13 Most Popular Dog Breeds in Japan

13 Most Popular Dog Breeds in Japan

Jun 06, 2024Jon Ng

Planning to get a dog in Japan? Here are the most popular dog breeds in Japan for you to choose from!

When Japan is well-known for the world's finest sushi, gorgeous cherry blossoms, great anime stories, and sneaky ninjas, who will think that it is also home to many unique and renowned Japanese dog breeds!

However,  almost all of them remain underrated till now.

Hence, today, I am gonna introduce you to the most popular dog breeds in Japan, some of the gorgeous and loyal dogs on the planet.

The origin of modern Japanese dog breeds dates back thousands of years ago.

After centuries of crossbreeding and fine-tuning, now it is widely accepted that only six dog breeds are native to Japan.

They are Shiba Inu, Hokkaido Inu, Kai Ken, Shikoku Ken, Kishu Ken and Akita Inu.


The word Inu or Ken added to the end of many Japanese dog names simply means dog in Japanese.

Some other dog breeds besides these six have emerged over time in Japan.

Before going for an in-depth discussion on these dog breeds, let's know about their characteristics in short.

Akita Inu

Have you ever heard about the pup Hachiko, who is still remembered for his loyalty and affection towards his owner?

Then say hello to the most loyal Japanese dog breed Akita Inu, the national dog of Japan.

Being famous by Hachiko, it is now the most popular dog in Japan, which symbolizes loyalty.

Akita inu

These dogs are large with thick, fluffy fur and curved tails.

Emperor Hirohito declared this brave, strong, loyal, and affectionate dog as a national monument in 1931.

Akita is very protective in nature which makes them a perfect watchdog. Though it is not a great playmate for other canines, it shares its traits and ancestry with other similar dog breeds.

This dog breed is pretty suspicious of strangers, while it is a popular family pet and always eager to share its playful and affectionate attitude with its families.

Another notable side of their behavior is they tend to chase after small critters.

If you want to keep this dog breed as a pet, I suggest you train it early, and you should also expose it to many people when it is just a puppy.

Smuggled into the foreign land United States after World War II, the popularity of this dog even spread beyond the country.

It could quickly win the American's hearts and cultivate the breed's popularity in the United States.

Breed Overview
Group: Working (AKC).
Coat: Strong and heavy-boned dogs with a dense double coat.
Color: Multiple colors, including white.
Temperament: Loyal, brave.
Height: 26 - 28 inches (male), 24 - 26 inches (female).
Weight: 100 - 130 pounds (male), 70 - 100 pounds (female).
Life Expectancy: 10 - 13 years.

Shiba Inu

Now, tell me one thing!

Are you an introvert? And that's why can't you make friends?

Well, though it sounds somewhat cheesy, you should keep this Japanese breed of dog Shiba Inu as a pet.

I am saying this because they make excellent companions for introverts for their active, attentive, and good-natured personalities.

They are affectionate towards their families and aren't afraid to protect their loved ones from strangers.

Shiba Inu

Besides, these dogs sound confident enough with their Shiba scream, a special sound of excitement.

So, you will eventually find that it's not hard to fall in love with this devoted Shiba Inu.

This tiny Japanese dog breed is the smallest of the spitz breed of dogs in Japan.


The National Shiba Club of America recommends plenty of mental and physical exercise for Shiba Inus.

Despite being the smallest, these dogs have been recently used for breeding more apartment-friendly tiny-sized Shibas, which are indeed the cutest among native Japanese dog breeds.

Speaking about the look, Shiba Inu has a wedge-shaped nose, small pointed ears, and curled tail.

Shibas are Japanese hunting dogs, and Shiba means brushwood. So, this dog breed in Japan is named after the brushwood that turns red in the fall, which is almost similar to their red or rust body color.

