"Yuushoku" (有色) is a word that means "colored" or "with color" in Japanese. This is the word we have come to use to describe all non-white-coated Kishu Ken today. "Yuushoku" Kishu Ken may be sesame, red, black and tan, or even brindle (though brindle is a disqualified coat color), but the word describes all of them to the layman.
While at one point, yuushoku Kishu comprised almost the entire breed, some estimates put yuushoku Kishu at only 20-30% of the modern breed makeup, with white coated being the most common by a landslide. This is due to a popular sire effect when a line of white-coated Kishu became popular in the breed's history - this line was extensively bred to, and the number of dogs who were yuushoku diminished over the subsequent generations.
Yuushoku Kishu were preserved in only a handful of lines, but not all of those lines were registered.
This brings us to the plight of the yuushoku Kishu: all modern, registered yuushoku dogs exported from Japan that we have been able to observe come down from only a handful of dogs, making some yuushoku Kishu heavily linebred or inbred on these ancestors (likely in an attempt to preserve these coat colors and specific ancestors.)
It is worth noting that observations on these Kishu Ken are few in number due to the limited nature of yuushoku Kishu Ken in general. Only FIVE (5) yuushoku Kishu Ken have ever been exported from Japan. They are:
Of these 5 dogs, 4 of them come down from dogs produced by Hidaka Yamada sou, and specifically share the ancestor Kougin go Hidaka Yamada sou. Only one of them comes down from dogs produced by another kennel, Kishuu Miyama sou, and does not share ancestors with the other 3 within 4 generations. However, due to pedigree information uncovered that gives some of these Kishuu Miyama sou dogs a Hidaka no- prefix, it may be that these Kishuu Miyama sou dogs share ancestry with the Hidaka Yamada sou dogs in the generations we currently do not have information for.
When inbred (or linebred, as some use), Kishu Ken are prone to skin inflammation, allergies, and autoimmune illness.
The information from these 5 dogs paints a potentially troubled scene for the state of the modern yuushoku Kishu Ken. Add to this that Kougin go Hidaka Yamada sou is also behind a handful of other Kishu Ken exports from Japan and we have something that needs attention - to take care that we do not potentially inbreed where we should be breeding for diversity. In fact, with interest dropping in their native Japan and registered litters at an all-time low, the modern genepool of Kishu Ken in general may be more limited than we are aware of. The plight of the yuushoku Kishu Ken may become the same as the plight of Kishu Ken in general, if these trends continue.
How You Can Help
In order to continue producing the most diverse Kishu Ken we can, the breed needs more interest (to create a demand for Kishu Ken, which is tragically lacking) and it needs unrelated imports. Our Kishu Ken population in the USA is particularly flush with these yuushoku dogs. Going forward, focus may be best spent on importing purely white-coated lines from Japan, and importing dogs not related to the Hidaka Yamada sou dogs we see behind our yuushoku Kishu Ken.
If you are interested in a Kishu Ken, please consider importing and joining the National Kishu Club. For more information on importing, visit Japan Dog Export.
If you already own a Kishu Ken and want to help, but are not in the position to import or breed, consider entering your dog in any number of canine sports (conformation, barn hunt, lure coursing, agility, or obedience are all sports Kishu Ken have tried and may excel at), carrying educational information on you such as business cards or flyers, and speaking publicly about the breed at Meet the Breed events. For information on how to join any of these venues, feel free to email the club at our contact page.
If you do not own a Kishu Ken and cannot import or are not in a position to add a Kishu Ken to your home, you can still help the breed by sharing our links and by helping us spread the word.
The "Japanese Wolfdog" is often a term and alternate breed name given to the Kishu Ken's sibling breed, the Shikoku Ken. This is primarily due to the Shikoku Ken's somewhat more lupine appearance in coat color, and the opinion that the Honshu wolf native to Japan survived longest on the island of Shikoku. Sources like "Waiting for Wolves in Japan" and "Nihon Ookami wo Ou" tell that the Kishu-Honshu wolf connection is so strong, that this nickname may be better suited for the Kishu Ken, despite not looking the part of a more typical wolfdog breed.
These texts, and stories suggest that Japanese hunters crossed wolves to their hounds to produce better boar-hunting dogs. This may be because the Honshu wolf was a natural predator to the boar and deer that often invaded and destroyed fields and crops in Japanese villages, and that strength and skill was desirable to breed into the native hounds.
The Kishu Ken, specifically, has strong ties to this wolf in its history, and in the origin story of the breed itself. The origin story invariably goes something like this:
This origin story may have some truth to it, as genetic evidence has uncovered that some modern Kishu do - in fact - carry a maternal haplotype (A445) unique to Japan and not shared with any other Japanese breed. According to some modern day hunters, there are other traits Kishu Ken possess that are evidence of their wolf blood. These are not limited to their sharp, almond-shaped eyes, their narrow chests, or the "rounded triangle" shape of their well-furred ears. This evidence also lives in the very nature of the Kishu Ken - the "wonderful wildness" of their personalities. Some believe it is also seen in how easily they can navigate dense, mountainous terrain, and their overall robust physique.
Another alleged place Kishu show their "wolf's blood" is their teeth. Kishu Ken teeth are hard, strong, and large. According to the lore, Kishu teeth come out at an angle that is similar to that of the Honshu wolf. Some hunters say Kishu teeth do not break or get lost in a fight. This may be due to selection for hunting dogs who must work on the tough hide of a boar, rather than sure evidence of wolf blood. It could even be another myth... but Kishu teeth are nothing to disregard.
The Kishu Ken is not a wolf-dog cross in its modern incarnation, but between verbal storytelling, written accounts, and scientific study, it is is not difficult to believe that these wolf-dog crosses may have happened in the breed's history.
The Honshu wolf is long extinct, so the Kishu Ken may not have "wolf content", as is said among enthusiasts of real wolf-dog crosses, but it does not mean they are an "easier" dog because of it. They have a strong connection to the wilderness, and their wild ancestors, though intentional breeding, by merit of what they are meant to do and the way they hunt. The Kishu Ken has a "wonderful wildness", indeed, and this wildness needs to be both respected and nurtured for owners of these dogs to grow faithful, confident companions.
Written and edited by C.J. Hammond
Kishu Ken centric articles written by club members. If you are a club member who would like to submit an article for the website, please contact us.