, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

There is a similar statue, erected in 2004, in Odate, Hachikō’s original hometown, where it stands in front of the Akita Dog Museum.

On the 80th anniversary of Hachikō’s death, in 2015, the University of Tokyo unveiled yet another brass statue of the dog.