Aomori – Wasao, an Akita dog who earned nationwide popularity for his unique looks, has died at age 13, believed to be equivalent to around the early 90s in human years, a support group said Tuesday.
The big, white furry canine with a squinty-eyed face died Monday. He had been described widely as “busa kawaii,” a nickname combining two Japanese words — busaiku, meaning ugly and kawaii, or cute.
The dog, once abandoned in the town of Ajigasawa in Aomori Prefecture, was adopted by a local in 2007 before becoming an online sensation through blog articles and eventually rising to TV stardom. A movie titled after him was also released in 2011.
Wasao’s activities included visits to areas devastated by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami and serving as “tourism stationmaster” at nearby Ajigasawa Station.
The support group, Wasao Project, said issues with his health became more visible in April when he was no longer able to stand on his own, and that his condition deteriorated rapidly on Sunday.
“Thank you for everything. I feel proud to have been a family with Wasao,” said his owner and town assembly member Tadamitsu Kikuya, 55.
Wasao Project plans to host a farewell event.
The Akita is a large breed originating from Akita Prefecture, adjacent to Aomori, and has captured international attention over the years.
Russian President Vladimir Putin received an Akita dog as a gift from the governor of the prefecture in 2012, following his country’s support following the 2011 disaster.
Olympic figure skating champion Alina Zagitova received an Akita puppy in 2017 from a group preserving the breed at a ceremony in Moscow attended by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
U.S. author and political activist Helen Keller, who lived from 1880 to 1968, treasured the companionship of dogs throughout her life, including two Akita dogs that in the 1930s became the first of their kind known to have entered the United States.
Near JR Shibuya Station in Tokyo, the statue of Hachiko, an Akita dog famed since the 1920s for loyally awaiting his deceased master for years, is now a popular meeting spot in the district.