Breed Overview
Group: Non-sporting (AKC).
Coat: Long coat, heavy shedders.
Color: Coat in sesame, red, cream/white, or black with tan points; the undercoat is cream, gray, or buff.
Temperament: Affectionate, protective.
Height: 14.5 - 16.5 inches (male); 13.5 - 15.5 inches (female).
Weight: 23 pounds (male); 17 pounds (female).
Life Expectancy: 13 - 16 years.

Japanese Spitz

Do you want to have someone who will follow you to the end of the world?

Then get a Japanese Spitz as a pet.

Yes, I am saying it right. According to the Japanese Spitz Club of America, no matter wherever you go, this pup will follow you.

japanese Spitz

It is one of the newest on the Japanese dog breeds list. According to sources, these dogs are the offsprings of German Spitz that were brought to Japan in the early 20th Century.

The Japanese white fluffy dog can win your heart in an instant with its smiling face, pointy ears, and curly tail.

Speaking about its nature, the Japanese Spitz is incredibly affectionate and playful that loves to rollick wildly.

Nothing feels more pleasant to this loyal and smart dog than to spend the whole day with its human.

So, if you are a person who can be with him for most of the day, consider keeping it with you.

This smiley and fun-loving canine will fill your every day with laughter and fun. You cannot even think of leaving this great companion alone.

And nothing can be more good than this pup to accompany your kids, as they are just great with children and other dogs.

What makes this dog stand out from the crowd is its barking.

Their exceptional piercing roar makes them a useful watchdog too.

Breed Overview
Group: AKC Foundation Stock Service; Northern Breeds (UKC).
Coat: A straight and stand-off outer coat with a short, soft, dense undercoat.
Color: Pure white coat.
Temperament: Playful, intelligent.
Height: 12 - 15 inches.
Weight: 10 - 25 pounds.
Life Expectancy: 12 - 14 years.

Hokkaido Inu

What if you get a dog that is one of the best problem solvers around.

Yes, I am talking about the Hokkaido Inu, an expert in guarding, hunting, and sledding.

It always prefers having a job to do. So, if you leave it idly for a long time, it will make you pay for this with destructive behavior.

It is one of the rare Japanese dog breeds which you can hardly find outside of Japan.

This oldest and wildest Japanese dog breed is bold, athletic, and loving animals.

You won't find such a faithful and dignified canine with great stamina and endurance.

If you want a loyal, dedicated, and obedient companion, these are the dogs for you.

They are affectionate with their families and protective of their household, but if not socialized properly, Hokkaido can become very wary of strangers.

So, don't expect him to be good with everyone.

They spent hundreds of years in the cold and snow of the Hokkaido mountains with the aboriginal Ainu people. Therefore, their coats are thick and weatherproof.

In case you don't like a dog that sheds, Hokkaido cannot make it into your favorite list of Japanese dogs.

Anyway, these dogs are characterized by smaller triangular ears and curly tails, and they were declared as a national monument in 1937.

Breed Overview
Group: AKC Foundation Stock Service; not an AKC recognized breed
Coat: Double coat having coarse outer guard hairs, along with a fine, thick undercoat.
Temperament: Smart, devoted.
Height: 18 - 20 inches.
Weight: 44 - 66 pounds.
Color: White, red, black, brindle, sesame, or wolf grey.
Life Expectancy: 12 - 15 years.

Kai Ken

Kai Ken, a Japanese mountain dog, is one of the six native Japanese breeds, which was declared a national monument in 1934.

Bred in Japan's Kai mountains, these dogs are very smart, agile athletes with a strong drive to hunt.

They can even climb trees and swim rivers while chasing their prey.

You may find them in three brindle shades: black, brown, and red, which helps them camouflage in the wild while out on a hunt.

This highly intelligent and amiable dog is another rare find, even in Japan.

Though these dogs were bred to hunt, they have become more habituated with the warmth of their master's house over time.

And you will get canine companionship and lots of affection in return.

Kai Ken

Unlike the other Japanese breed on this list, this canine is less independent. It always wants to make its master happy.

As they were mainly used as a game hunter, they have a high prey drive and also the fastest speed on this list.

