Rare films show Akita Inu looked totally different 60 years ago
Asahi Shimbun by Masahiko Ohta/ Staff Writer March 14, 2018
An image captured from an 8mm film shot about 60 years ago shows a large variety of Akita Inu having dappled fur, bent ears and other features, which are largely different from that of today's breed. (Provided by Yamazaki University of Animal Nursing)
An Akita Inu appearing in a dog show in 1958 has different features from that of the breed today. (Image from a video provided by Yamazaki University of Animal Nursing)
An Akita Inu appearing in a dog show in 1958 has bent ears, which differs from the common features of the Akita Inu of today. (Image from a film provided by Yamazaki University of Animal Nursing)
An Akita Inu appears in a dog show in 1958 (Image from a film provided by Yamazaki University of Animal Nursing)
An Akita Inu appearing in a dog show in 1971 has common features of the breed of today. (Image from a film provided by Yamazaki University of Animal Nursing)
Japan's beloved dog, the Akita Inu, looked nearly unrecognizable about 60 years ago from its familiar brown body and white face of today, according to rare films that have surfaced.
The 8mm films, capturing the breed from the 1950s through the 1980s, show a different appearance and characteristics of the dog with dappled fur and drooping ears.
The cache of 438 films was donated to the Yamazaki University of Animal Nursing from the Akita-inu association, which was established in 1948, before the association disbanded in 2016.
It is extremely rare for images of Akita Inu of those times to have been preserved collectively, according to the university.
“(The videos) will enable us to unravel how the Akita Inu has transformed to its current appearance through comprehensive study and comparison of the species by using pedigree and other information as well,” said Mieko Oguro, a professor of molecular biology at the university.
“Studies on the genetic influence on color of its fur and characteristics as well as studies on the change of relationship between dogs and humans will be advanced," said Oguro, who pointed out the advantages of the use of the background and people's behavior captured in the films for the studies.
Since it is easy to see movements and facial expressions of the dogs in the moving images, viewers can identify and distinguish the relationship between the dogs and humans as well as their behavioral patterns.
“The number of dogs that become skittish in front of people was decreasing in comparison to the videos taken in 1958 and 1971,” said Toshiyuki Kurose, who served as the last chairman of the Akita Inu association. “The films show that the number of 'good' Akita Inu, including their appearance, had increased.”
The Yamazaki University of Animal Nursing plans to digitize all the films and is considering raising the funding through crowdfunding.
The Akita Inu breed originated in the snow country of Akita Prefecture in northeastern Japan. The dogs are famed for their unswerving loyalty, calm and cool-headed character.
The transformation of the Akita Inu is the result of it being bred to meet the changing needs of the times.
In and after the Meiji Era (1868-1912), the Akita Inu were bred with Western dogs to produce fighting dogs.
During World War II, the number of the dogs plunged dramatically as they were delivered to the government to procure their fur for military garments.
In addition, many of the species were mated with German shepherds and other breeds to produce dogs for military use, such as guard duty and delivering messages. This extensive breeding resulted in a large number of Akita Inu existing in the period immediately after the war.
To bring back the standards of the original Akita Inu, the Akita Inu dogs association was established by veterinarians and other interested groups. The association decided to select Akita Inu that are closer to the original appearance and characters of the species and bred these dogs.
The association’s efforts appear to have borne fruit in light of the images taken in 1958 and 1971. In the 1958 film taken at the first Akita Inu dog show hosted by the association's branch in Chiba Prefecture, some Akita Inu had too large of ears or erect ears folded over toward the front to form a flap. Others were covered in dappled fur just like Western dogs or had black noses.
Meanwhile, the majority of Akita Inu appearing in a video taken at a dog show in 1971 had erect ears, which is one of the characteristics of the breed, and the colors of their coats were red, white and a tiger pattern.
During the process to restore the pure breed, timid dogs or those too dependent on humans were eliminated from the breeding project.
Akita Inu are popular in Japan and overseas.
The story of Hachiko, a legendary Akita Inu that waited at Tokyo’s Shibuya Station every day to greet his master on his return from work even for 10 years after the master’s death, has long been cherished and recounted.
Alina Zagitova, the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic women's figure skating gold medalist, has expressed a strong desire to own an Akita Inu.