Legend of the Dog in Tokyo

Hachiko StatueHe’s inspired films, books, TV shows, video games, even a census. His bronze likeness outside Tokyo’s Shibuya Station is a common meeting point amongst the dizzying chaos. And though he’s now been dead for 75 years, every year, in April, his memory is still celebrated by hundreds of his admirers.

He is Hachikō, and his legend in Japan is alive and well.

The story goes like this:

Japanese professor Hidesaburō Ueno adopted Hachikō, a then 1-year-old Akita dog, in 1924. Every day the owner and dog would meet each other outside the train station at Shibuya after work, a ritual that went on for about a year, until one day Ueno suffered from a cerebal hemorrhage and died.

Nobody told Hachikō, though, so for the next 9 years Ueno’s faithful little pooch would somehow find his way back to the station, at the exact same time he used to always meet his owner, and wait for him, in vain, until he died in 1935. Go ahead, I won’t mind if you stop reading to go hug your dog or cat now.

In a country whose people go to great lengths to prove their decency and loyalty, Hachikō still stands as one of the most beloved embodiments of its collective, desired personality; plus, he’s so cute! During my trip to Tokyo last year, I didn’t make it to the National Science Museum of Japan to see Hachikō (now stuffed and preserved), but did find his Shibuya statue, which was treated to a constant parade of people posing for photos.

That statue, by the way, was a replacement for the original one, which was unveiled–with Hachikō present–in 1934 but later repurposed during World War II. Who successfully petitioned for a new one to be erected in 1948? The Society for Recreating the Hachikō Statue, of course.

There’s an episode of the brilliant, animated sci-fi series Futurama entitled “Jurassic Bark”, in which Fry stumbles upon his fossilized dog and considers cloning it. He relents, thinking the dog probably forgot about him after Fry fell into a cryogenics chamber and woke up in the 30th-century.

In the end sequence, however, we see Fry’s dog faithfully waiting for him every day, for 12 years, outside the pizza parlor Fry worked at. I’ve probably seen the episode five or six times, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve fought back tears every time; after the first viewing, I was bawling and hugging my cat for an hour (much to her horror).

Hachikō’s legend might belong to Japan, but his story is, indeed, one we can all embrace.

Hachikō’s statue is planted on the northeast corner of Shibuya Square in Tokyo, just outside the train station, kitty corner from a huge Starbucks with tall windows overlooking all the madness. While you’re over there, try to find your way over to the nearby Standing Sushi Bar, 75 Uogashi Nihon-Ichi, for a few pieces of fantastic (and affordable) charred salmon sushi. The National Museum of Nature and Science is located, appropriately, in Ueno Park.

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