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Japanese dog as a spiritual being

Date Published: Last Update:2015/05/14 Animal, Traditional Culture , , ,

Dog in Japan

Shiba

-Shiba-
The very best dog in the world IMO.
Photo from Ashinari

One of the very popular animals in Japanese old tales.
As long as I remember, usually drawn as a white medium-size Japanese dog in a book, with a curled tail and erect, triangular ears like a Kishu dog.
The dogs are always loyal, take the good men’s side.
I can’t remember any tales they are described as evil characters.

As a spiritual being

Dogs were considered as a sort of sacred animal, which belong to both this human world and the spiritual world.
There are stories that dogs got rid of evil powers; one dog exposed the true identity of a fox specter disguised as a beautiful woman with its barks, the other lost its life after a fight against a monster monkey.
The government had the department to keep dogs back then for hunting / guarding, maybe also as a talisman against evil.
I couldn’t find proper resources, but I heard the bark of a dog had been believed to get rid of evil spirits in old times, people even had guards who imitate its barking sound.
This does not mean dogs were always treated well, though there are several shrines dedicated to them or enshrined as divine messengers.

-"Konpira Inu" statue in the "Konpira" shrine.  Some people sent their dogs to "Konpira" shrine as their deputies-

-The "Konpira Inu" statue in the "Konpira" shrine-
This one is not really a messenger from God, but to God.
Some people sent their dogs to "Konpira" shrine instead of themselves in Edo era.(1603–1868)

However, dogs could do harm sometimes when they were working for evil-minded master(s).
I’ve seen an official letter at the Shimane Museum of Ancient Izumo, ordering to find out the master of inu-gami (dog-god literally, but dog spirit would be more suitable in this case) which was giving damage to the city for a few days.

 

Stories of real-life dogs

[Hachi]

Probably, the most famous Japanese dog is “Hachi”, even Hollywood made his story into a movie featuring Richard Gere.
Hachi waited his deceased master to come home at Shibuya Station in Tokyo till he died.
You can see his statue in the little square in front of Shibuya Station, although it’s a second statue made.
The first one was removed to be recycled in 1944, because the government collected metals as much as possible to keep fighting in WW2.
(My mother once told me they had collected even small metal buttons from student clothes)

Hachi-ko

-The "Hachi-ko" statue in Shibuya-
Photo from Photo AC

 

[A loyal dog in “Nihon Shoki”]

Another story, which is in a book called “Nihon Shoki” (The Chronicles of Japan) finished in 720, is about a white dog.
In July of 587, there was a battle between Mononobe and Soga, powerful clans at that time.
“Totoribe no Yorozu” was a warrior who belonged to the Mononobe side, ran away and hid in a forest after the head of Mononobe was killed.
He fought fiercely against his enemies, and eventually he stabbed his neck with his dagger and died.
Soldiers were ordered to cut him into eight pieces so that they could show each of them to the public at eight places.
Just when a commander of the unit tried to do so, a thunderstorm arrived and Yorozu’s white dog appeared.
The dog barked and twirled around its master’s body, then bit off Yorozu’s head, buried the head in an old mound.
It lay down beside, stayed there till it died of starvation.
People of the Royal court showed mercy to Yorozu and his dog after receiving reports of the incident, and ordered to bury each of them in a proper grave.
Their supposed-to-be graves are still in Osaka.

Kai dog

-Kai puppy-
Japanese dogs (especially Shiba!) are the best in the world IMO.
Photo from Ashinari

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kara

A Japanese living in Okayama. A proud "Otaku"! Loves animals, snacks, manga, games (PC, iPad, Nintendo DS, PSP), foreign TV dramas, traveling and football (soccer).

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