History and Characteristics

The Shikoku Ken is one of the six native, Japanese spitz-type dogs. Native to the mountainous region of the Kochi Prefecture on the Island of Shikoku, these athletic and agile dogs are accomplished big game hunters.  The breed owes its foundation to medium-sized dogs of ancient Japan. Developed by the matagi (hunters in Japan that remained true to ancient traditions), the Shikoku Ken is prized for its tenacity in the face of large and dangerous game (such as wild boar) as well as their relative calm around the family and home.

Originally known as the Tosa Ken, they were renamed so as not to be confused with the Tosa Fighting Dog. The breed’s official name is Shikoku Ken (四国犬), but is sometimes referred to as “Kochi Ken” for the area in Japan where they originate from, or less commonly “Shikoku Inu”. Some people also refer to them as “Shikoku Dog” since ken and inu are the Japanese words for dog. Both ken and inu are used interchangeably, though recently more people are reading 犬 as ken instead of inu. A somewhat jokingly used name for the Shikoku Ken is “Japanese Wolf Dog” due to the “wolfy” coloring that many Shikoku display. This term can be seen as controversial in North America due to the mislabeling of different breeds and mixes as “wolfdogs” and the bans on wolves and wolf dogs as pets in some areas.

In post World War I Japan, the relative prosperity of the country succumbed to economic hardship as the Showa period began in 1926. Once relatively common, luxuries such as dog ownership became increasingly uncommon. In 1930, a study conducted by Japanese cynologist Haruo Isogai identified the six native japanese breeds: Shiba Inu, Hokkaido Inu, Kai Ken, Shikoku Ken, Kishu Ken, and Akita Inu. Further, Isogai grouped these six breeds into three categories based on size: small, medium, and large. The "Shika Inu", or medium-sized Japanese dogs, are the Hokkaido, Kai, Shikoku, and Kishu.

In 1928, the Nihon Ken Hozonkai (NIPPO) was formed. NIPPO is an organization dedicated to the preservation of the six native Japanese spitz-type dogs. The NIPPO founders initially focused their efforts on the Akita and the Shiba, but in 1937 NIPPO succeeded in having the Shikoku Ken declared a "Living Natural Monument" of Japan and a major reconstruction effort was undertaken.

Out of the reconstruction effort, three distinct lines of the Shikoku were developed: the Awa, the Hongawa and the Hata all named after the area they originated from within the Kochi prefecture. More recently the distinction between these lines has been blurred as remote areas where the dogs originated became easier to access and lines were cross-bred. The modern Shikoku is thought to descend mainly from the Hongawa and Hata lines as the Awa line essentially disappeared as a result of the hardships caused by World War II and a lack of quality specimens due to cross breeding with outside dogs.
One of the foundation dogs of the Hata line was "Gomago," who was born in 1934. He obtained a Best in Show title in 1940. The principle elements of the Hata line included a generally heavier, stockier build and thicker, longer, and more profuse coats; skulls tended to be broader, ears tidier and smaller, and movement ponderous. Much of the Hongawa line is attributable to the foundation dog "Choushungo" who took best in show the following year and was also born in 1934. These dogs were characterized by light, flowing movement, long, strong limbs with excellent angulation, good ear set and correct eye colour. Their outer coats were harsh and weatherproof, but their protective undercoats did not match the quality of the Hata line. Hongawa Shikoku also tended to be slender and have a more elegant build. Ultimately it was the Hongawa Shikoku that was to have the most influence on the direction of the breed as we know it today. Two other notable Shikoku from the same period are "Kusugo" who took best in show in 1939 and "Kumago." These four dogs formed much of the foundation for the modern day Shikoku Ken. (Excerpted from here.)

The Shikoku Ken is described as: "A medium-sized dog with well balanced and well developed clean cut muscles. It has pricked ears and a curled or sickle tail. Conformation: strong, well-boned and compact." Shikoku tend to run in the range of 30-55lbs as adults, with males being larger and slightly more square in build.

There are four accepted coat colors in the standard: goma (sesame), aka (red), kuro (black, a.k.a black and tan), and shiro (white/cream). There are three types of goma (sesame): kuro-goma (more black than light colored hairs), aka-goma (red base with black hairs mixed in), and shiro-goma (white base with black hairs mixed in).  Shiro (white) is not desirable in the Shikoku and is penalized heavily in the conformation ring. For many years black was not popular with many breeders leading to the misconception that it is not desirable; this is false. Although black is not very popular in the show ring, many experienced Shikoku breeders in Japan will breed black Shikoku (especially males) to maintain darker colors and thicker coats in their blood lines. The black coloration was especially prevalent in the original Hongawa dogs. All Shikoku should have "urajiro" which are markings of a white or cream color presented on the ventral portions of the body and legs and cheeks and brow of the head.


The Shikoku is more eager to please its owner than some of the other Nihon Ken (the Shiba being most notable here in North America), but is still an independent thinker and often will not listen or ignore commands. Shikoku can be territorial and make reasonable watch dogs, but are not by nature guard dogs or protection dogs. The Shikoku Ken is one of the rarest of the Nihon Ken. Only a small number are known to exist outside of Japan. Some estimates put this number around 100 (as of 2010). Even in Japan the breed is very rare with estimated annual registrations around 300-500. The total number of Shikoku Ken in Japan is estimated to be between 5,000-8,000.

The Shikoku Ken is now recognized by several kennel clubs around the world, including the Canadian Kennel Club (CKC) in the Hound group, the American Kennel Club (AKC) in AKC Foundation Stock Service, the United Kennel Club (UKC) in the Northern Breed group, and the Fédération cynologique internationale (FCI) in the Spitz and Primitive Dog group.

For a comparison of the six native Japanese breeds, click here.

History referenced from Mr. Shigeru Kato’s blog here.