Hachiko: A Heart-Warming Tale of Love and Loyalty in Pre-War Japan

Hachiko: The Dog Who Waited Everyday for Ten Years

In human history, there are a couple of animals that have made such a massive impact to society, that they surely would not be forgotten. There is Laika, the first dog who was able to go to space, and she became a part of revolutionizing space travel for the succeeding years. While Laika was not fortunate enough to have made it back from her space journey, Ham the Chimp was able to successfully fly into, and back from space. Meanwhile, there are sad tales of animal struggles and untoward killing in the face of Harambe the gorilla, and Cecil the Lion. There are also those stories of courageous pets that saved their owner’s lives, through their undying love and devotion.

 This article will focus on a story of a dog's unfaltering loyalty to his owner. His name was Hachiko, and his story would be one of the most heart-wrenching, and tear-jerking stories ever told of a pet's love for his master. To this day, it has been almost ninety years since Hachiko's passing, yet his popularity never wavered. In fact, the story of Hachiko waiting just outside Shibuya's train station gains more popularity every year and has become an iconic part of Japan's history.

A Brief Background: Hachiko’s Breed and the Meaning Behind His Name

So who exactly is Hachiko? First of all, he is a purebred Akita – a very common dog breed that is native to Japan. His exact birth date was recorded to be on the 10th of November, in 1923. There is not a lot of information regarding the whereabouts of his original owner, aside from the fact Hachiko was born in Akita Prefecture. It is worth noting that Akita Prefecture, as the name suggests, is the place of origin of Hachiko's particular breed. It was only one year later when a university professor named Hidesaburo Ueno received a one-year-old Hachiko as a gift. The lovable Akita was already named Hachiko at the time, which directly translates to eight and prince. “Hachi”, which meant eight, signified that he was the eight of the litter.

His new owner, Hidesaburo Ueno, retained the name Hachiko for his new companion. Aside from being the guardian of the famous dog, Professor Ueno has made a name for himself in the field of agricultural engineering. Right after finishing graduate school in 1900, he joined his alma mater, the Tokyo Imperial University, as an assistant professor. He was very passionate about teaching and would go on to teach for the rest of his life. Together, Hachiko and Professor Ueno would be an inseparable tandem for the next period of their lives.

Hachiko’s Full Legacy: Beneath the Famous Movie

The story of Hachiko is definitely one that is worth telling. It began the moment he was received by Professor Ueno as a pet. Since Ueno was a professor at Tokyo University, he was required to commute every day from his residence in Shibuya going to the university campus. Upon getting his new pet, he immediately trained him to learn how to walk from his residence to the nearby train station. It was an easy feat for Hachiko, and it became a routine for both of them. For the next year, the duo would meet up every afternoon in the Shibuya station, with Hachiko patiently waiting for his owner to get off the train.

Unfortunately, the happiness of the two was short-lived. After a year of companionship, Professor Ueno died from a cerebral hemorrhage in May 1925. What is more unfortunate is that his death came while he was in the middle of a lecture in the university. This meant that for Hachiko, it was just like any other day where he would wait for his owner at the Shibuya station. Unbeknownst to him, he was not bound to come back today.

It may have been the end of Professor Ueno’s life, but it definitely was not the end of Hachiko’s story. In fact, it was only the beginning of the next chapter in Hachiko’s life. With the unexpected death of his owner, Hachiko proceeded with the daily routine to wait for him outside Shibuya station every day, showing that not even death can separate him from his master. In fact, he continued with this routine for the next ten years, hoping that his master would one day come home.

During the first few months, people started noticing the dog waiting alone. Regular commuters were able to identify immediately that this was the same dog who used to pick up his master from the train station every day. However, nobody truly made a conscious effort to help him. It took seven years before Hachiko gained popularity, not just in the local city, but all throughout Japan.

