There are several stories of dogs showing unbelievable tenacity in looking for or waiting for their dead owners. Some of them are truly heart-wrenching. There are a couple of stories involving dogs waiting on trains for their humans to return, and one of the most famous is Hachiko.
Hachiko was a regular at Shibuya Station in Tokyo, where he spent the first couple of years of life meeting his owner Ueno Hidesaburo as he returned from teaching at the University of Tokyo. But one day in May 1925, Ueno collapsed during a lecture of a cerebral hemorrhage and died at work. Hachiko went to the train to meet him as usual, but Ueno did not arrive.
Hachiko persisted in going daily to meet the afternoon train. At first he was not welcome at the station, but he was not dissuaded. In October, however, a newspaper article was published about him, and he became a bit famous and more acceptable. People began bringing him meals at the station.
Note that many “loyal dog” stories can be explained by the abundant reinforcement available for waiting, as people delivered food to a dog who stayed in an owner’s house, for example. But Hachiko’s behavior persisted in an unfriendly environment for five months.
He didn’t live at the station, however. He apparently stayed at the home of Kobayashi Kikuzaboro, Ueno’s former gardener, or with his owner’s widow Yaeko, except for his daily visits to the train station to check that day’s train. He became known as Chuken Hachiko, or Faithful Dog Hachiko.
Ando Teru created a bronze statue of Hachiko in 1934, as Hachiko still waited at the station. A second statue was created by the next generation, Ando Takeshi. (The first was melted down for metal during World War 2.) It sits at the Hachiko-guchi, the entrance/exit named now for the famous dog. The place where Hachiko waited is marked today with bronze pawprints.
Hachiko died peacefully in 1935, of (scientists determined much later) stomach cancer. He also had four yakitori skewers in his stomach, gifts from admirers, but these had not harmed him. He was mourned by many, as he had become a national symbol for loyalty and perseverance. The Akita breed was just becoming stable at the time, officially declared a National Monument in 1931 and gaining an official breed standard in 1934. Hachiko was one of about thirty purebreds documented, and his story probably greatly helped publicity and enthusiasm for the breed. In 1937, two Akita pups were given to Helen Keller upon her visit to Japan, the first to enter the United States.
Hachiko was mounted and is on display today at the National Museum of Nature and Science in Ueno, Japan. The Akita breed, however, barely survived the war, due to a lack of extra food for dogs, then the use of dogs as food, and then the government order to kill all non-military dogs on sight. Today American and Japanese Akita have difference characteristics and are considered by many to be different breeds.
The University of Tokyo, in honor of the 90th anniversary of Ueno’s death and the 80th of Hachiko’s this year, unveiled a statue of the two finally together again. Pardon me, there’s some dust in my eye….
Each year on April 8, hundreds attend a remembrance ceremony at Shibuya Station. It is fitting to remember the dog who remembered.