The Hokkaido Ken is said to have originated from the medium-sized Japanese dogs which accompanied the migrations of the native Tohoku Ainu people from Honshu (the main island of Japan) to Hokkaido during the Kamakura Era. It is thought that the Hokkaido may carry more of the genes from the older type dogs which arrived in Japan with the Jomon due to their geographical isolation.
The breed was designated a "Living Natural Monument" in 1937 by the Japanese government and was given the name of the area from which it originated as is tradition with Japanese breeds, however it is also commonly known as the Ainu Ken after the indigenous people of Hokkaido, the Ainu, who used to breed these dogs to hunt bear, boar and other animals.
The breed originally consisted of several main 'bloodlines', each named after the Ainu village from which it originated, the most famous of these being the Chitose, Biratori, Atsuma and Yuwamizawa lines. Today only the Chitose line remains, with the rest of the breed being an amalgamation of all the original lines.
The climate of Hokkaido, with its short summers and long, cold winters has given the Hokkaido Ken a coat which is far denser in appearance than the other native Japanese breeds and has resulted in a hardy dog with great stamina and endurance. The breed is still very rare outside of its native country, and within Japan the numbers are still relatively small, although there was a small rise in popularity in past years due to a series of commercials featuring a white Hokkaido Ken called 'Otousan'. Sadly Otousan passed away in June of 2018, Kai-Kun as his family knew him was reported to be 16 years old when he passed.
Over the last 20 years the medium sized Nihon Ken breeds (Hokkaido, Kai, Kishu & Shikoku) have suffered a huge decline in the number of puppies being registered with their respective breed clubs - in part due to smaller toy breeds being favoured for the apartment living of those in population-heavy areas, and in part due to those who do still breed Nihon Ken reaching old age and having no younger proteges willing to take up their mantle - as such the medium breeds are reaching a point of crisis (click here to see Shigeru Kato's graph of yearly registrations posted March 2020).
The Hokkaido Ken is not currently recognised by the UK Kennel Club, however it is recognised by the FCI as a definitive breed and can be shown under the 'Asian Spitz and related breeds' section.
Historical Hokkaido images taken from the 'Traditional Japanese Breeds' Facebook page. Original photographers unknown. Far right 'Nipuri' source Fukutaro Shinozaki.
Historical facts taken from Shigeru Kato of Nihon Ken Blogspot, used with permission. Please see links page for more information.