Hachiko's popularity began when Hikoricho Saito noticed the dog at a chance encounter in Shibuya station. Coincidentally, Saito was an expert on Akita's (Hachiko's breed) and also knew him as the dog of his Professor Ueno. Out of curiosity, Saito decided to follow where the Akita was going to after waiting in the train station. This led him to the home of Kikuzaboro Kobayashi, who was previously employed by Professor Ueno for garden upkeep. This sparked Saito's interest over Hachiko, and he decided to interview Kikuzaboro about him. It was then that he learned the full story of how Hachiko has been waiting for his dead owner for the past seven years.

Being extremely moved by the story, coupled with his expertise on the Akita breed, Saito decided to publish a series of articles in the publication called Asahi Shimbun. The first article that put the spotlight on Hachiko was published on the 4th of October in 1932, and the rest of Japan was touched by this incredible story. This elevated Hachiko, not just into celebrity status, but it was also an occasion that gave the Japanese an overall appreciation of the Akita breed as well. At the time, around thirty purebred Akita’s remained, with Hachiko already included in the headcount.

Hachiko remained loyal to Professor Ueno until his very last breath. Due to the popularity of Saito's articles on Hachiko, more people became sympathetic towards him; hence, they would bring him food to eat. This went on for another three years. Up until 1935, Hachiko relied deeply on the kindness of strangers. Unfortunately, in 1935, Hachiko was laid to rest. By the time, he was already eleven years old.

It took almost a century for researchers to find out what truly killed the people’s beloved dog. During his death, some sticks from skewers were found in his stomach, however, there was no scientific evidence back then that the presence of the sticks was the cause of his death. Thankfully, with the help of modern-day knowledge, it was finally concluded that the main cause of his death on the 8th of March 1935 was from terminal cancer and a filarial infection.

After Hachiko’s death, the National Science Museum in Tokyo preserved Hachiko’s fur where it is still on display up to this day. Meanwhile, the rest of his body was cremated, and his ashes were buried in a grave, right beside where Professor Ueno was laid to rest ten years ago.

The Original Movie Hachiko Monogatari vs the American Remake

By now, almost everyone has watched or at least have heard of the famous movie called Hachi that starred Hollywood actor Richard Gere. However, a less popular version predates this film by twenty years. In 1987, the first film that was based on Hachiko’s life was released. The original movie was entitled “Hachiko Monogatari”, which translates to “The Tale of Hachiko”. The premise of the story focused on Hachiko’s life, from his day of birth up to his death, where the film ended with Hachiko and Professor Ueno reunited in the afterlife. This film was well received in Japan during its time of release.

The American retelling of Hachiko’s story was released in 2009, and the rising popularity of Hachiko outside Japan could be attributed greatly to this film. However, it is worth noting that while the original film Hachiko Monogatari attempted to stick to the real life story of Hachiko, the American version added some tweaks on the story – making this film a bit more loosely based on Hachiko’s life.

 The first and main difference between the two movies is that the American version actually names the dog in the story as Hachi (instead of Hachiko). This provided a bit of confusion for westerners who were traveling to Japan since they were asking from Hachi’s statue, and Hachiko was not necessarily known as Hachi in Japan. The second change in the plot is the setting, wherein the film was set in an American town instead of Tokyo Japan. This was understandable, however, since the film was meant to target an American audience anyway. Meanwhile, the premise of the story tried to retain the essence of the original story, with a few adjustments. For example, instead of being gifted to the professor, the film showed that the professor met Hachi through a chance encounter.

Nevertheless, both films have been well received, and are definitely a must watch for those who are interested in learning about Hachiko’s life, avid pet lovers, or simply just looking for a nice movie to watch.

Hachiko in Pop Culture: Books, Movies, and Television

Aside from film adaptations of Hachiko's life, there are also several books written about him. Most of these books were targeted towards young children, with each version varying for the specific age demographic that the book aims to cater to. Several of these books were illustrated since they cater to younger readers. Other book adaptations on Hachiko's life were in the form of short novels.