So, you need to confine them in such a yard so that he cannot escape.

Anyway, this Kai Ken has a self-cleaning nature, but that doesn't mean he will run himself for taking a bath. Instead, he can maintain his coat properly by keeping it in tip-top condition.

Breed Overview
Group: AKC Foundation Stock Service; not an AKC recognized breed.
Coat: Unique camouflage-friendly coat.
Color: Brindle coat in three colors: black brindle, brindle, and red brindle.
Temperament: Loyal, athletic.
Height: 15.5 - 19.5 inches.
Weight: 20 - 40 pounds.
Life Expectancy: 12 - 15 years.

Japanese Chin

If you love both cat and dog, this Japanese chin can be a good pet option for you.

Yes, it sounds surprising, but I am saying it right.

The Japanese Chin is described as more like a feline (cat-like) than a canine.

Japanese Chin

But what's the reason behind this? You might be curious to know that.

Well, you will often find this guy climbing to the higher part of the room, such as tables or shelves—a perfect cat-like attitude!

Though this flat-faced dog is the shortest on the list, it can impress you in an instant with its bold personality.

It is a very graceful, charming, well-mannered dog that can be a friend to everyone it meets.

Now it makes sense why he was favored by Japanese Royalty. This dog has a history of being a companion pet to imperial family members.

Japanese Chins were so valued in the upper class that the lower class could not even own this dog. Actually, they were not allowed to keep it.

These noble dogs were presented as gifts and considered higher than gold!

Breed Overview
Group: Toy (AKC).
Coat: Long, sleek and smooth coat.
Color: Black and white, sable and white, lemon and white, black, white, and tan.
Temperament: Mellow, regal.
Height: 8 - 11 inches.
Weight: 7 - 11 pounds.
Life Expectancy: 10 - 14 years.

Shikoku Inu

Now say hi to the original Japanese fighting dog breeds, which is also known as Kochi ken along with Shikoku Inu Or Shikoku Ken.

Japanese hunters highly valued this native Japanese breed as a tracker of game. They originate from the island of Shikoku, where they even hunted wild boar.

They have a typical structure with a head of wolves, and that's why people often call it a Japanese wolfdog.

Despite being medium-sized, Shikokus are incredibly athletic with mighty dog energy.

These dogs are well-known for their wariness, intelligence, and endurance.

Shikoku Inu

Yes, they are enthusiastic hunters, but at the same time, very obedient to their master.

To retain their primitive hunting skill, they were often kept outside in the past, but nowadays, you may see them on the sofas of his house.

Shikoku Inu is a very active dog who loves to be outside most. But if you want to keep them as a pet, you should place them in a large home where there should be access to an even larger yard.

Otherwise, it will become destructive, getting cabin fever.

As long as you can offer him all these, he will be very loving and sweet towards you, which will make him a good companion indeed.

Anyway, this energetic dog breed Shikoku Ken was declared a Living Natural Monument of Japan in 1937 by NIPPO, the Japanese Dog Preservation Society.

Breed Overview
Group: AKC Foundation Stock Service; not an AKC recognized breed.
Coat: Harsh and straight outer coat, and soft and dense inner coat.
Color: Red, black and tan, or sesame.
Temperament: Alert, energetic.
Height: 17 - 22 inches.
Weight: 35 - 55 pounds.
Life Expectancy: 10 - 12 years.

Kishu Ken

The Wakayama region in Japan is well-known for the breeding and development of this dog breed.

Many centuries ago, a tough, medium-sized dog roamed in the mountain of Japan, and Kishu kens have been developed from those canines.

They were mostly used for hunting boar and deer at that time.

These dogs love to be in an open and wide environment where they can roam freely, just like centuries ago they did in Kyushu in southern Japan.

So, you shouldn't keep him confining in a fence.

In 1934, Kishu Ken was proclaimed a national treasure. So, it is highly valued in our country, and due to this, we rarely export them outside of Japan.

