12 of Our Favorite Japanese Dog Breeds 

Japanese dog breeds are not only known for their incredible beauty, intelligence and work-ethic, but they are also known for their unique history.

In Japan, dogs are highly regarded creatures seen as national treasures, with many of these Japanese dog breeds being considered rare and difficult to come by.

But what is it about Japanese dog breeds that have so many people intrigued? That’s what today’s article is going to discuss. Join us now as we learn more about Japanese dog breeds and their fascinating history.


The History Behind Japanese Dog Breeds

1 a brown dog on a leash
Japanese dog breeds are uniquely bred for a variety of tasks, making their personalities, temperaments and appearance special.

Historians estimate that dogs have been domesticated now for nearly 11,000 years. However, some evidence shows dogs have been domesticated much longer, with findings suggesting that man’s best friend may have even undergone domestication twice.

It is believed dogs were originally domesticated in East Asia, where they then migrated with human beings into East Asia’s Japan. Some of the oldest burial sights of dogs found in Japan have been recovered from what is considered the Jomon Period, named for the Jomon people who migrated to Japan between ten and eleven thousand years ago.

This makes Japan one of the oldest landmarks for canine domestication, and means that true dog breeds hailing from Japan are likely some of the oldest domesticated dog breeds in existence.

It was once assumed that ancient dogs were bred less for companionship and more for working purposes, though recent findings are proving otherwise.

Elaborate canine burial sights uncovered not only in Japan but throughout the world suggest that ancient dogs were just as beloved by their human families then as modern day canines are now.

Of course, like most early domesticated dogs, Japanese dog breeds were also domesticated for much more than companionship.

Many early humans in Japan (and worldwide) relied on dogs for protection, hunting, herding and carting.

As time passed and different groups made their way into Japan, dogs were used for other purposes. The early Yayoi people, for example, domesticated dogs and sometimes consumed them for food. However, by 1886, animal welfare acts became prominent and the practice dissipated.

Over the years, different breeds have found their way into Japan where they were bred and perfected. Some of these breeds are now considered to be Japanese dog breeds, though in reality there are only six true Japanese dog breeds originating from Japan.

These dogs are known as Nihon Ken, and any dog that is Nihon Ken is protected in Japan and considered one of the country’s national dogs.

The 6 Japanese Dog Breeds That Fall Under Nihon Ken Include:

We will be talking about all of these authentic Japanese dog breeds today, as well as a few others who have made names for themselves in Japan and become intertwined in Japanese culture.

But what makes Japanese dog breeds so special is not just their unique origin. In Japan, dogs are often regarded as good omens, with many breeds seen as symbols of good luck, prosperity, health and protection. Many Japanese dog breeds are also famous for their devotion, intelligence, work ethic and poise.

And, because so many Japanese dog breeds come from such an ancient lineage, they are often considered quite rare.

So, are you thinking about investing in a Japanese dog breed? Then here’s what you should know before you do.

What You Should Know Before Investing In A Japanese Dog

2 a tan dog at a computer
Before you decide if you’re ready for a Japanese dog breed, it’s important to do plenty of research.

Many people are attracted to Japanese dog breeds because of their beauty, unique history and due to the fact that many of these breeds are considered rare.

It is true that Japanese dog breeds can be more difficult to come by than some other more common breeds. Not only does this lead to some Japanese dog breeds being more costly for owners up front, it can also lead to unscrupulous breeders trying to sell poorly bred Japanese dog breeds to unwitting people in an effort to make quick money.

You should also be aware that not all Japanese dog breeds are right for every person. Some Japanese dog breeds have special needs, sensitivities, and lifestyle requirements that must be met in order to ensure they are happy and healthy.

Before you invest in a Japanese dog breed, or any dog breed or mix for that matter, it’s important to do plenty of research and ensure you and that breed will make a good match for one another.

And since you’re here, we are going to help get you started by giving you some information on 12 Japanese dog breeds we love.

Keep reading!

1. The Shiba Inu

3 a Shiba Inu
Shiba Inu dogs are some of the most popular Japanese dog breeds.

Height: 13 to 17 Inches

Weight: 15 to 24 Pounds

Temperament: Confident, Devoted, Playful, Intelligent, Alert

Ideal For: Active and patient dog owners

Lifespan: 12 to 15 Years


First on our list is the Shiba Inu. As we mentioned above, the Shiba Inu is considered one of the true Japanese dog breeds and thus falls under Nihon Ken, which means he is considered a national dog of Japan.

Shiba Inus are not just popular in Japan. They also make wonderful family dogs here in the US and are famous for their spirited temperaments. These calm, confident and affectionate dogs make great companions for more moderately experienced dog owners. They get along well with chidlren and other pets, though some have reportedly had issues with dogs of the same sex.

