Last Updated on January 1, 2023
Japan’s indigenous dog breeds are highly revered, and six of them are considered national treasures.
These breeds, together called Nihon Ken, can be traced back thousands of years. They include the Akita Inu, Shiba Inu, Kishu Ken, Shikoku Ken, Hokkaido Ken, and Kai Ken.
But did you know that these aren’t the only dogs native to Japan? Get ready to learn all you wanted to know about these magnificent canines!
- 1 1. Jomon Dog
- 2 2. Sakhalin Husky
- 3 3. Ryukyu Inu
- 4 4. Japanese Terrier
- 5 5. Tosa Inu
- 6 6. Kai Ken
- 7 7. Kishu Ken
- 8 8. Hokkaido Inu
- 9 9. Sanshu Inu
- 10 10. Shikoku Inu
- 11 11. Japanese Chin
- 12 12. Japanese Spitz
- 13 13. Akita Inu
- 14 14. Shiba Inu
- 15 Which of these Japanese dog breeds will find a forever home with you?
- 16 Reference
1. Jomon Dog
We’re kicking off our countdown to the most famous Japanese breeds with the Jomon dog.
This prehistoric canine seems to have hunted alongside the Jomon people beginning around 14,500 BC.
They were so much a part of the Jomon’s life that they were given their own burials, just like humans.
While the original Jomon dog has long since gone extinct, Japanese breeders have recently begun efforts to revive the archaic breed.
This modern recreation, known as the Jomon Shiba, has a slim, narrow head. Beyond that, there’s no definitive way to predict how these dogs will look, given their newness.
To see what a Jomon Shiba could look like, take a second to revel in this precious pup getting the hang of fetch!
Because breed revitalization takes time, it’ll be almost impossible to find one of these dogs for sale in the near future.
Hopefully, after a few generations of successful breeding, we’ll see these canines become more prominent.
2. Sakhalin Husky
Have you ever heard of the Sakhalin Husky (AKA Karafuto Ken) before? We’re not surprised if you haven’t.
As of 2011, there were only two documented Sakhalin Huskies in the entire world. It’s possible that, by now, there are no pure Sakhalin Huskies left.
Regrettably, it doesn’t look like there will be many more to come, either. With such a small remaining population, there simply isn’t enough genetic diversity to produce healthy, purebred Sakhalin Huskies.
Still, we can appreciate this dog’s resilience.
In 1958, Japanese researchers headed to Antarctica with Sakhalin Huskies in tow.
When researchers had to evacuate, they were forced to leave the dogs behind, and a year passed before they were able to return. Miraculously, two of the Sakhalin Huskies, Taro, and Jiro, survived.
While we can only speculate how those canines beat the odds, it’s likely due to the Sakhalin Husky’s impressive work ethic and intelligence.
These are smart, willful dogs that are more than willing to pack up and use their strengths to benefit the group.
If you had your heart set on this breed, you could find similar traits in other Japanese dogs.
Sakhalin Huskies and Akitas share several physical characteristics. Temperament-wise, the Ryukyu Inu may be a close substitute.
3. Ryukyu Inu
The Ryukyu Inu is among the rarest Japanese dog breeds. It almost feels like this canine is becoming scarcer by the second.
In 2011, the Ryukyu population stood at around 600 to 700. By 2016, that number dropped to a mere 300.
We don’t have much information on this breed’s origins, but it’s clear that they come from exceptional hunters.
Ryukyus have dewclaws on the backs of their feet, rather than on the sides.
This dewclaw placement may sound minor, but it’s significant because it helps this Japanese breed scale tree trunks and search for prey with a bird’s eye view.
These medium-sized dogs generally reach a height of 17 to 20 inches (43 to 51 cm). Their coats come in many colors, including red, liver, white brindle, black brindle, red brindle, black, white, ivory, and sesame.
Ryukyu Inus will definitely assume the alpha position if given the chance, but they tend to be calmer than other Japanese dogs.
They seldom bark and are gentle with their pack. That pack shouldn’t include small animals, however. Because of their prey drive, ancient hunting dogs and gerbils just don’t mix.
Finding an average cost for Ryukyus – let alone a trustworthy breeder – is a bit challenging. But that’s all the more reason to appreciate and preserve these remarkable fidos!
4. Japanese Terrier
Also known as the Mikado, Nihon, or Nippon Terrier, the Japanese Terrier is incredibly rare. Even in their native Japan, they’re somewhat of a unicorn.
No one’s entirely sure how the breed came to be, but some theories hold that Dutch traders brought the canines to Nagasaki during the 17th century. There’s no definitive proof of this, however.