The story of Hachiko became very popular in Japanese pop culture. In fact, there are direct and indirect references to Hachiko and his life in different manga and anime. He was usually used as an inspiration to depict dogs who were extremely loyal to their owners. Even the famous Pokémon franchise has already paid homage to Hachiko. An anime in Japan called Pokemon: Master Quest, featured a storyline previously wherein the Pokemon Ninetales spent a lifetime waiting for his master – this was a good parallel to Hachiko’s own story.

Travel Tips: Where to Find Hachiko’s Statues in Japan and other Facts

For those who are traveling to Japan to emerge in its culture and history, there are several statues of Hachiko that are worth visiting for fun. Of course, the most popular Hachiko statue would be in Shibuya Station, where he spent a decade waiting for his beloved owner. It is worth noting, however, that the current Hachiko statue in Shibuya is no longer original. The first Hachiko statue was erected while the real Hachiko was still alive – this was in April of 1934. The dog was even present at the unveiling of his own statue, and it was quite a glorious feat.

Unfortunately, while Japan engaged in World War II, the demand for the metal to be used in the war rose, causing the statue to be melted and recycled. It took three years of post-war recovery before another statue was unveiled again. The second Hachiko statue was unveiled in August 1948, and this is now the popular landmark of Shibuya station's official Hachiko Exit. This location is where pet lovers unite every 8th of March annually, to remember, celebrate and honor the memory of Japan’s favorite pet. This has been a yearly tradition since 1936, which was his first death anniversary.

Looking back at Hachiko’s past, one will remember that he was not originally from Tokyo. Instead, he was actually born in Odate at Akita Prefecture. To pay homage to Hachiko, his hometown set-up a statue that looks similar to the one in Shibuya Station. This is located just outside of the Akita Dog Museum.

The most recent Hachiko statue to be unveiled is also the most touching of them all. Eighty years after his death, the University of Tokyo unveiled a statue that included not just Hachiko, but no other that Professor Hidesaburo Ueno. The statue depicted a happy image of Hachiko greeting his master upon his return. In a way, this statue signified that the duo was finally reunited in death. The statue is located in the Agriculture Department, where Professor Ueno taught during most years of his life. Aside from being a past faculty member, Professor Ueno himself was an undergraduate and graduate degree holder from the exact department of Tokyo University. Hence, in a way, this was also a tribute to Professor Ueno's contributions to the university and his professional field.

As a proof of Hachiko’s undeniable popularity, he also has a statue in Rhode Island. Rhode Island was the setting of the American movie adaptation of Hachiko’s life; hence, the city of Woonsocket gained popularity for its connection to Hachiko. The city government used the newly found popularity to boost tourism in the city and elevated it to the next level by unveiling the Hachiko statue through a partnership with the Japanese Consulate. A lesser-known statue of Hachiko was also erected at New Jersey State’s pet cemetery.

A Treat for Tourists in Japan: Hachiko Toys and Collectibles

Tourists who are traveling to Japan, especially Americans, are all familiar with Hachiko and his story, thanks to the film starring Richard Gere. Naturally, a good portion of this population would want to bring home Hachiko memorabilia as a token from his or her Japan trip.

For anyone who is looking into buying Hachiko memorabilia or souvenirs, one’s best bet would be to buy from the National Museum of Science and Nature. This museum is located in Ueno, Tokyo, and as mentioned above, this has been the home of Hachiko's preserved fur for almost a century already. The most common offering in the museum's gift shop are postcards, however, they have also started selling adorable collectible figurines just recently.

 While there are not a lot of mainstream stores that focus on selling Hachiko inspired merchandise, the chances of finding any themed item would either be in Tokyo (particularly in Shibuya) or in Akita itself. The breed Akita is quite popular in Akita prefecture, so there is probably a good selection of Akita inspired goods that could be purchased within the city. Even though they are not exactly Hachiko merchandise, these will be similar since Hachiko is an Akita, and it will nevertheless be a cute token to bring home.