Kishu Ken

These dogs are very active, and they need a lot of exercise. Until their exercise needs are met, they keep on being very playful and docile at home.

They always tend to maintain a distance from strangers and those outside the family, whereas they are friendly with children and other family members.

Like some other dogs, expect high prey drive from them and avoid keeping other pets, especially rodent type along with this Kishu ken. They are not well-suited to a multi-pet household.

These dogs look very pretty with smaller pointy Spitz ears and a less curled long tail.

But don't underestimate its power seeing the cute face, as it was bred to hunt wild boar and deer.

Breed Overview
Group: AKC Foundation Stock Service, not an AKC recognized breed.
Coat: Short, straight, and coarse coat with a thick undercoat.
Color: Most are white but can also be sesame, red, & black, and tan.
Temperament: Athletic, dedicated.
Height: 17 - 22 inches.
Weight: 30 - 60 pounds.
Life Expectancy: 11 - 13 years.

Tosa Inu

Tosa Inu is the largest dog breed in Japan, which is also known as Tosa ken, Tosa token, Japanese fighting dog, and Japanese mastiff.

These dogs originated from the Tosa region, where dogfighting was once popular and celebratory sport.

Tosa Inu

Hence, they were bred with the Shikoku Inu, the former Japanese fighting champion, and other larger breeds such as Mastiffs, Bulldogs, and Great Danes, to make an ultimate powerful fighting dog.

These dogs played an important role in our country's long history of dogfighting.

However, they are still used for dogfighting in our country, as this sport is considered legal.

Besides dogfighting, nowadays, they are also embraced by families worldwide as gentle giants, who are ready to give and take as much affection as possible.

Despite being the largest Japanese breed, they take the longest time to be matured, reaching adulthood around four years old.

This gigantic dog is thick, muscular, and very powerful. So, don't even try to get on the wrong side of it.

However, don't worry as they are a very sensitive and sweet guy with their family. These dogs also keep distance from strangers and other unknown dogs, but at the same time, they are a very useful watchdog too.

Speaking about its look, Tosa Inu seems quite the opposite to most Japanese breeds with a wide neck, deep chest, and large dropdown ears.

Breed Overview
Group: AKC Foundation Stock Service; not an AKC recognized breed.
Coat: Short, dense coat.
Color: Fawn, red, apricot, black, or brindle.
Temperament: Easy-going, loving.
Height: At least 21.5 - 23.5 inches.
Weight: 100 - 200 pounds.
Life Expectancy: 10 - 12 years.

Japanese Terrier

Japanese Terrier, also known as Nippon Terrier, is a relatively newer breed that originated in the 17th century, though nowadays they are very rare even in Japan.

Let's focus on its breeding history for now, which dates back to Edo Era.

A primitive English smooth fox terrier bred with a native Japanese small breed, followed by Italian greyhounds.

Later around the 19th century, they were called Kobe Terriers according to the region they used to live.

Japanese Terrier

And today's Japanese Terrier is the mixed breed of that Kobe Terrier with toy bull terriers and English toy terriers from the West.

These dogs spread all over Japan in the 1940s, though they were nearly disappeared with World War II and the increasing popularity of other Western breeds.

Anyway, the notable feature of this Japanese Terrier is that it is very tiny in size, giving it a cuter look.

So, if you are interested in keeping a handbag pup, this is the breed for you. Besides its little size, the tiny bobtail adds extra cuteness to its appearance.

When their appearance is so cute, what about the behavior?

Well, they are very friendly and agile. This active little dog enjoys chasing anything that moves and can be a good companion to everyone.

Breed Overview
Group: AKC Foundation Stock Service, not an AKC recognized breed.
Coat: Smooth glossy coat.
Color: White and tan, black and tan, and black.
Temperament: Cheerful, lively.
Height: 11 - 13 inches.
Weight: 5 - 10 pounds.
Life Expectancy: 12 - 15 years.