Training and socialization are key to ensuring a Shiba Inu is raised happy and healthy. A bred hunting dog, the Shiba Inu is one of our Japanese dog breeds that requires routine socialization and exercise in order to grow up happy, healthy and well-rounded.

2. The Kai Ken

4 a Kai Ken asleep
The Kai Ken is one of Japan’s treasures, and is also one of the more rare Japanese breeds on this list.

Height: 17 to 22 Inches

Weight: 30 to 40 Pounds

Temperament: Courageous, Reserved, Clever, Athletic, Devoted

Ideal For: Experienced dog owners

Lifespan: 14 to 16 Years


The Kai Ken is another one of our six Japanese dog breeds that is considered Nihon Ken. He is also one of the most rare Japanese dog breeds on our list.

Incredibly intelligent and intuitive, the Kai Ken was bred as a strong and athletic hunting dog. However, unlike many other hunting Japanese dog breeds, the Kai Ken is known to be more devoted to his family and eager to please his owners.

He builds a very strong bond with his people and can be prone to suffering from separation anxiety and stress if left alone too often.

This is also a very active dog who enjoys hiking, running, climbing and swimming. When well socialized and properly trained, the Kai Ken can get along well with children and other pets.

3. The Kishu Ken

5 a Kishu dog
Kishu Inus, also known simply as the Kishu Ken or Kishu Dog, is a stunning breed known for his white coat. However, he can come in different colors including red, brindle, sesame and white.

Height: 17 to 22 Inches

Weight: 30 to 60 Pounds

Temperament: Loyal, Easy-Going, Proud

Ideal For: Active dog owners

Lifespan: 11 to 13 Years


Kishu Ken dogs are not only known for their stunning coat and eyes, but also for being another of Japan’s national dogs. These true Japanese dog breeds are renowned for their endurance and clever mind.

Another Japanese spitz bred for hunting, the Kishu Ken is an active and athletic dog that does best in active households with families who enjoy being outside. That said, this is also a dog that, when properly exercised and kept mentally stimulated, can learn to relax easily and will make a calm indoor companion once the day’s adventures are done.

It should be noted that the Kishu Ken is a clever hunting dog with a strong prey drive. He is prone chasing after small animals like cats. However, many owners have been able to raise Kishu Ken puppies with cats just fine.

4. The Hokkaido Ken

6 a Hokkaido Dog
The Hokkaido Ken goes by several names.

Height: 18 to 20 Inches

Weight: 44 to 66 Pounds

Temperament: Proud, Alert, Focused, Intelligent

Ideal For: Experienced dog owners

Lifespan: 12 to 15 Years


The Hokkaido, also known as the Ainu-Ken, Ainu Dog, or the Seta, looks quite a bit like the Shiba Inu. This is another of our true Japanese dog breeds that is considered Nihon Ken. Beautiful, medium-sized, and muscular, the Hokkaido is known for his thick coat.

It is his fairly dense coat that sets him apart from other Japanese dog breeds, as well as his larger chest and smaller ears.

This is a dog that is considered to be astonishingly intelligent and makes a wonderful companion for experienced dog owners. They require early socialization and training, however, to keep potential behavioral issues at bay.

If you want to find a Hokkaido in the United States you’ll be in for a challenge. These dogs are rare outside of Japan, and even then it is estimated that only around 10,000 to 12,000 Kokkaido dogs exist in the country.

5. The Akita Inu

7 an Akita Inu
Akitas are known for their incredible devotion.

Height: 24 to 28 Inches

Weight: 70 to 130 Pounds

Temperament: Loyal, Courageous, Intelligent

Ideal For: Experienced dog owners

Lifespan: 10 to 13 years


The Akita Inu is another Nihon Ken dog. The Akita is perhaps most famous for his devoted nature, thanks to a specific Akita known as Hachiko, who waited faithfully for his deceased master’s return for over nine years at a train station.

Akitas are large, well-built dogs who are not ideally suited for novice dog owners. They form intense bonds with their family and can be prone to territorial or guarding behaviors if not properly trained and socialized at an early age.

These dogs are also incredibly intelligent and athletic. They are independent thinkers who enjoy solving problems.

When raised properly, Akita Inus are in a long line of Japanese dog breeds that can get along well with children and other pets. However, if not properly raised, these dogs can be problematic and overwhelming.

6. The Shikoku Ken

8 a Shikoku Inu
Also known as the Kochi-Ken, the Shikoku Ken is an intelligent, energetic dog.

Height: 17 to 22 Inches

Weight: 35 to 55 Pounds

Temperament: Energetic, Outgoing, Playful

Ideal For: Active Dog Owners

Lifespan: 10 to 11 Years


The Shikoku, sometimes known as the Kochi-Ken, is the last of our six true Japanese dog breeds. Highly intelligent, enthusiastic and full of energy, the Shikoku dog is best suited for active, experienced dog owners who have plenty of time to commit to training, exercise and mental stimulation.

