Sunday, March 8, 2009

The hound, Hachi

In 1924, Hidesaburō Ueno, a professor at Imperial U.*, brought an akita pup from the snow country (Yukiguni), of Akita prefecture, to live with him. He would go to Shibuya station, in the morning accompanied by his hound, to travel to work. When the train returned in the afternoon, the dog would be waiting. One day, the next year, the professor was felled with a stroke. He never returned, and soon died. Hachi (*10 November 1923,†8 March 1935), the hound, was taken away, but would return to their old residence, until one day he returned to Shibuya station. This he would do for, more than, nine years.

People noticed. He was acknowledged, greeted and fed. Newspaper articles were written. A song was sung in schools by children. Hachikō was an exemplar of loyalty and faithfulness. These were the qualities the people, of the nation, should have for their country, and emperor.

People donated money for a statue of Hachikō†, while he was still a living model. When he died, a funeral service with many mourners gathered. He was stuffed, and placed as a museum exhibit. His bones were buried near his master.

The war came. The bronze statue, by Ando Teru, was melted in 1944 for armament. The akita breed had declined to a small number in the early twentieth century, after having been a favorite hunting dog of samurai. The furry and muscular hounds took down bears. During the war, dogs were butchered for food and pelt; similar stories were true in other lands too, certain breeds were nearing vanishing. In certain locales, the harboring of hounds became illegal, police would kill the animals. People who kept, and hid, their companions were harassed by their, own, family members.

Recently a book has been published, by Martha Sherrill, that tells the story of Morie Sawataishi’s rôle in saving the akita. From 1944 til he died in 2008, Sawataishi cared for the breed. The akita is a loyal breed of a loyal animal, that, has regular habits.

After the war a new statue‡ came to Shibuya station and it is, again, a landmark. A film, Hachikō Monogatari (1987), was made. This year an american version, set in New England, will be released. The 8th of April an annual remembrance takes place, for Hachikō, at the railway station.
*now Tokyo U.
†Hachikō, a familiar diminutive form
‡ by the sculptor’s son, Takeshi; other statues have followed

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