It’s been said that Japanese Terriers used to provide top-notch rodent control. Now, they provide round-the-clock cuteness.
Weighing a mere 5 to 9 pounds (2 to 4 kg) and measuring 8 to 13 inches (20 to 33 cm) tall, Japanese Terriers are ideally suited for curling up on your lap.
The Japanese Terrier has a black face and a white body, and their short fur is low-maintenance, but it doesn’t offer them much protection from the elements.
Small as they are, Japanese Terriers are incredibly protective of their families. This breed will have no problem alerting you to potential threats.
They won’t turn down an invitation to play, either. Japanese Terriers adore their pack members, humans and pets alike, and want nothing more than to spend time with them.
Be on the lookout for signs of possessive behavior, though. They can become territorial over their favorite people if you’re not careful.
Japanese Terriers are excellent choices for most dog owners, and they’re fairly affordable.
If you’re lucky enough to find one of these wonderful canines, you’ll likely spend around $600.
5. Tosa Inu
Descended from Mastiffs, Great Danes, Bulldogs, and Shikoku Inus, the Tosa Inu is the largest (and possibly mightiest) of the Japanese breeds.
Bred for dogfighting, Tosas are muscular and intimidating. Fully grown, the Tosa Inu can reach 200 pounds (91 kg).
Standing at 22 to 32 inches (56 to 81 cm), it’s totally within the realm of possibility that an adult Tosa Inu will be taller than your toddler!
Unlike many other Japanese dogs, the Tosa Inu has a long, tapered tail and short fur. They’re predominantly red, fawn, or brindle in color.
You won’t need to do much in terms of grooming, but you do want to spend ample time training and socializing your Tosa Inu.
These dogs are usually sweet with their families, but they don’t always take too kindly to strangers.
Even in the gentlest frame of mind, a canine of this size can be dangerous. Needless to say, Tosas are best reserved for experienced dog owners.
Because of their long-held reputation for aggression, Tosa Inus have made banned breed lists in countries all over the world.
Check to see if Tosa ownership is legal in your country. If it is, set aside $600 to $800 for a Japanese Mastiff (as they’re sometimes called) of your own.
6. Kai Ken
The Kai Ken is considered a national treasure in Japan. In fact, they’re believed to be the purest of Japan’s native breeds.
Historically, Kai Kens were bear hunters. Adept at the art of hunting, the unstoppable Kais will take to the water and climb trees if it means catching their prey.
They’re also dubbed as the “tiger dog” because of their eye-catching striped fur. As a short-coated breed, Kai Kens need very little grooming.
On second thought, perhaps they’re more of a tiger cub. At their largest, a Kai Ken weighs only 10 to 20 pounds (4 to 9 kg) and measures 13 to 17 inches (33 to 43 cm) tall. They are suited for owners who want a fierce pooch in a smaller package!
Speaking of fierce, the Kai Ken’s hunting instinct is fully intact. They shouldn’t be in homes with smaller pets, but these dogs generally do well with canine family members.
This breed is not built for apartment life, so to help this pooch live its best life, a Kai Ken needs to be surrounded by nature.
Giving them a dedicated pack and wide-open space will make them the happiest dogs in the world.
Being one of the rarer Japanese breeds, Kai Kens can be challenging to get outside of their homeland.
If you do find a reputable breeder, anticipate a $300 to $600 price tag.
7. Kishu Ken
The Kishu Ken is one of Japan’s oldest indigenous breeds. These impressive canines may have been around for thousands of years.
Kishus were bred to hunt wild animals, like boar and deer. Their methodology is fascinating and a little different.
Rather than using a mighty bark to scare their prey, Kishus silently and strategically creep up on their soon-to-be dinner. This clever practice earned them the nickname “the silent hunters.”
Most Kishus are solid white, but they can also be red, black, or sesame. Their triangular snout and fluffy, curled tail give them the trademark Spitz look.
Kishus are incredibly agile despite their size. A full-grown Kishu can weigh anywhere from 31 to 59 pounds (14 to 27 kg) and stand 17 to 22 inches (43 to 55 cm) tall.
Whether you live alone or with your family, the Kishu Ken will be right at home with your pack.
These dogs are the epitome of loyalty and devotion.
Avoid the Kishu if you have small fur babies. Given their strong prey drive, that setup would be a disaster waiting to happen.
Particularly for the more driven breeds like the Kishu Ken, a secured area is a must. These dogs love to explore and will follow a scent no matter where it leads. Letting them play off-leash in an unfenced place simply isn’t worth the risk.
If you can deal with all that and you love this kind of dog, Kishu puppies are one of the most affordable as they often cost around $300 to $500.
