We are headed into spring in Tokyo, and as the weather turns warm and sunny, we are watching the buds on the sakura (cherry) trees swell toward blooming. Saturday was sunny and pleasant, and we walked from our apartment in Shibaura to Aoyama Cemetery — about 7 kilometers away. Aoyama is a large cemetery in central Tokyo, and is well known for its beautiful sakura trees in early spring. It is also known as the burial place for Hachiko, the faithful Akita who lived in Tokyo 1923-1935.
Hachiko was the pet of Hidesaburo Ueno — a professor at Tokyo University. Every evening Hachiko would go to nearby Shibuya Station to greet his master when he came home from the university. Hachiko would always appear just before the time Professor Ueno’s train was due, and wait patiently for him outside the station. Then they would walk home together. This routine went on for several years, until the day when the professor did not show up. Professor Ueno had died suddenly of a stroke while he was at work.
Nevertheless, Hachiko continued to go to the train station every day to wait for his master’s train. For over nine years he would show up as always, in hopes that his beloved master would come back to him. After newspaper articles were written about him, many people started bringing him food and treats, and he became a national symbol for loyalty and faithfulness.
In 1934, Hachiko was present when a bronze statue was erected in his honor outside Shibuya Station. Although this original statue was recycled for the war effort, a new statue was placed in 1948, and still stands outside the Hachiko Guchi (gate) at Shibuya Station. In March 1935, Hachiko’s body was found on a sidewalk in Shibuya. It was determined that he had died of cancer and a parasitic disease at the age of 11. He was a faithful and loyal pet to his last days.
Hachiko’s remains were cremated, and buried next to his master’s grave in Aoyama Cemetary, and the site has become popular with visitors. His fur was stuffed and mounted and his replica is on display at the National Science Museum of Japan, in Ueno, Tokyo. In the above left photo, the first kanji means loyal, and the second is dog. The next characters say “Hachiko.”
Stories and documentaries have been made about the life and loyalty of Hachiko, and there is even an “Americanized” and “modernized” movie version of his story. “Hachi — A Dog’s Tale” starring Richard Gere, was released in 2009 and takes the story to a fictional town in New England. Last I looked, it was still available to watch on Netflix.
Hachiko the faithful dog, lives on in the hearts and minds of the Japanese people.