Bred as hunting and tracking dogs on the Shikoku Island for which they are named, Shikoku Ken dogs are considered quite valuable. They are keen, clever and work-oriented, and have a high prey drive.

Exercise outside of the home should be conducted with a properly fitted leash and harness to reduce the chances of your dog taking off after smaller animals he may see as prey.

7. The Japanese Spitz

9 a Japanese Spitz
The Japanese Spitz is often mistaken for the American Eskimo.

Height: 12 to 15 Inches

Weight: 10 to 25 Pounds

Temperament: Playful, Devoted, Clever, Funny

Ideal For: Novice dog owners and families

Lifespan: 12 to 14 Years


The Japanese Spitz may not be considered one of our true Japanese dog breeds, but this dog certainly has made a name for himself when it comes to Japanese dogs. As his name suggests, this is a tiny spitz dog that is likely a descendant of the white German Spitz.

While the complete story of this dog’s origin is a mystery, it is known that the Japanese Spitz of today is considered a funny, adoring, playful and sweet family companion. He gets along well with people and other pets, is highly trainable, and is just compact enough to make a wonderful travel buddy.

However, with their dense, white coats, Japanese Spitz dogs can be prone to mats and tangles. As such, these Japanese dog breeds require routine grooming and upkeep to ensure their lovely white fur stays sparkling and tangle-free.

8. The Tosa Inu

10 a tosa inu
The Tosa Inu was originally bred as a fighting dog in Japan. Today, he is considered quite rare.

Height: 21.5 to 23.5 Inches

Weight: 100 to 200 Pounds

Temperament: Patient, Courageous, Watchful

Ideal For: Experienced dog owners

Lifespan: 10 to 12 Years


The Tosa Inu, or Tosa for short, is another of our Japanese dog breeds that is considered rare and difficult to come by. Originally bred for fighting, the Tosa Inu has the potential to make a wonderful, patient, and mild-mannered companion dog for the right owner.

He is clever and gentle by nature, though it is sadly true that in certain regions of Japan, Tosas are still being legally used as fighting dogs.

However, in most regions where blood sports have been outlawed, the Tosa Inu is a beloved companion and guard dog. He is a massive dog best suited for experienced dog owners who will ensure this breed gets plenty of socialization and training early on.

That said, there are many regions throughout the world that ban the Tosa Inu due to his background in blood sports.

9. The Japanese Chin

11 a Japanese Chin
The Japanese Chin is a small Japanese dog bred for companionship.

Height: 8 to 11 Inches

Weight: 7 to 11 Pounds

Temperament: Affectionate, Charming, Dignified

Ideal For: Families with older children, first time dog owners, singles, seniors, retirees, and couples

Lifespan: 10 to 12 Years


With his infectious personality and charming look, the Japanese Chin is one of our more famous and one of our smallest Japanese dog breeds. This sweet natured dog is best suited for families with older, more gentle children, as he can be prone to easy injury if handled or played with too roughly.

The Japanese Chin is a fastidious breed, and the American Kennel Club even compares many of his personality traits to those of a feline.

For this reason, Japanese Chins are excellent companions for seniors and retirees. They do not require too much exercise and make devoted little lap dogs. They are also quite quiet, which makes them wonderful apartment dogs as well.

10. The Ryukyu Inu

12 a Ryukyu against black
Ryukyu Inu dogs are considered very rare. They hail from Okinawan in Japan.

Height: 18 to 23 Inches

Weight: 40 to 60 Pounds

Temperament: Loyal, Courageous, Friendly and Intelligent

Ideal For: Experienced dog owners

Lifespan: 10 to 14 Years


Try not to fall in love with a Ryukyu Inu. While he is one of the most lovely Japanese dog breeds on our list, there are only an estimated 400 or so of these dogs left in the world. These dogs are quickly declining in numbers, though they are still considered incredible hunting dogs and were once used to hunt wild boar and other formidable prey.

Hailing from Okinawan, Japan, the Ryukyu Inu, sometimes known as the Ryukyu Ken, is a trainable, clever breed that can do well in a number of environments and households. When properly trained and socialized, he makes a playful, fun-loving addition to homes with children and other pets.

Still, we should note that he is energetic and requires routine exercise and plenty of mental stimulation.

Of course, it should come as no surprise that finding a Ryukyu Inu is going to be difficult, especially here in the United States. With that noted, beware of “breeders” claiming they are selling Ryukyu puppies at a premium price.

11. The Sakhalin Husky

13 the Sakhalin Husky
The Sakhalin Husky, also known as the Karafuto-Ken dog, is dangerously close to extinction.

