Japanese dog breeds have been gaining a lot of attention from the American public. Their distinctive features and personalities make them stand out among dogs that have become household names like the Golden Retriever.
This shift towards Japanese dog breeds has resulted in these rare breeds being costlier than the usual dogs found in America. In this article, we’ll be discussing ten of the most well-known Japanese dog breeds and whether or not they are a good fit for you.
1. Japanese Dog Breed – Shiba Inu
The Shiba Inu easily outstrips other Japanese dog breeds in terms of popularity. The Shiba Inus are most commonly of orange color, with white coloring on their cheeks, underbelly, and feet. Their ears stand upright, and they have medium-sized rounded eyes that are usually brown or black.
Other colors of a Shiba Inus coat are red, tan, and even white. Shibas also have distinctive tails that curve upwards towards their back. They are said to resemble the Akito and do have a passing resemblance to red foxes.
Shibas are considered to be smaller sized dogs, standing at 16 inches tall, and weighing only 25 pounds. This makes them ideal dogs for apartment living, or for families who wish to have small pets.
Despite their somewhat diminutive size, they are quite fearless and are very affectionate with their owners. They also have a bit of a possessive or territorial streak that needs to be addressed while they are being trained.
Shibas are generally quite independent, and they are also quite energetic, which means they require at least one walk per day.
Shibas are brilliant dogs, which makes them relatively easy to train. It is important to train them while they are still puppies, so they can be broken out of some of their more impulsive habits.
As Shibas were originally bred to be hunting dogs, they can also be trained for this purpose as they already have a genuine affinity for it.
If you’re in the market for this popular Japanese dog breed check out how much a Shibu Inu costs.
2. Japanese Dog Breed – Hokkaido Inu
The Hokkaido Inu is another Japanese dog breed that descends from the Japanese Spitz breed, just like the Shiba Inu, the Kai Ken, the Shikoku, and the Kishu Ken. The Hokkaido was bred by the Ainu people to withstand the harsh climate and also to hunt large game like bears and deer.
The Hokkaido Inu is a medium-sized dog with a height ranging from 18 to 22 inches. One of its distinctive features is a short tail that curls upwards, arching towards its back.
Hokkaido Inus have a lot of coat colors, ranging from the most characteristic orange-red coat to black and tan colors. They have a different coloring on their legs, chest, muzzle as well as around the eyebrow region. They have wide-set oval-shaped eyes that are commonly brown or black in color.
The Hokkaido Inu can withstand colder temperatures due to its undercoat, which sheds twice a year.
Thankfully, this Japanese dog breed doesn’t need to be groomed often, nor do they require their hair to be cut or shaved. The only recommended course of action during the shedding season is frequent brushing to get rid of dead hair as well as regular baths.
Hokkaido Inus are very active in nature, and they require frequent exercise. They are also adept at activity-based training, as well as competitions like flyball.
In terms of training, they can be considered a bit difficult, as they require a firm and consistent hand. If they sense that their trainer is being inconsistent or lenient, they can try to get stuff done their way.
The Ainu people used to revere the Hokkaido Inu for their loyalty and friendliness. If they are socialized from a young age, they can get along with people as well as children.
However, they do require near-constant supervision when they’re near smaller children. This is because they have a dominant streak, which can make them want to be the Alpha in the group. This tendency of theirs can be dealt with if the children are slightly older and establish themselves as ‘leaders’ in the house as well. 
3. Japanese Dog Breed – Shikoku Inu
The Shikoku Inu, also known as the Kochi Ken originated from the island of Shikoku in the Kochi prefecture. They were originally bred as hunting dogs and their compact frame does not hold them back from being adept, avid hunters.
The Shikoku Inu stands at 17-21 inches when they’re fully grown. It can, at times, be confused with the Akita or the Shiba Inu.
This Japanese dog breed is set apart by their wolf-like features, with a longer muzzle and sleek jowls. They have small, rounded eyes that are usually black or brown set rather widely on their broad forehead.
They also have a double coat, much like the Shiba Inu, which allows them to tolerate colder temperatures. This is a common trait among the different Japanese dog breeds.
Fortunately, they do not shed a lot generally but their undercoat sheds heavily once a year. During this time, the Shikoku Inu needs more frequent brushing and bathing.
The Shikoku Inu tends to have a sesame colored coating, with white colorings on the muzzle, belly, and legs. Their tail curls upwards towards their back and they have straight upright ears.
The Shikoku Inu may be a fierce hunter, but this Japanese dog breed is very docile and friendly with its owners, with deep-rooted loyalty.
As they were originally bred to be hunting dogs, they take up the skill quite naturally, but if you do not intend to use them as hunters then they should be kept active with daily walks and exercises.
They do require a firm hand during training, which should be started when they are puppies to ensure the best results.
Interestingly, the Shikoku Inu is quite rare even in Japan, and due to the isolated nature of the island they originated from, their breed is quite pure.
