Last week we took a look at a loyal pet baboon. Today we spotlight a more usual type of pet: a dog. But not just any old dog. He was a dog who loved his owner so much that he waited for him for almost ten years. It’s a deeply sad yet fascinating story.
Hachiko was a golden brown Akita born on 10 November 1923 in the city of Odate in Akita Prefecture. As a puppy he came to live with Prof Hidesaburo Ueno, a professor of agriculture at the University of Tokyo (then called Tokyo Imperial University).
Hachi means “eight” – a lucky number in Japan and ko equates to “affection.”
Professor Ueno loved Hachiko very much and treated him like a son. They grew inseparable.
Hachiko began the habit waiting at the Shibuya Station every day for the professor to return from work. For hours he would keep his vigil until the train pulled in every afternoon then Hachiko’s face would light up with joy as he spotted the familiar face drawing near. They would then walk home together in perfect companionship. However this happy state of affairs lasted less than two years.
Tragedy struck on 21 May 1925 when Professor Ueko collapsed at the university while giving a lecture. He had suffered a fatal brain haemorrhage and Hachiko would wait in vain that day and every day for the nine years, nine months and fifteen days which followed.
Hirokichi Saito was one of Ueno’s students and became an expert on the Akita dog breed. One day he followed Hachiko home to the professor’s gardener, Kikuzaboro Kobayashi, where Hachiko would spend the nights after his long vigil. He heard the whole story from Kobayashi, who told him how the dog would go each day to the nearby station and return to the Kobayachi home each evening.
Saito’s research on Akitas found there were only 30 purebred ones in the whole country at the time. His research was vital in preserving the breed for the future.
After a while people began taking notice of Hachiko’s daily vigil. Saito wrote an article which appeared in the Asari Shimbun on 4 October 1932, many folk came from far and near to pay homage to him and offer him little treats. Hachiko became a hero throughout the nation and an example of devotion and loyalty and he was named “Chuken-Hachiko” – Hachiko the faithful dog.
An artist created a statue of Hachiko which was unveiled outside the station in April 1934 with the world’s most famous Akita as guest of honour.
Hachiko finally succumbed to the hard life he had chosen and his body was found on a Shibuya street on the morning of 8 March 1935. Here is the last known pic of Hachiko showing Professor Ueko’s widow Yaeko with some station workers, grieving over the body of their faithful friend.
Heartbreaking, but finally at peace from the aches and pains of old age and exposure to the elements. He was 11.
The cause of death was found to be terminal cancer and a filarial infection.
Four yakitori skewers were found in Hachiko’s stomach, but these didn’t harm his stomach or contribute to his death. Evidently he wolfed them down skewer and all!
Hachiko’s body was cremated and his ashes were interred next to those of his master in Aoyama Cemetery, Tokyo.
His fur was preserved and a stuffed and mounted likeness of Hachiko is on permanent display at the National Science Museum, Ueno, Tokyo.
Hachi’s original statue was melted down during the lean Imperial war years and was replaced with a replica` after peace was restored. The son of the creator f the original statue was given the honour of sculpting the new one which was unveiled in August 1948.
There are also two statues of Hachiko in his birthplace of Odate: one in front of the station and another at the entrance to the Akita Dog Museum.
Every year on 8 March a ceremony is held at Shibuya Station to commemorate Hachiko’s life and death.
Hachi’s story was told in a movie released in Japan in 1987. Here’s a link should you wish to download it but have tissues handy:
An Americanized version called Hachi: A Dog’s Tale starring Richard Gere as a professor at a US university was released in 2009. In the movie, puppy Hachi was being transported to another owner but escaped at the railway station. The professor takes the little lost pup home and after numerous failed attempts to contact the intended owner, he decides to keep him since Hachi has slowly crept into his heart and become one of the family.
Three different Akitas play the title role of Hachi in the movie.
A replica of Hachiko’s Tokyo statue was erected at the location of the fictional railway station (actually Woonsocket Depot Square) in Woonsocket, Rhode Island where the American movie was filmed.
On Saturday 28 May 1994 millions of radio listeners were able to tune in and listen to Hachiko barking. The Nippon Cultural Broadcasting company had managed to lift the sound from an old record which was broken in several pieces.
On a lighter note the Japan Times published an “April Fool” article on 1 April 2006 alleging that Hachiko’s statue had been stolen in the early hours of the morning by suspected metal thieves wearing khaki uniforms.
A few years ago a well groomed female cat began visiting Hachiko’s statue and keeping him company as can be seen below:
To commemorate 80 years since the professor.s passing and 80 years since that of Hachiko in 2015, a brand new statue was unveiled by the University’s Agricultural Department on its campus portraying Hachiko joyfully reuniting with his long awaited master, just as he did every day for the first two wonderful years. The sculptor captured Hachiko’s expression of unrestrained joy very skilfully as can be seen here:
It was a truly amazing notion to immortalize the reunion of the professor and his dog in bronze at the place where Professor Ueko’s diligent teaching touched so many lives.
Many dogs have shown great faithfulness and loyalty to those they love, and will never be forgotten by those whose lives they touched, like furry angels sent to lighten our burdens. Dogs might not be able to vocalize in our tongue but their actions, even mischievous ones, speak volumes.
Hachiko deserves his special spot in the annals of animal history.