Ryukyu Inu

The courageous yet gentle Ryukyu Inu is one of the rarest breeds, which originates from the southern island of Okinawa.

These Okinawa dog breeds are known as the national treasure of this island.

Despite their docile and calm nature, there is also something to be afraid of these dogs.

Their courageous attitude says it all why they thrive as top hunters for the barbarous wild boars.

Ryukyu Inus are versatile hunters, and while they can hunt for a single owner, they also work great in packs.

This breed has such a dewclaw that lets them climb trees and track their prey with a higher advantage while hunting in the rainforest.

You won't hear them bark much, but they always remain alert to their surroundings. Additionally, they have a high prey drive that you can expect from skilled hunting dogs.

And that's why if you have any other pets, especially cats or rodents, you cannot keep them along with this dog. They are not recommended to cohabit with smaller animals.

Besides, to keep these dogs in domestications, they need early and frequent socializing.

But don't worry. They are intelligent enough with high instinctive and adaptive IQ.

They just require a lot of physical and mental stimulation to live a happy and healthy life.

Breed Overview
Group: Not an AKC recognized breed.
Coat: Short and long; single and double-coated.
Color: Brindle, white brindle, black brindle, black, white, ivory, sesame, liver, and red.
Temperament: Courageous, intelligent, alert.
Height: 17 - 19.5 inches.
Weight: Up to 40 - 50 pounds.
Life Expectancy: 12 - 13 years.

Karafuto Ken

Karafuto ken is also known as Sakhalin Husky, and it is the rarest one on the list. Because of their great size and mammoth coat, they were popular as sled dogs.

But sadly, it is believed that they are already extinct now.

The only Sakhalin Husky breeder in the world, Sergey Lyubykh, died in 2012. And just before his death, he stated there were not enough Sakhalin Huskies in this world to continue their breeding.

The two last remaining Japanese husky breeds, Taro and Jiro, could not be bred due to genetic similarity.

Sakhalin Husky

On an ill-fated Japanese Antarctic research expedition to Antarctica, 15 of these dogs were left behind due to an emergency.

After less than one year, the explorers returned to the site and found only Taro and Jiro.

And now you can find these two preserved in Museums in Japan, and Japanese people celebrate them as national heroes.

So, I think you can understand exactly how rare these dog breeds are!

Talking about their habit, they are working dogs and don't like to spend lonely time without doing anything. Besides, they play well with children and other dogs as well.

They are extremely devoted to their masters but sometimes show a little bit of stubbornness.

Breed Overview
Type: Working group and sled dog.
Coat: Thick, dense, and soft.
Color: Black, russet, biscuit, cream.
Temperament: Loyal, diligent, confident.
Height: 22-26 inches.
Weight: 66-88 pounds.
Life Expectancy: 12-14 years.

Sanshu Inu

Sanshu Inu is the most excellent among the Japanese guard dogs described here.

These famous Japanese dogs are extremely rare outside the country.

Though they look quite similar to the Shiba Inu or Akita, there is a major difference between their tails.

Where the other dogs have curly or fluffy tails, Sanshu Inu has a much straighter tail.

Alongside the guard dogs, they are mostly renowned for companionship. And like most other companion dogs, they are affectionate and loyal.

Sanshu Inu tends to build up very close and personal bonds with its family members. Therefore, it is very usual for them to protect their family at any cost.

And this is the reason why Sanshu Inus are popular guard dogs among families in Japan.

If you want to train them up, it will feel so easy as they are very responsive while being trained.

They do not like anything more than to please their owner.

Another mentionable side of their nature is that these dogs clean up themselves like cats. So, they are low-maintenance dogs and relatively easy to care for.

However, that does not mean you are allowed to ignore basic hygiene.

Breed Overview
Color: White, tan, pied, red, or gray.
Temperament: Affectionate, loyal, sweet-natured.
Height: 16-18 inches (small), 20-22 inches (large).
Weight: Up to 45 - 55 pounds.
Life Expectancy: 10 - 14 years.

