Dogs in Japanese Culture

A Japanese shiba inu breed of dog sits calmly
Kazuo Honzawa/MottoPet/Getty Images

The Japanese word for "dog" is inu. You can write inu in either hiragana or kanji, but since the kanji character for "dog" is quite simple, try learning how to write it in kanji. Typical Japanese dogs include Akita, Tosa, and Shiba breeds. The onomatopoeic phrase for a dog's bark is wan-wan.

In Japan, the dog is believed to have been domesticated as early as the Jomon period (10,000 B.C.). White dogs are thought to be especially auspicious and often appear in folk tales (such as Hanasaka jiisan). In the Edo period, Tokugawa Tsuneyoshi, the fifth shogun and an ardent Buddhist, ordered the protection of all animals, especially dogs. His regulations concerning dogs were so extreme that he was ridiculed as the Inu Shogun.

A more recent story is the tale of Hachiko, the chuuken or "faithful dog" from the 1920s. Hachiko met his master at Shibuya station at the end of every workday. Even after his master died one day at work, Hachiko continued to wait at the station for 10 years. He became a popular symbol of devotion. After his death, Hachiko's body was put in a museum, and there is a bronze statue of him in front of Shibuya station.

Critical phrases referring to inu are as common in Japan as they are in the West. Inujini, "to die like dog," is to die meaninglessly. To call someone a dog is to accuse him or her of being a spy or dupe.

Inu mo arukeba bou ni ataru or "when the dog walks, it runs across a stick" is a common saying, meaning that when you walk outside, you could possibly meet with an unexpected fortune.

Kobanashi: Ji no Yomenu Inu

Here is a kobanashi (funny story) titled Ji no Yomenu Inu, or "The Dog That Can’t Read.”

Inu no daikiraina otoko ga, tomodachi ni kikimashita.
”Naa, inu ga itemo heiki de tooreru houhou wa nai darou ka.”
”Soitsu wa, kantanna koto sa.
Te no hira ni tora to iu ji o kaite oite, inu ga itara soitsu o miseru n da.
Suruto inu wa okkanagatte nigeru kara.”
”Fumu fumu. Soitsu wa, yoi koto o kiita.”
Otoko wa sassoku, te no hira ni tora to iu ji o kaite dekakemashita.
Shibaraku iku to, mukou kara ookina inu ga yatte kimasu.
Yoshi, sassoku tameshite yarou.
Otoko wa te no hira o, inu no mae ni tsukidashimashita.
Suruto inu wa isshun bikkuri shita monono, ookina kuchi o akete sono te o gaburi to kandan desu.

Tsugi no hi, te o kamareta otoko ga tomodachi ni monku o iimashita.
”Yai, oame no iu youni, te ni tora to iu ji o kaite inu ni meseta ga, hore kono youni, kuitsukarete shimatta wa.”
Suruto tomodachi wa, kou iimashita.
”Yare yare, sore wa fuun na koto da. Osoraku sono inu wa, ji no yomenu inu darou.”


In the above story, “fumu fumu,” “yoshi,” and “yare yare” are Japanese interjections. “Fumu fumu” can be translated as, “Hmm,” or, “I see.” “Yare yare,” describes a sigh of relief. Here are some examples.

  • Yoshi, sore ni kimeta: "OK, I am sold on that idea!"
  • Yoshi, hikiukeyou: "All right, I will take it on."
  • Yare yare, yatto tsuita: "Well, here we are at last."
  • Yare yare, kore de tasukatta: "Hallelujah! We are safe at last."
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Abe, Namiko. "Dogs in Japanese Culture." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Abe, Namiko. (2023, April 5). Dogs in Japanese Culture. Retrieved from Abe, Namiko. "Dogs in Japanese Culture." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 3, 2023).