With that said, Kishus are highly revered in Japan and are rarely exported. You may have a hard time finding a reputable breeder within the US.
8. Hokkaido Inu
Hailing from Japan’s northernmost island, the first Hokkaido Inus were invaluable hunting dogs for the Ainu people. This is where they got their nickname, Ainu Ken.
Hokkaidos are designed to withstand the most frigid weather imaginable without batting an eye.
Solid and well-built, adult Hokkaidos tend to range from 45 to 65 pounds (20 to 29 kg) and measure 18 to 22 inches (46 to 56 cm) at the withers.
Their thick, full double coat also lends itself to enduring cold winters. Many Hokkaidos are white, but they can also be black, red, grey, sesame, or brindle.
Note that this breed sheds a lot. While most Japanese breeds shed, the Hokkaido is particularly notorious for leaving a trail of dog hair wherever they go.
If you don’t have allergies, but you do love a good morning run, this may be the dog for you. Hokkaidos are bred to hunt, track, and work. In other words, they have an endless supply of energy and are highly trainable.
A well-cared-for Hokkaido can be your running or hunting partner for 12 to 15 years.
That being said, you’ll need to keep an eye out for joint and vision issues (no pun intended). Ready to bring this intelligent pup into your pack?
Even with all they have to offer, Hokkaido dogs are relatively inexpensive. Plan to spend $300 to $400 on one of these pups.
9. Sanshu Inu
Coming onto the scene sometime within the last century, the Sanshu Inu is the new kid on the block.
Sanshus look a bit like Chow Chows, a bit like the Hokkaido. They have broad, round faces and sweet, round eyes. Their bulky coats can be fawn, grey, tan, red, or pied.
There’s no set breed standard for these pups just yet, so you’ll see a fair amount of variation in their appearance.
That being said, most adult Sanshu Inus will grow to 45 to 55 pounds (20 to 25 kg) and stand 16 to 22 inches (41 to 56 cm) tall.
Bred to guard their beloved families, the Sanshu is equal parts protective and delicate. They bond closely with their people, and they’ll stop at nothing to defend them from danger.
If this sounds like the dog for you, prepare to do some digging to find a breeder.
While Sanshu Inus are gaining renown in Japan, you probably won’t see this rare pooch in your neighborhood anytime soon.
10. Shikoku Inu
The Shikoku Inu is also known as the Japanese Wolfdog, and for a good reason. Not only do these dogs have a history of hunting down wild boar, they genuinely look like wolves.
Shikokus have dense, thick fur that resembles that of a wild dog. They are powerful canines that you can find in white, black sesame, or red sesame colors.
At 33 to 45 pounds (15 to 20 kg) and 17 to 21 inches (43 to 53 cm) tall, the Shikoku is middle of the road, size-wise. They’re not too big, not too small.
The Shikoku is also known for being somewhat friendlier than other Japanese dogs.
Still, they have a well-established independent streak and love to roam free.
For this breed and other Japanese dogs that lean toward impulsivity, early training is necessary to maintain long-term control over your dog’s behavior.
Shikoku dogs live an average of 10 to 12 years, but because the breed is so rare, we don’t know a ton about its genetic health issues.
Its rarity also contributes to its price. Expect to pay at least $2000 to call a Shikoku your own.
11. Japanese Chin
Also called the Japanese Spaniel, the Japanese Chin is a regal canine that held a special place among Japan’s nobility.
For such a highly regarded pooch, the Japanese Chin’s origins are a mystery. No one’s entirely sure where exactly the breed began.
What we do know is that they have been in Japan for at least a few hundred years.
You’ll notice that the Japanese Chin has quite a different look compared to the other native Japanese breeds.
This canine has a smushed faceand flat muzzle, flanked by drooping, feathery ears. Their long coats are either black and white or red and white.
Japanese Chins will do fine with a good brushing a few times a week (but daily grooming won’t hurt). Their floppy ears can be susceptible to infection, though, so check them daily.
Weighing in at 7 to 9 pounds (3 to 4 kg) and standing 8 to 11 inches (20 to 27 cm), this is one of the smallest Japanese breeds in existence today.
Behavior-wise, this downy fido is actually pretty cat-like. Expect to see them jumping around the house and perching atop your tallest furniture, just to keep life interesting.
On average, the Japanese Chin will be by your side for 10 to 12 years. Watch out as this breed can have Tay-Sachs disease.
Before you shell out $1500 to $2500 on one of these cuties, ensure that your breeder has done thorough genetic testing on their stock.
12. Japanese Spitz
Did you know that the Japanese Spitz also has German roots? This ball of fluff can trace its genealogy back to the German Spitz after being exported to Japan in the 1920s.
