Rare Breed Spotlight: Shikoku

Meet one of Japan’s best-kept secrets: a versatile and loyal hunter in an attractive package.

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The rarest of Japan’s native breeds, the Shikoku is a medium-sized, spitz-type dog whose origin dates back thousands of years to an ancestor known as the Nihonken. This primitive Japanese breed existed during the Jomon Period (10,000 to 300 B.C.), according to archaeological findings, and was the progenitor of six hunting breeds: the Akita, Hokkaido, Keshu, Kai Ken, Shiba Inu and Shikoku, which developed in different prefectures in Japan.

The Shikoku acquired its name from the island of Shikoku where it was developed. The island’s largest and least-populated prefecture was Kochi, a remote and mountainous area on the southwestern coast of the island facing the Pacific Ocean. The region’s inaccessibility was instrumental in maintaining pure lineage of the Shikoku during its development.

Veritable varieties
The region’s isolation and terrain that made travel there nearly impossible resulted in two original bloodlines – eastern and western, from which five strains emerged. As the breed progressed, a trio of varieties was accepted as making up the Shikoku: the Hongawa, Hata Uwahara and Hawa (also known as Ehime-ken Shuso-gun or Awa). Each variety takes its name from the area of origin.

The Hongawa variety was raised in the least-accessible area and was therefore considered to be the purest line because there was little chance for cross-breeding. Hongawa was sparsely populated; fewer than 800 people occupied an area of 208 square kilometers at last count (2003).

The Hongawa (sometimes spelled Honkawa) line was noted for its light bone structure, which contributed to a lean build and agile movement. The Hata line carried heavier bone than the Hongawa, with well-developed forequarters and a wider skull. The three lines were mixed in 1955 with the goal of improving the breed.

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