Meet the 6 Japanese Natural Monument Breeds

Japanese dog breeds are beloved canines with a rich cultural history. Some monumental breeds include the Akita, Shiba Inu, and Hokkaido.

Apr 13, 2024By Sara Payne
japanese natural monument breeds

A natural monument is a feature that is culturally or naturally unique. Most natural monuments are land features or historically significant manmade features. But, in some places, dog breeds are so significant to their culture, that they are designated as natural monuments.

Japan’s government designated the Akita, Shiba Inu, Hokkaido, Kai Ken, Kishu Ken, and Shikoku-Ken as natural monument dog breeds.

Read on to learn how these selected dog breeds reflect the country’s culture, heritage, and history.


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The Akita is a muscular dog with a broad head, pointed ears, and a curved, fluffy tail. This dog breed can be a variety of colors, but the most common is all white. Akitas with different colors, such as pinto or brindle, have a distinct dark area around their muzzle. They are a medium-sized, working dog breed.

Akitas love human companionship, but they are independent and protective. They are not always good with other dogs or strangers, but with their family, they can be incredibly affectionate.

These dogs originated in Akita, a region in north Japan near the Sea of Japan (East Sea). Over 1,000 years ago, this ancient breed served as a hunting companion. The Akita was prized for its stubbornness and fearlessness when facing wild boars and bears. During medieval Japan, the nobility bred Akita dogs to guard their homes or as fighting dogs.

Akita's numbers waned during World War II when it was hard for citizens to maintain pets. Today, due to conservation efforts, the Akita breed is a beloved and culturally important dog breed in Japan.

Shiba Inu

shiba inu
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Humans bred the Shiba Inu to hunt small game, such as birds. These small dogs are muscular, with erect, triangular ears, and a tightly curled, fuzzy tail. They have a stiff outer coat that comes in a mixture of white, red, ginger, tan, and light black.

Excavation of Stone Age sites suggests that the Shiba Inu may have accompanied Japan’s earliest immigrants to the chain of islands. The oldest documentation of the breed comes from a 7th-century document. With the insurgence of Western dog breeds mixing with Japanese breeds in the 17th century and the devastations of World War II, the Shiba Inu was almost lost to time.

Today, however, they are the most popular dog breed in Japan. These delightful dogs enjoy the outdoors and cold weather. They are adaptable, good-natured, and full of energy.


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Named for the northernmost island of Japan, the Hokkaido dog is a fearless hunter. They were companions to the indigenous people of Japan during the Jomon period from around 10,000 to 700 BCE. These dogs have a double coat, large legs, and small ears, which help them endure cold temperatures and harsh environments. They are strong-willed dogs who are also loyal and sensitive.

They come in white, red, black, brindle, sesame, and wolf grey. They measure between 18-20 inches in height and weigh about 44-66 pounds. They take well to training and have incredible endurance. They enjoy having tasks to complete and are intelligent dogs.

This breed is scarce outside of Japan, and the estimated population is only around 10,000-12,000 dogs in total.

Kai Ken

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The Kai Ken dog breed is a rare dog breed in Japan. It originated from the mountains around Mount Fuji, where the dog was used as a hunting companion. The Kai has a distinct brindle coat that comes in three colors: black, brindle, and red. The coloration helped the dog to camouflage itself in the mountainous forest area as they hunted prey.

This dog breed is an independent thinker who loves to swim and climb. These dogs have a strong desire to hunt, with the intelligence to match. They are also incredibly devoted to their families.

Kai Ken dogs typically range between 15.5 to 19.5 inches in height. They weigh between 25-40 pounds. The Japanese government declared the Kai Ken a Living Natural Monument in 1933.


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This large dog breed originated in the dense forests and hunted large game in the mountains of Japan. These dogs have white coats, erect ears, and short, brushy tails. They are alert, good-natured, and confident dogs. The Kishu Ken is about 19-22 inches in height and weighs around 30-60 pounds.

According to legend, a hunter took pity on an injured wolf in the forest and asked the wolf to repay him by bringing him one of the wolf’s pups. The wolf kept the promise, and the resulting dog became the Kishu Ken. That’s why many believe these dogs are so similar to wolves!

The dog breed managed to survive World War II, and the Japanese government declared the breed a natural monument in 1934.


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Another dog from the mountain ranges of Japan, the Shikoku, were hunters valued by the Matagi. They tracked game, especially boar. This medium-sized dog has an upright ear, a curled tail, and well-balanced muscles.

The Shikoku have double coats that come in colors such as red, black, and tan. They are energetic and highly alert dogs. They are about 17-22 inches tall and weigh about 35-55 pounds.

The Japanese government designated them as a Natural Monument in 1937.

Conservation Saved Many of These Dog Breeds

japanese dog breed
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After the devastation of World War II, many original Japanese dog breeds almost went out of existence. However, the government protected these native breeds by making them live natural monuments. The Akita, Shiba Inu, Hokkaido, Kai Ken, Kishu Ken, and Shikoku dog breeds are native dog breeds with a long history in Japan.

Sara Payne
By Sara Payne

Sara is a mother of two and a high school English teacher who rediscovered her love of writing during the pandemic. She has 5 rescue cats: Neville and Luna, who are white cats with black and grey spots, and Ginny, Blue, and Fairy, who are calicos. Besides taking care of humans and fur babies, Sara enjoys gardening, crafting, and spending time in nature.