Today is November 10, 2015. It's been 92 years since Hachiko came into this world. Hachi's daily walks to the train station have been memorialized numerous times, and his bronze statue is one of the most famous destinations in Japan. Yet his early life, before the professor, is almost unknown.
In 1934, Hachiko's first statue was placed at Shibuya Station. The photo of a relaxed Hachi (above) was taken around that time by the late Isamu Yamamoto, a former bank employee who lived in the Shibuya Ward, Tokyo. Yamamoto's family found the photo and presented it to Ando who sculpted the Hachiko statue we see today. “I have never looked at such a photo that caught the atmosphere of Hachiko’s everyday life at that time so well,” Ando said.
On Hachi's birthday, I think back to the first months of his life. I can imagine a plump squirming puppy playing with his four male siblings in a barn. Hachi was born on a farm in snow country- Odate, Akita prefecture- to a wealthy landlord farmer. At two months old, he was gifted to professor Ueno Hidesaburo from a former student. On January 14, 1924, Hachi was placed in a small tightly-knit straw crate for his journey. Straw crates were heat retaining and also used to carry rice.
Three people walked 12.5 miles to Ōdate Station, carrying Hachi in the midst of a snow storm. Hachi departed Ōdate Station at 3: 20 PM and scheduled to arrive at Ueno Station in Tokyo at 8: 50 AM the next day. In that blizzard, Hachi left his birthplace never to return.
The Ōdate-Ueno route ran through a series of mountain ranges, and included one of the steepest approaches to a pass for trains in Japan. The train climbed up and down mountain peaks and passed through numerous tunnels. The train oscillated wildly and the locomotives gave off thick soot.
It must have been a terrifying experience for the two-month old puppy. He was separated from his mother and siblings, carried outside in a blizzard, and sat in a crate on a bumpy train for 20 hours. On the day of Hachi's arrival, the newspapers reported that Tokyo was hit by a strong earthquake, by a windstorm, and a sandstorm was blowing over the capital city. People thought Hachi was dead when he arrived.
Yet this frightened puppy went on to experience an extraordinary life that would change not only the history of Japanese dogs, and the creation of a new breed called American Akita- but symbolize compassion, undying love and loyalty worldwide.
Happy Birthday Hachi!! We will always remember you...
(Many thanks to Itoh, Mayumi Itoh, "Hachi: The Truth of The Life and Legend of the Most Famous Dog in Japan", Amazon Kindle, 2013. Her book contains carefully documented details, including Hachi's early days detailed above. It's a must read to fully understand the life of Hachiko.)
Vicki Shigekuni Wong
I first spotted Hachiko's statue many years ago at Shibuya Station. Upon returning home, I adopted a dog and named him Hachi. When he passed away, I missed his reflective, welcoming and calm ways. We can all learn from the innate emotional grace of our animal friends and the Way of Hachi. I love sharing the story of the loyal dog of Japan, and hope he inspires more people to "Be Hachi"!