Japan loves animals. And the animals love it back.
According to the Japan Pet Food Association, the combined population of cats and dogs in Japan outnumber the population of children under 16! Being a cat in Japan is like being born as royalty. Right from being a religious symbol to being loving mascots and icons of significant establishments, the Cat has an enviable reverence in the land of the Rising Sun.
But this piece is not about cats. It is not even about dogs. It is just about one dog – Hachiko.
So here goes…
One of the exits of the big Shibuya station is called the Hachiko exit. When you come out of the station you will find a big bronze statue of a dog. The dog is Hachiko. In Japan, Hachiko is a national hero and is regarded as the symbol of loyalty!
Hachiko is not some imaginary or abstract symbol. He was a real dog. The story of Hachiko is so beautiful and emotional, it will melt any heart and bring tears to the eyes.
So, way back in 1923, a Tokyo University Professor called Eizaburo Ueno adopted a stray puppy of the Akita breed and named it Hachiko.
Hachi and Prof. Ueno became best friends and were inseparable. Every day, Hachi would go along with his master to see him off to work at the Shibuya train station in the morning. Then spend the rest of the day loitering around. Sharp at the time of his arrival from work, Hachiko would wait outside the station to receive him.
One fateful day, like always, Hachiko had said goodbye to his master in the morning at Shibuya station. During the day at his workplace, the Professor suffered a brain stroke and suddenly died. Of course, he never returned to the station in the evening where Hachi was waiting for him.
Hachi waited and waited for his master to return. Evening turned to night. His wait was endless. Hachi, the loyal soul had no sense of time. He waited for days to end. Not believing for a second that his master would never return.
He just sat there, looking at the exit of the station, his eyes searching for his master among the crowd that came out. He did not even stray away to look for food. Hawkers near the station knew Hachiko because he was a regular sight. Soon, they started bringing him food. Days turned to weeks. Weeks into months and years.
A dog lover adotpted Hachiko and took him to his place. But Hachiko wasn’t happy. As soon as the day would break , Hachiko would resume his position in front of the Shibuya station, waiting for his master. When night fell, he would return to his adopted home and be back in the morning.
Hachiko did this every single day for the rest of his nine years, nine months and fifteen days of life!
The waiting Hachiko had become a legend. They had started calling him Chuken Hachiko, which means the faithful dog. Newspaper articles had started featuring him.
People from all over the world would visit the Shibuya station to meet the ‘in-wait’ Hachiko, bringing him treats of all kinds.
In 1934, in Hachiko’s presence, a bronze statue honouring the living legend was installed in front of the Shibuya station. During the Second World War, as part of contribution to the war efforts, the statue was melted for the bronze. But it was again sculpted and re-installed in the same place in 1948.
On his death on 8th March 1935, Hachiko’s ashes were buried next to the grave of his master. And the fur of his body was stuffed and made into an exhibit at the National Science Museum in Ueno, a suburb of Tokyo.
This way Hachiko became folklore for Japanese and his stories were passed on to children as lessons in faithfulness and integrity. Many children’s books too have been published on Hachiko’s life. Not just that, there is also a blockbuster Japanese movie titled Hachiko Monogatari.
The famous Hollywood movie starring Richard Gere as Hachiko’s master is also based on him. It is called Hachi: A Dog’s Tale. Do watch it. And be prepared to cry, because cry you will after seeing and reading about Hachi!
Even after so many years have passed, Japan has not forgotten its Hachiko. As recently as March 2015, on his 80th death anniversary, a second bronze statue was installed at the Tokyo University, where Hachiko’s master taught. This time around, the statue shows an excited Hachiko being happily reunited with his master!
How’s that for a happy ending!
Cute Trivia: The lonesome Hachiko at the Shibuya statue now has a cat friend. There’s this cute and cuddly cat, and one who loves to pose and be photographed, who has found her spot in the space between Hachiko’s feet in his statue at Shibuya.