September 11, 2009
In Tokyo’s Shibuya ward (“Bitter Valley” in English), specifically in the area called Dogenzaka, right by the busiest intersection on the planet where every three minutes hundreds of people cross the street, stands a statue of the most famous dog in Japan, but virtually unknown in other parts of the world. For many Tokyoites, today this statue serves as a meeting point. It’s well known that the Japanese love their pets, but what did this dog named Hachiko do to get his own statue right here?
The true story of Hachiko
Let’s roll back 86 years. Hachiko ((ハチ公), white male dog of Akita breed, was born in 1923 on a farm near the city of Odate in Akita prefecture on the north of Honshu. Nearly a year later he was brought to Tokyo by his owner, Hidesaburo Ueno, a professor of agriculture at the University of Tokyo
Every morning when Ueno went to work, Hachiko (also called Hachi) saw him off at the front door and waited for him in late afternoon on the same spot at the nearby Shibuya Station. This has become their daily routine. The tragedy occured in May of 1925 when Hachiko was eighteen months old. That day the professor didn’t arrive by train as usual. At the university he suffered a stroke. He died and never came back to the station where his friend was waiting for him.
After Ueno’s death, Hachiko was given away to new owners but he escaped every time, returning to his old home where he used to live with his master. When Hachiko eventually realized that the professor didn’t live there anymore, he went back to the station. After that day, every time exactly at 4 o’clock when the train arrived, Hachiko came to wait in hopes of seeing his master.
This continued day after day, month after month, for the next 10 years. Many people who passed through the station every day, even brought food for Hachiko as he waited. He drew attention of one of former Ueno’s students who followed the dog home and learned about his story from the new owners. The student was fascinated with the story and afterwards visited Hachiko many times as he began to write articles about him and the Akita breed.
In 1933, after one of his articles was published in Asahi Shinbun, Japan’s biggest newspaper, the dog became a national sensation. Teachers and parents around the country used Hachiko’s loyalty as an example for children to follow. Eventually, Hachiko became national symbol of loyalty. His bronze statue was erected in front of the station and Hachiko himself was present at the opening ceremony. Unfortunately, during World War II the statue was melted down for war efforts. In 1948, Takeshi Ando, son of the original artist, was commissioned to create the second statue.
Hachiko was found dead on March 8, 1935 on a street in Shibuya. He died because of heart infection, and 3 or 4 yakitori sticks were found in his stomach (yakitori is fried chicken meat on a stick). Hachiko’s stuffed and mounted remains can be seen in the National Science Museum in Ueno Park in Tokyo. Today, the dog’s statue still stands in front of the Shibuya Station, waiting and hoping that his master will come home.
This morning I went down to Shibuya to take some photos of the statue and the surroundings:
The statue of Hachiko with his trademark folded ear.
One of Shibuya Station’s 5 entrances is named after Hachiko.
The location of the statue. Taken from the window of the nearby Starbucks. The Shibuya Station is seen in the background.
The meeting point in front of the station. The statue is right behind that tree!
The outside wall of the station is decorated with images of Hachiko.
Films about Hachiko
If you’re interested, there’s a Japanese movie about Hachiko released in 1987 under the title Hachiko Monogatari. Looks like the story is about to become more famous internationally as just last month the American version came out in theaters, starring Richard Gere in main role. This movie is titled Hachi and was premiered in Japan on August 8th. Have a look at the Japanese trailer: