Akitas in America (Hokuroku newspaper 11/4-18-11/14/18)

Written by Morito Takahashi, Coordinated by Yumi McDonald

Hokuroku Newspaper : http://www.hokuroku.co.jp


The Hokuroku News 100thSpecial Article “Akita Dog”

Part II America 1.                                                11/4/18

Woonsocket, RI, The Filming Location of the Hollywood Movie “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale”

The Movie Served as a Starting Point for the Popularity of Akita Dogs 

Meeting with the Two American Akitas at Woonsocket Station 

I visited the US for 5days last August to cover the story of the history and current status of Akita dogs in America. I started my trip from Woonsocket, Rhode Island which was the central filming location of the movie “Hachi:A dog’s tale”. Then, I traveled to New Jersey, Connecticut and finished in Los Angeles where there is the oldest branch of the Akita Inu Hozonkai : the Akita Dog Preservation Society abroad.

The part II articles are about the Akita in America and the people and towns that are relevant to these Akita dogs.

 The current global popularity of the Akita started at this specific place, Woonsocket Station in Rhode Island. This old station depot was where the movie ”Hachi: A Dog’s Tale” was filmed. The statue of Hachiko in front of the station, the third one after Shibuya and Odate in Akita statures was erected in 2012 to commemorate the movie.

 Woonsocket station is located to the southwest of Boston about an hour drive by car. There are quite a few 19thcentury old brick architectures in the city. The old station depot is one of them and was built in 1882. The railroad runs from Woonsocket to Connecticut which is about 160 kilometers. There had been a passenger train on this railroad but it was closed in the 1970s and only freight trains are in use. The old station depot is used as the Blackstone Valley Park administration office.

 The actor, Richard Gere commuted to Woonsocket from his home in the New York area for the filming. The station depot was used as the fictional station, “Bedridge”. During the one month filming period the station depot plaza was crowded with local people.

 After the movie release many people were moved by the story of Hachi. A sculptor who loved the story made a statue of Hachiko modeled after Shibuya station’s original one. The statue was bought by an art high school and was donated to the city. The unveiling ceremony of the statue was held in May of 2012 on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of gift of the cherry trees to Washington D.C. Many people from Japan attended the ceremony. This one Akita dog, Hachiko played a big role in promoting friendship between Japan and the US.  

When I visited Woonsocket station on August 23rd, two American Akitas greeted me.

American Akitas are a mixture of the Japanese Akita and Shepherds or other western dogs. Ms. Diane Lynch, the owner of the dogs as well as a member of the Big East Akita Rescue (B.E.A.R) let the dogs sit next to the statue. Now three dogs including the statue had lined up side by side. They sat very still.

 At first, I worried a little bit about the nature of American Akita. However, when I saw them sitting very quietly with dignity I felt that they have Japanese Akita blood in them.

 After the release of the movie, many people started to have interest in Akitas. Some people expected to have loyal dogs like Hachiko. Some people loved their impressive looks. Nearly 10 years have passed since the release of the movie. I wondered what kind of impact Akitas had left in America during the 10 years. My quest to find the current status of Akitas in America just started from Woonsocket station. 

 Photo 1. Two American Akitas sitting next to the statue of Hachiko in front of old   Woonsocket station

Photo2. Inside of the old station depot. Now it is used as the Blackstone valley Park Administration office



The Hokuroku News 100th Anniversary Article “Akita Dog”

Part II America 2                                                11/5/18

Abbey Glen Pet Memorial Park. New Jersey 

The Reproduction of the Statue of Professor Ueno and Hachiko Made after 

Receiving Special Permission from the University of Tokyo 

“I want many people to know the Japanese story of Hachiko,” Mr. Cooke said

 It took about an hour drive from Newark airport to Lafayette, New Jersey. On the way to Lafayette, I could see the Manhattan skyline. After a short while I arrived in the countryside where the landscape looked quite similar to that of Japan.  

 The park like pet cemetery “Abbey Glen Pet Memorial Park” in Lafayette, New Jersey is  like a well maintained golf course with a meticulously taken care of lawn and nice trees. About 6000 animals are buried in the park ranging from dogs, cats, sea turtles, race horses and so on.

 I could feel the love for animals from the owner Mr. Derek Cooke (59) soon after I entered the cemetery. The purpose of visiting this park was to see the statue of professor Ueno and Hachiko and meet the cemetery owner, Mr. Cooke. The statue which stands right next to the office entrance is the exclusive reproduction of the statue of professor Ueno and Hachiko at the campus of the agricultural department of the University of Tokyo. The one in Tokyo was erected on the occasion of the 80thanniversary of Hachiko’s death.

 When Mr. Cooke saw the statue of professor Ueno and Hachiko on the internet, he was deeply moved by it and the story of Hachiko. Then, Mr. Cooke contacted “The Committee to Erect the Statue of Professor Ueno and Hachiko” at the University of Tokyo to ask for the permission to make a reproduction.

 However, the university side wasn’t interested in giving the permission for reproduction. Then, Mr.Cooke asked Ms. Yumi McDonald who published a book on Hachiko based on her mother’s experience in meeting Hachiko at Shibuya station in the 1930s to work as a liaison. After several months of negotiation, the permission was granted. The exact statue made from the same mold by the same sculptor in Japan was created for Mr. Cooke. He commissioned to make the sculpture with his own money and it was unveiled on October 9thof 2016. He also commissioned a plaque that tells the original story of Hachiko.

 “I want many people to know about Hachiko’s story of Japan” Mr. Cooke said. His passion for Hachiko made it possible to build a bridge between the two countries. He hopes the people who visit the park will learn about Hachiko and will remember that he was a very special dog. 

 He said Hachiko’s story is still not known as much as it should be. However, several people per day visit the park and admire the statue. Mr. Cooke hopes to spread the story of Hachiko all over the world from here.

 I was wondering how Mr. Cook had become interested in Hachiko’s story so much.

Mr. Cooke’s parents had a pet care business. Naturally, Mr. Cooke had spent a lot of time with animals. Since then he had been thinking about the best solution to take care of deceased animals. He couldn’t find a good answer for a long time.

 When he grew up he decided to open a pet cemetery. He quit the Marines and spent two years cultivating a cornfield with his younger brother Kevin. The pet cemetery was opened in 1982.

 In the beginning people said that it was nonsense to make a pet cemetery. However, the Cookes didn’t give up. 

“We have been working to make Abbey Glen peaceful and comforting for those who have lost their pets.”

Now, the cemetery has grown to be the biggest one in America. Many people who admire their concept come to Abbey Glen.

 I guess Mr. Cooke saw his experiences in the story of Hachiko. The deaths of pets are not tragedies as the friendship between humans and animals can live forever in one’s heart. The statue of professor Ueno and Hachiko is a symbol of this message and will provide healing to those who lost their pets.

 Photo 1. Mr. Derek Cooke wants many people to know about the story of Hachiko

 Photo 2. The statue of Professor Ueno and Hachiko in front of the office of Abbey Glen  Pet memorial Park

 Photo 3. Abbey Glen’s sign at the side of the road



The Hokuroku News 100th Anniversary Article “Akita Dog”

Part II America 3                                                 11/5/18

Big East Akita Rescue

Rescuing the Akita and Finding New Owners through Website and SNS

While their popularity grows the difficulty in caring for Akitas often results in irresponsible owners abandoning them 

 There exist a dark side to the current popularity of Akitas. Ever since the Hollywood movie “Hachi: A dog’s tale” was released the number of people who have chosen to keep Akitas has grown dramatically. People thought “Akitas are gentle”, “It must be easy to keep them” after seeing the movie.

However, in reality it turned out to be more difficult to take care of the breed. The existence of American Akita made the situation more complicated. The American Akita is a breed created by mixing Japanese Akita that were taken by military people from Japan after the second world war and western breeds such as Shepherd, St.Bernard etc. 

Those who thought they had Akitas like Hachiko found the American Akitas they had to be different and abandoned them. Greedy breeders bred Akitas for money. Eventually, tragedies of abandoning and killing Akitas happened in many places.

 In 2011, to stop this terrible situation, a new organization called The Big East Akita Rescue was organized. The president, JoAnn Dimon (58) and her husband Matt Dimon(51) started rescuing Japanese Akitas and American Akitas. They search for new responsible owners through a website and SNS. They interview the candidates and find out if they qualify as responsible owners. They give advice on keeping Akitas. They put microchips in the dogs’ bodies so that they can be traced in case they are abandoned again.

 On average, 120 Akitas per year have been rescued in the US. Ms. Dimon said “We work hard everyday to reduce the number of abandoned Akitas as much as possible”

Now, they have around 450 members working together to rescue the Akitas.

 Mrs. Julian Griffin (33) and Mr. Jack Griffin (36) are members of B.E.A.R. as well as the owners of more than 10 Akitas (they have both Japanese and American Akitas). They describe the nature of the American Akita as follows, “They love freedom”, ”They are confident and honest”. They treat Japanese Akitas and American Akitas in the same way. They describe them like “cousins” and don’t differentiate them.

Mr. Dimon said “Even just putting their paws on me has a special and deep meaning”. Mr. and Mrs. Dimon understand the importance of respect between humans and dogs.

 Ms. Diane Lynch (56) is another important member of the B.E.A.R. Ms. Lynch is an owner of two American Akitas. She supports the organization by donating her glass art with Akita designs for the B.E.A.R auction. She always loved to paint and started to make these glass pieces three years ago. She carves sophisticated portraits of Akitas that resemble the owners’ pets on 10 to 15 centimeter diameter round glass. She spends her spare time outside her job creating these and has made 20 pieces. Each lottery ticket was sold for 5 dollars and 1200 were sold. In total B.E.A.R. received $6,000.

 Ms. Lynch observes the expressions of Akitas carefully to project their characteristics. She puts feeling into her glass art and said she will continue to support Akitas.

 I conducted these interviews at Abbey Glen Pet Memorial Park in New Jersey and Woonsocket station in Rhode Island. These people came with their Akitas. During the interviews they showed their joy and sorrow of taking care and rescuing Akitas. The members are very serious and straightforward about the future of the dogs. I could feel their hope that every Akita will have a bright future.

 Photo 1. B.E.A.R JoAnn and Matt

Photo 2. Ms. Lynch with her glass artwork of Akitas

Photo 3. This Akita was rescued on the side of a highway. It was so skinny it’s ribs were visible( Photo courtesy of JoAnn Dimon)

Photo 4. The rescued dog after two years. It gained weight and looks nice (Photo courtesy of JoAnn Dimon)



The Hokuroku News 100th Anniversary Article “Akita Dog”

Part II America 4                                                11/7/18

Helen Keller Residence in Westport, Connecticut

The House Where Ms. Keller Lived with the Akita Dog “Kenzan”

The Loyal Dog that United Two Cultures

The Akita That Went to Live on the US East Coast 81 Years Ago

 There is a house where Helen Keller used to live in Westport, a beachside affluent town in Connecticut. The town is located one hour away from New York by train. This is where Ms. Keller lived with her Akita dog, Kenzan.

 Helen Keller heard the story of Hachiko in America and asked if there was an Akita she could adopt when she visited Japan in 1937. She told her interpreter that it would deepen ties between Japan and the US.

 After hearing of her love for Akitas, Ichiro Ogasawara, the Vice President of the Akita inu Hozonkai (Akita Dog Preservation Society)in Odate, Akita prefecture gave her an Akita puppy “Kamikaze”. She took Kamikaze back to New York and took very good care of the puppy. Unfortunately, Kamikaze died of canine distemper after two months.

 Ichiro Ogasawara heard of her sorrow and presented “Kenzan” to Ms. Keller in 1939. By that time Ms. Keller had moved to Westport. Kenzan spent long years with Ms. Keller at her home in Westport.

 Helen Keller’s house caught fire in 1946 and was rebuilt after that. However, the garden and landscaping remain the same. There still exists a statue of a goddess holding a vase next to a drinking fountain for dogs which was designed by Helen Keller. The base for a huge Japanese lantern which was given by a Japanese man sits on the ground.

 According to writer and Westport resident Ms. Yumi McDonald’s husband, Jim, they saw the inside of the house on the Japan Society of Fairfield County’s tour of it about 15 years ago. He noticed there were still braille engraved doors, stairways and bookshelves. The house is a private home and is not open to the public. 

The house and the garden still remain unchanged and I could imagine how she lived with Kenzan many years ago by looking from the outside of the property.

There are many old houses that still remain in the East Coast as earthquakes don’t happen in this area.

I saw a house that was built in 1690 which was before the American war of independence (1775-1783). This house would be a national treasure if it was standing in Japan.

 Another interesting character of Westport is that there are houses of celebrities. It is a well known fact that Paul Newman lived in Westport. The movie producer Harvey Weinstein who is the cause of the “Me Too movement” lives in the town. I saw his beachside mansion which is now surrounded by a newly built high wall.

 I have seen a different culture through the Akita dog. My trip to understanding the current situation of Akitas in America comes to the climax. Now I will fly across America to visit the grand head temple of the foreign club of the Akita inu Hozonkai : the Akita Dog Preservation Society in Los Angeles.  

 Photo 1. Helen Keller with Kenzan (courtesy of Akita inu Hozonkai headquarter)

 Photo 2. Helen Keller’s house (courtesy of Yumi McDonald)


The Hokuroku News 100th Anniversary Article “Akita Dog”

Part II America 5                                                11/9/18

 The Akita Dog Preservation Society (The Akita Inu Hozonkai) 

Los Angeles Branch, Former President, Mr. Kenji Kawasaki

The Akita Dog Preservation Society North America Club

President, Dr. Steven Takamatsu

Those Who Survived the Rise, Fall and Resurrection of the Akita Dog Preservation Society in America

Importing of the Winners of Akita Exhibitions and Breeding Them to Produce Great Akita

 A branch of the Akita Dog Preservation Society was established in California in 1970.

It will soon mark its 50thanniversary. The society has been giving a lot of effort to get the ball rolling in a country where Japanese culture hadn’t been established like it is now.

 There is an auto repair shop in Anaheim which is the home territory of Disneyland and the Los Angeles Angels. The owner of the shop and the former president of the Akita Dog Preservation Society in Los Angeles, Mr. Kenji Kawasaki and the current president of the Akita Dog Preservation Society North America Club*, Dr. Steven Takamatsu greeted me. They have seen the rise, fall and resurrection of the society’s Los Angeles branch,

   *When the society received the Public Interest Incorporated Association permission in 2015 they changed the name of overseas branches to clubs. As the numbers of Canadian members grew, they changed the Los Angeles branch into the North American club. 

 The first president was Mr. Kenji Kusumoto from Yurihonjo, Akita. He upgraded a small group that had been active since the 60s into an overseas branch.

 When Mr. Kawasaki was the president in his 40s, there were around 100 members. The current membership rate of Japanese members is 10 %, however it was 70 % back then. Mr. Kawasaki recalls,

“When I asked a Japanese judge to evaluate the dogs in America he said, “They weren't good enough.    

 There is a big difference between the ones here and the ones of the headquarters. I can’t evaluate,”

 Mr. Kawasaki continued 

“There was no relation regarding the Akita between Japan and the US. It was like the dogs that couldn’t sell in Japan were brought here to sell at a high price”.

However, when a winner dog of the headquarters’ exhibition was brought here and mated, highly qualified dogs were born. These dogs changed the image of Akitas in America. A judge was very impressed that there were great Akitas in America.  

Mr. Kawasaki provided opportunities to show Japanese Akitas in the US where Japanese Akita and American Akita existence was not known.

There were no rules about mating in the branch back then. The movement to mate Japanese Akita and American Akita thus became a problem.

 When they prohibited the mating of Japanese Akita and American Akita in the 90s, many members left the society. Since then the number has declined and when Dr. Takamatsu joined in 2002 there were only 50 members. 

 Dr. Takamatsu became the president in 2009. Because of the after effect of The Lehman Shock, only 10-13 members were left for a while. Due to the lack of members and dogs, the club couldn’t have exhibitions for 5 years.

 Photo 1. The former president of the Akita Preservation Society Los Angeles Branch, Mr. Kawasaki

 Photo 2. The current president of the Akita Preservation Society North America Club, Dr. Takamatsu






The Hokuroku News 100th Anniversary Article “Akita Dog”

Part II America 6                                          11/14/18

Dr. Steven Takamatsu, The Reconstruction of the Largest Branch of the Akita Dog Preservation Society Abroad

Starting Over Again

The Club’s Effort to Protect the Pure Breed

 The President of the Akita Dog Preservation Society of North America Club, Dr. Steven Takamatsu(44) and his wife Judy started to revive the club from zero.

In Japan, dogs are trained by several breeders on a rotational basis during their lifetimes. In America, the same breeder takes care of one dog till the end. When the breeders retire, the dogs finish their roles. This specific process contributed to the decline of membership.

 To gain new members, Dr. Takamatsu imported 7 Akitas from Japan to have more dogs in the club. Then, he organized picnics with Akitas to promote friendships between members.

 He also visited Japan every year to meet breeders and examine different pedigree Akitas. He started to organize exhibitions. He said,

“If your Akita is a pet you don’t need to join the club. The reason you need to join the club is if you wish to participate in the exhibitions. To make the club grow you need to organize exhibitions.”

 He also made rules. As a dentist, he stressed the importance of a dog’s health. He had veterinarians check the dogs and if any diseases were detected they were not allowed to breed. He also made a rule to submit a dog’s condition to the club before mating which was not mandatory abroad. This was how he kept the Akita breed pure. 

“We produce as pure of a breed as other great breeder clubs,” Dr. Takamatsu said.

 The rules are stricter than before, but thanks to the popularity of Akitas and Dr. Takamatsu’s passionate leadership, the members have grown to over 100.

Now this club is the biggest Akita Preservation Society outside of Japan.

 As the Akita breed is becoming more international, there are more problems regarding breeding. The story of Hachiko is heartwarming but its popularity has brought the tendency to treat Akita as a vendible commodity.

“If someone who bought an Akita from our club finds problems with it, we will take the

dog back. Please don’t abandon them,” Dr. Takamatsu said with a serious look.

He stressed the responsibility of breeders. He said a strong will is the key to creating the   coexistence of humans and animals.

 The sun started to set. Dr. Takamatsu left for his home where 9 Akitas were waiting. He said he begins his day at 3:00A.M. to take his dogs for walks.

 I finished all the interviews and said goodbye to Mr. and Mrs. Kawasaki and their two Akitas. I headed for Los Angeles airport to go back to Akita. I want to thank all the people who helped me write this story.

I want to say to the readers of Hokuroku News that the Akita dog is the pride of our hometown.

                                                                      (The End)