So, these are the 13 types of Japanese dogs that are common in Japan.

If you are searching for a loyal and protective dog, you have a lot of options here. They all make adorable and loving family members. Hence, you just need to find the perfect one for you and your family!

Which is the most popular dog breed in Japan?

The Shiba Inu, with its bold personality, is the most popular dog breed in Japan. This average-sized breed is a national pride and symbol in Japan, appearing in countless manga and anime series, tv shows, and more. 

They’re also often seen accompanied by their owners in Japan’s many parks. The vibrant orange and white coat of the Shiba Inu commands attention, and the breed’s independent spirit and loyalty makes them a great choice for both first-time owners and long-time pet parents. 

The Chihuahua is not far behind the Shiba Inu when it comes to the popularity of dog breeds in Japan. 

These pint-sized pups are a beloved addition to Japanese family homes and are known for their yapping and endlessly energetic behavior. 

The Chihuahua’s diminutive stature also makes them perfect for Japan’s ever-shrinking apartments, and their snuggly demeanor provides comfort to their owners. 

The Akita is another beloved breed with a deep history in Japan. This large canine is known for their courageousness and loyalty, and is often associated with Samurai warriors. 

The Akita’s thick coat, often beautiful in varying shades of white and red, is a sight to behold. This breed makes a great guard dog, but is also known to be somewhat aloof around strangers. 

The Shih Tzu is yet another popular pooch in Japan, and these cuddly little lap dogs are often seen accompanying their owners on errands around the city. 

This small, low-maintenance breed is a great choice for Tokyo apartments, and their calm personalities make them well-suited for first time owners. 

Last, but certainly not least, are the Kokeshi Dog breeds, a traditional Japanese type of dog made from wood. The circular, stuffed Kokeshi toy dogs, often seen in souvenir shops, are a national treasure in Japan. 

These round and colourful dogs have become a symbol of Japanese culture and are known for their amicable personalities. 

Of all the Kokeshi breeds, the Kishu (Kishu Dog) is perhaps the most popular, and embodies a unique Japanese aesthetic.

What is the cheapest dog in Japan?

The Japanese Terrier is one of the most budget-friendly pups available in Japan. Although these small, compact dogs may look like larger breeds, they’re actually quite small in size, making them perfect for those living in an apartment or smaller living space. 

Not only that, they’re also incredibly friendly and loyal, which makes them great companions for kids, couples, or families alike. The Japanese Terrier is also relatively low-maintenance – they only require brushing once or twice a week and a bath once every month.

Another inexpensive breed in Japan is the Shiba Inu. This breed has become something of a cultural icon in Japan, mostly due to its uber-cute, fluffy face and paws. 

It’s also a fairly independent breed that may take some time but can be trained relatively quickly and without too much fuss. With moderate grooming requirements, the Shiba Inu pup is also a low-maintenance breed that won’t break the bank.

Which is the Cutest Dog Breed in Japan?

Shiba inu is the cutest dog breed in Japan. This little pup is often referred to as the “Shibainu”, or the “brushing dog”, as it was traditionally used to hunt small animals, such as rabbits, in rural areas of Japan. 

Boasting a deep chestnut coat, the shiba inu’s large eyes and expressive face have been known to steal the hearts of many. This breed is also quite adaptable and quite active, making them an ideal pet for a family or an individual.

Characteristics of Dog Breeds in Japan

The six dog breeds that are native to Japan are double-coated and intelligent spitz-type.

The double-coats help them survive in colder temperatures and mountainous terrain. It is also useful to withstand the exceptional climate changes of this island country.

Spitzes are characterized by long, thick fur and pointed ears and noses. And their tail can often be seen curling over the dog's back.

Other non-spitz breeds were imported to the country for companionship, fighting, or hunting.


Well, I have provided you with enough information on popular dog breeds in Japan.

I hope it has been enough to quench your thirst for knowledge on common dogs in Japan.

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