National Treasures of Japan

In addition to the Shikoku Ken, there are five other native Japanese dog breeds. The Kishu Ken, Kai Ken, and Hokkaido Ken are in the medium size category and are all very rare dog breeds, even in Japan. The more commonly known breeds are the small Shiba Inu and the largest of the six, the Akita Inu (also called Japanese Akita to differentiate from the American Akita).

The original Japanese standard includes three very important intrinsic characteristics of these dogs: Kan-I, Ryousei and Soboku. Kani-I means “intense strength of character and dignity,” bold and fierce without being aggressive. Ryousei means “faithful and obedient,” having total trust and attachment to their owner, expressing full bond and partnership. Soboku is “natural beauty from a seasoned maturity and modest appearance,” they should be refined and elegant without being “flashy”, which is so popular in Western breeds.


While all six breeds overlap in some areas and are very similar when compared to breeds like Golden Retrievers or German Shepherds, each breed is unique and can have their own quirks and challenges. High prey drive, keen intelligence, independence, and aloofness with strangers are common traits among all of the Nihon Ken breeds.

Kishu Ken

Fairly similar to Shikoku in temperament and size, the average Kishu tends to be less suspicious of strange people and loves to please their owner. Many Shikoku-Kishu households report that the two breeds have compatible play styles and get along well.

Kishu, like Shikoku, are typically tolerant of other animals and dogs that they are raised with, but may be more reactive towards animals outside of the family.

According to some sources, it is very likely that ancient ancestors of the Kishu Ken were intentionally crossed with wolves to produce more natural hunting instincts.

For more information or to find a Kishu Ken breeder, visit

Kishu photos courtesy of Akiyama no Roushya @

Kai Ken

The Kai Ken is often recognized for it’s striking brindle coat, which lends to its other name - Tora Inu (Tiger Dog). Kai are often less likely to be reactive to strange dogs and their softer, less combative nature can make them an ideal fit for a Shiba household. They still pack a lot of energy and have an intense prey drive, and Kai Ken can be suitable housemates for Shikoku.

For more information and to locate a Kai Ken breeder, please visit

Hokkaido Ken

Where Shikoku Ken and Kishu Ken are renowned boar hunting breeds, the Hokkaido Ken has been used for its skills to hunt bear and deer. Also called the Ainu Ken after the original indigenous people of Japan. There are currently very few Hokkaido in North America, but breeding efforts have successfully produced several litters in the United States. Hokkaido tend to be more vocal than the other Nihon Ken, especially when greeting their people.

“The Ainu passed on stories by word of mouth, and several legends featured dogs. In the legend of the birth of the Ainu people, a princess was washed ashore on a desolate beach. As she was crying over her plight a white dog appeared and brought her food. From that day on the dog lived with her, and one day a child was born between them. The child grew to be strong and powerful, and the forefather of the Ainu.” From Mr. Shigeru Kato’s Nihon Ken blog:

For more information and to locate a Hokkaido Ken breeder, please visit

Shiba Inu

Shiba are the smallest and most popular of the Nihon Ken. Their fairly recent viral popularity in North America has had both negative and positive effects for the breed. Due to their cute appearance demand for the breed has increased, which has caused an upsurge in the number of Shiba produced in irresponsible settings such as backyard breeding operations and puppy mills. While well bred Shibas can still be very challenging, especially for people coming from non-primitive breed experience, they can also make very wonderful companions for the right people. It is essential that these dogs (as is true for all of the Nihon Ken) are carefully socialized while they are still young, and continue to be exposed to well-socialized dogs and respectful people throughout their lives.

If you are interested in adding a Shiba to your household, please make sure to select a breeder carefully as there are now many irresponsible breeders in North America. Visit for a list of recommended breeders and more information on the breed.

Akita Inu

The Akita Inu, or Japanese Akita, is the largest of the six native Japanese breeds. Most people who have met an Akita are likely more familiar with the American Akita which is now considered a separate breed everywhere except with the AKC. Early ancestors of this breed were similar in size to the other medium sized Nihon Ken and were used to hunt bear and deer. With the popularity of dog fighting in Japan, before it was outlawed, Akita were selectively bred to be larger and more suited towards fighting than hunting.

Over time the Akita has been returned to its “original state” in Japan, but not before many of the heavier Akitas were imported to the United States, leading to the drastic split in breed type and eventually to the formation of a separate breed entirely.

You can visit the club website at for more information on the Akita.