Just arrived in the mail from Japan: copies of Dog Man, translated into Japanese and published by Odyssey, a small family-run press in the north of Japan. I am so happy to see this amazing life story — which the Sawataishis were courageous to share so honestly with me — making a way back to its home country. At such a difficult and dispirting time for the north of Japan, I hope this story of endurance, personal fortitude and resourcefulness won’t just amuse and entertain readers, but inspire them.
Morie Sawataishi at an Akita dog show, Odate, November 2005
This is the time of year to remember Morie Sawataishi, the man who saved the Akita dog from extinction. The anniversary of his death, October 22, is less than three weeks away. Morie did more than just devote his life to rescuing and restoring the Akita dog in Japan after World War II. He devoted himself to Japan’s snow country — the isolated and forgotten north. He devoted himself to loyalty, inconvenience, hard work. He devoted himself to the forests and woods of Japan, and to a rugged mountain life where he could raise and train his champion dogs. Post your comments of appreciation, photos of your dogs — Akita or otherwise — and your good wishes to the Sawataishi family on the Facebook page, “Dog Man: One Man Saves Japan’s Akita Dogs.” There you will find hundreds of Akita lovers, nature lovers and dog lovers on a page created by Scribe, the Australian publisher of my book, Dog Man: An Uncommon Life on a Faraway Mountain. The Sawataishi family will be looking in . . .
Hachiko: A Dog’s Tale is coming to movie theaters on December 18, 2009.
For those who aren’t familiar with the story, Hachiko was an Akita puppy who was owned by a Tokyo University professor in the early 1920s. A special bond formed between them, the sort of bond that Akita dogs are known for. Each morning, the dog walked with the professor to the train station in Shibuya, now a crowded neighborhood of Tokyo. Each afternoon, the dog would return to meet the 4 o’clock train, knowing his owner would be on it. When the professor had a stroke at work, and later died, the dog continued to return to the train station, every day at 4 o’clock, for the next nine years.
As the years passed, newspaper accounts were written about Hachiko, postcards of the aging dog and other souvenirs were sold at the train station, and a bronze sculpture was erected while the real dog was still alive to pose nearby. Tourists began gathering there (it is still a popular gathering spot in Tokyo), a Hachiko fanclub was established, and soon af