Hollywood the latest to fall for tale of Hachiko

Kyodo News

The front legs, ears and tail of the bronze statue of “Faithful Dog Hachiko,” a symbol of Tokyo’s busy Shibuya district, have become yellow-tinged and shiny from people touching them.

“It is proof that he is loved and touched by everybody,” said Takeshi Ando, 86, the statue’s sculptor.

Hachiko, an Akita, has experienced a lot of ups and downs in his life and is likely to get even more attention with the August release in Japan of the U.S. movie “Hachiko: A Dog’s Story,” starring Richard Gere, a remake of a 1930s film.

According to “Collection of Hachiko’s Materials,” edited by Masaharu Hayashi and regarded as the most detailed record of the dog, Hachiko was born on a farm in Odate, Akita Prefecture, in November 1923.

The puppy was given to Hidesaburo Ueno, a professor at Tokyo Imperial University who lived in Shibuya Ward, in January 1924.

Ueno named the puppy Hachi (the suffix “ko” is added for affection) and started taking him to Shibuya Station on his way to the university. About a year after he got the dog, however, Ueno died and Hachiko’s life changed dramatically.

Hachiko was entrusted to a household in the Asakusa district but often fled to Ueno’s house in Shibuya. Finally, he was entrusted to a breeder in Shibuya and began to go and sit in front of the entrance to Shibuya Station every evening to wait for his master.

The dog became famous in October 1932 when a newspaper reported on it under the headline, “Story of a beloved old dog. Several years eagerly awaiting the return of his now-deceased master.” The original movie and a gramophone record about Hachiko were subsequently produced.

A statue of Hachiko made by Ando’s father, Teru, also a sculptor, was erected in April 1934.

In March 1935, loyal Hachiko died on a street in Shibuya.

That year, Hachiko appeared in a morals textbook for second-graders under the title: “Never forget moral indebtedness.”

According to Hideki Endo, 44, a professor at the University Museum of the University of Tokyo who specializes in animal anatomy, Hachiko’s heart was infected with filarial worms, and three to four sticks used for grilled chicken were found in his stomach.

In connection with these skewers, Endo said: “Hachiko lived a better life in Shibuya with good care from people in the restaurant area. Finding red lanterns, he went there and satisfied his appetite with grilled chicken he was given.”

In 1944, when the government began collecting metal to produce weapons and warships, Hachiko’s statue was melted down to produce parts for a locomotive.

Ando was a student at the Tokyo School of the Arts, now Tokyo University of the Arts, when he was sent to Manchuria to fight in 1943. When the war ended he was sent to Miyazaki Prefecture as part of the national defense.

Two months later, he was sent home.

Because of the food shortage, he could not make a living sculpting and found work decorating dance halls and display windows at department stores.

But he later reconstructed a studio and started molding things out of clay. Around that time, he was asked to make a statue of Hachiko.

He remembered the large, white and tan dog sitting in his father’s studio, and wanted to make a statue that would be forever loved by everyone.

The unveiling ceremony for the new statue was held on Aug. 15, 1948, the anniversary of the end of the war. The words “Faithful Dog Hachiko” on the pedestal were written by Atsuko Hajima, a third-grader in Shibuya Ward now aged 69.

Hajima, who was invited to the ceremony, pulled the rope unveiling the statue together with American, British, Chinese and Korean elementary school students.

She believes Hachiko is a symbol of peace. She quoted her mother as telling her, “If peace continues, this statue will never disappear.”

Hachiko was stuffed and mounted and is on display at the National Museum of Nature and Science at Ueno Park in Taito Ward.