Aptly described as a “ground cloud,” the tiny Japanese Spitz has lush snow-white fur. With upright pointed ears and dark almond eyes, this doggo is nothing short of adorable.
If you’re looking for a compact pup, look no further. An adult Japanese Spitz typically weighs 11 to 20 pounds (5 to 10 kg) and stands 12 to 15 inches (30 to 38 cm) tall.
Big family? No problem! Japanese Spitzes love attention, whether it comes from their humans or another four-legged pack member.
They’re friendly and playful, so they’ll do well in homes with kids and pets, so long as they aren’t left alone for long periods.
Generally considered a healthy dog breed, the Japanese Spitz can live 12 to 14 years. They may be at risk for patellar luxation, however.
Given all that the Japanese Spitz has to offer, you likely won’t be surprised at their hefty price tag. Plan on spending $1000 to $2500 for one of these pooches.
13. Akita Inu
You’ve probably heard of Hachiko, the famously loyal Akita Inu. Hachiko’s story of devotion has added to the Akita’s popularity over the years.
Hailing from northern Japan, Akitas have heavy double coats. Their fur can be red, fawn, sesame, brindle, or white.
They shed regularly, so you’ll need to fit routine brushing into your schedule – plan on grooming them at least a couple of times a week.
A full-grown Akita will weigh between 70 to 100 pounds (32 to 45 kg) and stand 24 to 28 inches (61 to 71 cm).
Training and strong leadership are essential for this sizable dog, as they are strong-willed and prone to dog aggression. This aggression is usually reserved for dogs of the same sex, but not always.
Interestingly, Akita Inus are great with kids that you can consider them your alpha-canine nanny.
Even though Akitas play nicely with children, given their size, you’ll want to supervise them together to avoid accidents or anyone getting hurt.
When it comes to health, Akitas can suffer from bloat and hip dysplasia. Encourage them to rest after eating, and go easy on their joints, especially when they’re puppies. With proper care and attention, your Akita can live up to 13 years.
The cost of a purebred Akita Inu varies greatly. A reputable breeder will charge between $750 to $2000.
Be wary of a breeder that charges very little for their Akitas. That could be a sign that something’s amiss.
Don’t miss: The most popular Akita mixes you should meet
14. Shiba Inu
With the face of a fox and the spirit of a lion, it’s no surprise that the Shiba Inu is the most popular of the Nihon Ken.
These canines are easily recognized by their thick orange and white fur and curly tail.
Shibas have urajiro markings that are characterized by a lighter chest and muzzle with a darker body.
They have a double coat that helps them regulate temperature, which they inherited from their cold-hardy ancestors. Expect a good amount of shedding from this breed, and plan on weekly brushing.
Surprisingly petite considering their confident personality, the average adult Shiba Inu weighs 16 to 22 pounds (7 to 10 kg) and stands 13 to 17 inches (33 to 45 cm).
Mame or “bean-sized” Shiba Inus are even tinier. This miniature version of the standard Shiba weighs in at 10 to 14 pounds (5 to 6 kg) and measures roughly 11 inches (28 cm) tall.
Today, Shibas are generally companion dogs, but that doesn’t mean they’ve lost their hunting instincts.
These canines are incredibly intelligent and also quite stubborn. With an independent nature, your Shiba will need regular training to reduce inappropriate dominance and resource guarding.
Have you heard of the Shiba scream? Shiba Inus are famous for their vocalizations. When they’re in a state of discontent or utter enthusiasm, they make sure you know about it.
Enjoy these two Shibas play-tussling to get a feel for what your house will sound like with a Shiba Inu!
These spunky canines are typically healthy pooches and live between 12 to 15 years. That being said, allergies, patellar luxation, and hip dysplasia are possible health risks.
Ready for the adventure that is life with a Shiba Inu? You’ll need to save up $1500 to $3500 for one of these gorgeous pups.
Which of these Japanese dog breeds will find a forever home with you?
Japanese canines are held in high esteem, and rightly so. These dogs are adept at navigating our modern world without losing their primitive instincts.
Their untamed spirit is part of what makes Japanese dog breeds so special. It’s also why the overwhelming majority of these breeds are not suitable for novice owners.
Japanese dogs require knowledgeable, strong leaders–no exceptions.
So, which of these breeds is your favorite? Tell us what you love about them in the comments.
Cess is the Head of Content Writing at K9 Web and a passionate dog care expert with over 5 years of experience in the Pet Industry. With a background in animal science, dog training, and behavior consulting, her hands-on experience and extensive knowledge make her a trusted source for dog owners.
When not writing or leading the K9 Web content team, Cess can be found volunteering at local shelters and participating in dog-related events.