Hachikō – a dog’s tale

What is the spot you would not like to miss when visiting Tokyo? I can tell you it’s a huge and dazzling city, with amazing parks and gardens, temples, shrines, museums, art galleries, shopping centers, Michelin star awarded restaurants etc. An infinity of possibilities for a tourist lost for a few days in the world’s biggest concrete jungle! Yet, heading my bucket list for Tokyo was the statue of Hachikō in Shibuya Station. It might sound childish, but the story of this dog impressed me to tears (I am sure I am not the only one to say that) and ever since I’ve learned about it I wanted to go and meet Hachikō.


Who was Hachikō?

You have probably first heard about it when Hollywood recreated certain aspects from its life in the movie “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale”, starring Richard Gere.  If you didn’t know, the action is based on a true story, but what you’ve seen in the movie it’s not entirely true. Hachikō was a golden brown Akita Inu dog born on a farm near the city of Ōdate, taken as a pet in 1924 by Hidesaburō Ueno, a professor in the agriculture department at the University of Tokyo. The relation between the dog and his master became so strong that every day the dog would wait the professor’s return in Shibuya Station, at the exact time of the train’s arrival. This daily routine lasted for about one year, until the day professor Ueno suffered a cerebral attack and died.

Hachiko movie poster

The saying goes that dog is man’s best friend. And this one dog in Japan proved its incommensurable love and devotement for his master. Each day for the next nine years, nine months and fifteen days, Hachikō awaited Ueno’s return, appearing precisely when the train was due at the station. Its waiting at the station didn’t pass unobserved, and though at the beginning some people were not necessarily friendly to him, in time, the commuters touched by his story, started to bring him food. It took 7 years of waiting for Hachikō to become a national hero and for its story to spread all over Japan. It happened in 1932, when a former student of Ueno followed the dog to the home of the gardener of the professor, where he learned its entire story. He returned frequently to visit Hachikō and over the years he published several articles about the dog’s remarkable devotement. One of these articles, published in the Tokyo Asahi Shimbun in 1932 moved the whole Japanese society, who found in Hachikō an outstanding example to follow.  On March 8, 1935 Hachikō was found dead on a street near Shibuya. The cause of its death was established by the scientists in 2011: the dog had terminal cancer and a filaria infection.

Hachikō’s statue

Shibuya station has dramatically changed its look in these 80 years that have passed since Hachikō’s death. One of the exits was given Hachikō’s name and it leads to Hachikō’s Square, where thousands of people, tourists and residents both, gather to see the loyal dog’s statue.

Shibuya station
Shibuya Station in the pre-war era, source: Wikipedia
Shibuya station today
Shibuya Station today, source: Wikipedia

Among hundreds of flashes pointing at him, I finally met Hachikō on a cold rainy night and I thought how many nights like this he must have patiently waited for the return of his master, in those almost 10 years he faithfully retuned to Shibuya every single day. The simple thought brought tears to my eyes. Though its first statue was erected in Shibuya in 1934, while Hachikō was still alive, with the dog participating at the unveiling ceremony, soon the statue had been recycled for the World War II. Takeshi Ando, son of the original artist, was commissioned by 1948 to recreate the statue. A similar one stands in Hachikō’s hometown, in front of Ōdate Station. Every year on April 8, Hachikō’s devotement is remembered and celebrated at Shibuya Station and numerous dog lovers come together to pay tribute to this loyal and loving dog.

Hachiko funerals
Hachiko’s funeral

Its story had to be told and Hollywood has probably made Hachikō famous all over the world,but that’s less important. What is important is the fact that this faithful companion has given us, humans, a lesson on the core values of life: loyalty and supreme love. This year, the Faculty of Agriculture of the University of Tokyo constructed a bronze statue, depicting Ueno returning to meet Hachikō. Unfortunately I found out late about it and I didn’t have a chance to see it this time. It will be enough reason to return to Tokyo, one day…


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