4. Japanese Dog Breed -Ryukyu Inu
The Ryukyu Inu was originally bred in the Okinawa island of Japan to hunt for boars and birds. They have a lean, athletic build and are one the rarest pure breeds in Japan due to a lot of interbreeding with other dogs.
The Ryukyu Inus have a lean frame, and their height varies around 17 to 19 inches, with males being larger than females.
This Japanese dog breed has a well-developed chest accompanied with a straight back. Their heads are broad, and they have a straight muzzle with noses that are usually black.
Their coats have a lot of variety in terms of color ranging from brindle shades in black, white, and red to simple one-color coats that are black, white, and sesame.
Their coats can be single and double-coated, which do not require excessive grooming besides shedding season.
Ryukyu Inus have a very patient temperament, and they are not very vocal. Due to their hunting background, they do have a high prey drive but surprisingly, this does not affect their interactions with children or their owners.
Their loyalty and affection for their owners is unparalleled, and they love to lead an active lifestyle. They are quite an intelligent breed, and due to their tepid temperament, they can make good emotional support dogs, though they may not be the best fit as disability assistants due to their prey drive.
Overall, the Ryukyu Inus are an interesting and versatile Japanese dog breed and a good fit as family dogs.
5. Japanese Dog Breed – Akita Inu
Akita Inus are one of the largest Japanese dog breeds with a height of 24-28 inches. They have a bulky, muscular frame, and are a very heavy-boned variation of the Spitz dogs.
They have a broad head with upright ears. They have rounded eyes that are usually brown or black and they have an overall intimidating outlook.
The Akita Inus have a complicated tapestry about their origin, and their breed bordered on extinction during World War 2. It was eventually brought back from extinction with the help of Morie Sawataishi.
They have two types of coats which include a standard coat length or a longer coat, where the latter is considered undesirable in the show ring. Whatever their coat type may be, they are heavy shedders and require frequent grooming, especially during shedding season, which happens two or three times each year.
The Akita Inus’ temperament can be intimidating, especially for owners who are adopting a pet for the first time. They tend to not get along with dogs of the same gender and can show hostility towards all strangers if they have not been properly socialized from a young age.
This is why it is imperative that their training be intense and thorough, as their dominant attitude can lead to unpleasant altercations if it is not dealt with from an early age.
Despite their strength and intimidating demeanor, they do have an affinity for children, which is bolstered by their protective streak. It is still advised to keep them under supervision around children, especially if they are not properly socialized.
They do have very loyal temperaments, displayed most famously by Hachiko, to which a monument has been erected in reverence from Japan.
They are quite active in nature and will require mentally stimulating exercises at least once a day.
Many people compare the Akita Inu to the Shiba Inu. Check out our Akita Inu vs Shibu Inu Comparison to understand what the differences are in these two Japanese dog breeds.
6. Japanese Dog Breed – Kishu Ken
The Kishu Ken is a breed that originated in the mountainous region of Kishu where its descendants were originally used to hunt for bears and other large game.
Their coat color is commonly white, and hunters preferred that because it makes them easy to spot amongst the foliage.
The Kishu Ken are medium-sized dogs that have an elongated muzzle with a black, or cream-colored nose. Their height reaches 17 to 22 inches and they have lithe yet muscular bodies which gives them an overall stocky build.
Much like the other Spitz breeds, they have upright ears, as well as a tail that curls upwards towards their back. They tend to have two coats and shed a moderate amount. However, they do shed twice a year when both their grooming and brushing should be increased.
Generally, they are thought to have an aloof attitude towards strangers while maintaining a highly loyal attitude with their owners.
They do have a pack mentality, which means they can find it tough to get along with other dogs without making a play for dominance.
Due to their origin as a hunting dog, they do have some of those residual instincts and have a high prey drive. This means it is probably unwise to have small pets or cats as additional pets.
It can be argued, however, that given proper socialization, they can probably get along with cats.
Their dominant streak means that they need a firm hand during training, which should be started when they are 6 to 8 weeks old. They are moderately easy to train and are adept at hunting, as well as obedience or agility-based competitions.
Unfortunately, the Kishu Ken is not the most adaptable to urban areas, but instead, they thrive when they have open spaces like yards to roam around in.
The Kishu Ken is an extremely rare breed in Japan, and are seldom if ever exported.
7. Japanese Dog Breed – Kai Ken
The Kai Ken is another Japanese dog breed that was bred to aid people to hunt large game. Their agile nature, coupled with their tenacity makes them among the best hunters. While in pursuit, they are known to swim or even climb trees if required.
In modern days, however, the Kai Ken is known for its loyalty and bravery and was recognized as a separate breed by the Japanese Kennel Club in 1943.
The Kai Ken is medium-sized with its height ranging from17-22 inches. This Japanese dog breed has a stocky yet muscular build.
The Kai Ken further diverts into two different breeds where the Shishi Inu Gata has a stockier build, with a bear-like face. The other type is known as the Shika Inu Gata and has a slimmer build coupled with a foxlike, tapered muzzle.
