Friday, February 06, 2009

Dog Man: An Uncommon Life on a Faraway Mountain

I just got done reading this wonderful book and have to recommend it to anyone interested in dogs and/or Japanese culture: Dog Man: An Uncommon Life on a Faraway Mountain, by Martha Sherrill. I first heard about this book a few weeks ago on a re-run of the Diane Rehm show, which I usually don't listen to but was so ecstatic to have caught it while tooling around town one day (you can listen to a rerun of the show here). The interview between Diane and Martha (as well as a few Akita people) was intriguing and I knew I had to get the book. Excerpt from Library Journal:

The 'dog man' of the title is Morie Sawataishi, famed breeder and champion of akitas. While working as an engineer for Mitsubishi in far northern Japan during World War II, he became fascinated by this hardy dog breed, one of the oldest in the world. Because of wartime shortages (many of the dogs were eaten or used to make fur vests for the military), the breed had dwindled to just a few animals. Sawataishi illegally kept one hidden, and, as soon as the war ended, he began working to strengthen and expand the breed. His fame and that of his dogs soon spread, and his champions were winning dog shows around Japan. After retirement, Sawataishi continued working and living with his dogs, hiking in remote mountains, and even hunting bears. Vanity Fairand Esquire contributor and novelist Sherrill (The Ruins of California) offers great insight not only into one man and his dogs, but into an older, rural way of life unfamiliar to Westerners for whom Japan symbolizes fast-paced urban life and the latest technology.

I loved the book, but fair warning: If you are a feminist and/or animal rights-anti-hunting person, you need to check your views at the door. You kind of need to keep in mind that this story took place in another time, another place. But besides me wanting Morie's wife to get a backbone, and a particular gruesome story about a dog injured during a bear hunt... the book was wonderful. To read about a person's absolute devotion to saving the akita from extinction- at the risk of death himself- was admirable. I enjoyed Morie's expeditions in the mountains and about all of the dogs that came through his kennel that influenced the breed. Martha Sherrill's writing was simple and beautiful.

Some miscellaneous pics I found during my lovely lunch hour:

Hachiko, the world famous akita who, for 10 years after his master died on the job, kept returning to the train station waiting for him to come home. Talk about devotion!!!! :

Helen Keller was the first American to import an akita to the U.S., first Kamikaze-Go and then Kenzan-Go:

The akita in America today (pic from the Westminster Kennel Club website):

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