Height: 1.8 to 2.2 Feet

Weight: 66 to 88 Pounds

Temperament: Affectionate, People-Oriented, Energetic, Devoted

Ideal For: Experienced dog owners

Lifespan: 12 to 15 Years


If you were sad about the Ryukyu dog being rare, prepare for another bummer. The Sakhalin Husky, sometimes referred to as the Karafuto-Ken dog, is another of our Japanese dog breeds that is becoming scarce. In fact, in 2015 it was estimated that there were only seven true Sakhalin Huskies in existence on the island of Sakhalin, where they are from.

Originally bred as sled dogs, the Salhankin Husky is a large, affectionate dog with a dense double coat and friendly disposition. He is energetic and outgoing, and very people-oriented. These dogs are devoted to their families and make ideal working companions.

If you were to ever get your hands on a Sakhalin Husky, you should be prepared for a high-energy dog that requires plenty of training, socialization and exercise, and a dog that will want you to be around as often as possible.

12. The Jomon Shiba

14 a Jomon Shiba dog
The Jomon Dog is a newer hybrid dog bred to emulate the ancient and extinct Jomon dog breed.

Height: 14 to 18 Inches

Weight: 15 to 24 Pounds

Temperament: Stubborn, Intelligent, Strong-Willed, Independant

Ideal For: Experienced dog owners

Lifespan: 10 to 15 Years


The Jomon Shiba may look a bit familiar, but there is something distinctly wild about this Shiba Inu look-alike. In fact, Jomon Shiba dogs are designed specifically to emulate the now extinct ancient Japanese dog breeds found during the Jomon period nearly 1,000 years ago.

Because they are still considered hybrids, these Japanese dog breeds are not yet recognized by most major breed clubs. They are, however, registered with the Establishment of Shiba Ho Shiba Inu Hozonkai (SHIBAHO) and the JSRC.

They are also considered a Shiba dog, and stand alongside the Shiba Inu, the Mino Shiba, the Sanin Shiba and the Shinshu Shiba.

Jomon Shibas are distinguishable by their leaner build, their wolf-like appearance, and their more pointed muzzle. Though they look wild, Jomon Shiba dogs are not related to wild dogs or wolves.

When properly trained and socialized, they make great family companions and do well with children and other pets.

However, as of 2014, there was only one Jomon Shiba in existence in the United States.

Tips On How To Find The Healthiest Japanese Dog Breeds

15 a brown puppy
Not all of the above Japanese dog breeds are the healthiest. Others may be very difficult to come by.

Japanese dog breeds have a number of common characteristics. That said, they can also vary greatly in temperament, health, appearance and lifestyle needs.

Before you decide which of the above Japanese dog breeds is right for you, it’s important to do plenty of research, consider your lifestyle, and ensure the dog you choose is the right match for your family.

It’s also important to make sure you go through reputable sources when looking for one of the above Japanese dog breeds. Remember, many of the Japanese dog breeds listed are considered rare, which may mean they will either be more expensive when going through a breeder, or they may be impossible to find altogether.

Be careful of going through people who promise particularly rare Japanese dog breeds for premium prices without doing plenty of digging first. It is not uncommon for opportunistic scammers to con people into buying dogs that are either not what they claim or that are irresponsible bred.

When looking for a reputable breeder, make sure you ask for paperwork proving the health and pedigree of the puppy you are interested in. Responsible breeders might also be able to provide you with references and resources that are relevant to the type of dog breed you’re getting.

On average, most Japanese dog breeds sold in the US through reputable sources go for between $600 and $3,500. Of course, this price will vary depending on the breeder you go through, the type of Japanese dog breed you’re interested in, and the quality of your puppy’s parents.

Puppies that come from show quality parents are often more expensive than those who are bred specifically for companionship. It is also common for female puppies to sell for a bit more than their male littermates.

Of course, going through a breeder isn’t your only option when it comes to obtaining Japanese dog breeds. You also have the option of going through a rescue or shelter to adopt the Japanese dog of your dreams.

Even then, however, it’s important to be patient and do your research. Go through reputable shelters or rescues you trust and don’t be afraid to ask questions. When you are adopting one of the above Japanese dog breeds, prepare to spend between $250 and $750.

This fee will usually cover the overhead cost of caring for your dog before he was adopted by you, as well as an initial vet visit, a basic health screening and even behavioral testing.

There are also hidden benefits of going through a rescue outside of the initial price. Many people find they save money when they adopt a dog over the age of two. These dogs are often already spayed or neutered and many have already been microchipped by their previous owners.

Best of all, when you adopt one of the above Japanese dog breeds, (or any dog breed), you are providing a shelter dog a forever home while opening up space in the shelter for another dog in need.

Whichever road you choose to take when obtaining your Japanese dog breed, just be sure you trust the source. And remember, not all Japanese dog breeds are right for everyone.

Do you have what it takes to raise a Japanese dog breed? Tell us what you think in the comment section below.

Thanks for reading!

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