The Kai Ken’s coat is generally clean and does not have the distinctive dog smell. They do, however, shed quite a bit, especially during shedding season which happens 2 to 3 times a year.
This means that they only require light, weekly grooming with daily brushing during seasonal shedding time.
The Kai Ken has a fairly docile temperament, and despite its high prey drive, it can get along well other pets if properly socialized.
It is also a good guard dog as it has a lot of protective instincts, and can be a suitable companion for young children, provided it is kept under supervision.
As it is a fairly intelligent Japanese dog breed, training can be considered easy, and its active nature can make it perfect for agility training.
Fortunately, it can adapt to apartment living. Due to its high prey drive, however, it is probably best to not give it time off-leash, unless the area is properly fenced off. 
8. Japanese Dog Breed – Tosa Inu
The Tosa Inu is among the larger Japanese dog breeds present in Japan. Its height hovers around 24 inches, and weight ranging from 37 to 90 kg. This particular dog has a rather sordid past, as it was originally bred to be fighting dogs.
The Tosa Inu has a large, broad head with a squared muzzle. They have small, high-set ears with a thick, muscular neck. They have a straight long tail, which is thicker at the base with it tapering towards the end.
Tosa Inus have a short, coarse coat that comes in a range of colors like red, fawn, apricot, yellow, black and brindle. They sometimes have white coloring on their chest as well as their feet. They don’t tend to shed a lot
In terms of their temperament, these dogs are not vocal at all. This reasoning is attributed to their fighting background, in which dogs were expected to be silent while they were fighting.
They do have a great affinity for their owners and are incredibly sensitive to their commands.
The best way to train a Tosa Inu is to start on-leash and off-leash training as well as socialization from a young age.
They do have a slightly dominant streak and can gauge if their trainer is unsure, which makes them want to establish themselves as pack leaders.
The Tosa Inu has a surprisingly docile personality and is quite gentle with children. It can act indifferently towards strangers, but this can be worked on during the socialization aspect of their training.
The Tosa Inu does require, at the very least, some light walking on a daily basis but despite its size, it can adapt to apartment living.
9. Japanese Dog Breed – Karafuto Ken
The Sanshu Inu, also known as the Sakhalin Husky is actually the rarest Japanese dog breed in the world, with only 2 known purebred puppies present in the world by 2011.
However, some dogs of this breed are thought to be residing in the wild in the Sakhalin island in Japan.
These huskies are quite revered in Japan due to an infamous expedition in Antarctica where 6 Sanshu Inus had to be left behind. Once people returned to Antarctica a year later, two of the dogs had still managed to survive.
These huskies have very distinctive facial features, with a short snout and broad, domed forehead. Their facial resemblance to bears is uncanny, and makes them look even more unique.
They are well-adapted to deal with the cold and are known to have a resilient spirit as well as an active mindset.
They like to be working dogs, and they need to be taken on at least one walk daily otherwise they can become bored or disruptive.
Their loyalty to their owners is unparalleled, however, they do need a firm and consistent hand while they are being trained and socialized.
10. Japanese Dog Breed – Sanshu Inu
The Sanshu Inu was bred around 1910 and is a cross between a Chinese Chow Chow, the Aichi dog, as well as other Japanese dog breeds.
They were bred to be guard dogs or protectors. They are thought to be medium-sized dogs, with a height ranging from 18 to 22 inches, with males tending to be larger than females.
They are thought to be visually similar to the Hokkaido Inu the most but the distinctive feature which sets them apart is their tale, which is straight and feathered.
Their coats do have a variety of colors such as tan, red, grey or fawn. They have upright ears that rest high on their rounded forehead. They also have a long muzzle and wide-set oval eyes.
They do not need to be groomed or brushed often as they tend to clean themselves much like cats do. This makes them relatively low maintenance.
They do, however, need to be taken out on walks or jogs at least once a day, so that they do not become bored or disruptive.
In terms of temperament, the Sanshu Inu is friendly and loyal, always putting their owner’s demands first. This makes relatively easy dogs to train provided they are given plenty of positive reinforcement. 
Japan is home to some of the most interesting and diverse dog breeds. Dogs are highly revered in Japan and are considered to be life long companions.
All of the Japanese dog breeds noted above have their individual traits that sets them apart from others. Which breed fits your need best depends on your availability and living conditions. For instance, if you want a family dog, then you may be better suited with a Ryuku Inu.
Once you have decided on a Japanese dog breed that is the right fit for you, you can get in touch with breeders to see if any of these dogs are available for adoption.
- Mychelle Blake, 10 True Japanese Dog Breeds and 4 Imposters, https://dogs.lovetoknow.com/wiki/Japanese_Dog_Breeds
- Hannah Warner, Top 5 Japanese Dog Breeds, https://www.yummypets.com/mag/2017/04/09/97917/top-5-japanese-dog-breeds
- The 4 Most Popular Japanese Dog Breeds, https://www.pets4homes.co.uk/pet-advice/the-four-most-popular-japanese-dog-breeds.html