In Japan there’s a dog that sets the “trusty companion” bar just a bit higher. In fact, few canines are prolific enough to achieve his celebrity status—cast both in bronze and the hearts of an entire nation. But Hachikō, an Akita who lived nearly a century ago and now enjoys legendary status in Japan, is the best of man’s best friends.
In 1924, a professor of agriculture at the University of Tokyo by the name of Hidesaburō Ueno decided to take a pet. He came home with a two month old Akita. He named the puppy Hachikō—“hachi” meaning “eight”, the dog’s order in the litter, and “kō” meaning “prince” or “duke.”
Akitas are a noble Japanese breed known for their boldness, intelligence, and above all, loyalty. So, unsurprisingly, when Ueno would leave for work each day, Hachikō would stand by the door and watch him go.
And, when Ueno came back from work, Hachikō would be waiting promptly at 4 o’clock. Not at home, however, but at Shibuya Station, having traveled the streets to watch for his guardian’s face to materialize out of the commuting masses.
This is itself an astonishing tale of Hachikō’s loyalty and faithfulness. But it gets more incredible:
The two kept up this routine every day, until May 21, 1925. On that day, Hachikō was waiting, as always, in the train station for Ueno to return.
But his master never came. The professor had suffered an abrupt and tragic stroke mid-lecture, and would never ride the train back to Shibuya again.
Hachikō and the professor had lived together for little over a year, and yet the bond between them proved to be something extraordinary.
Hachikō returned to the train station like clockwork to await the professor. When he was sent to another part of Tokyo to live with Ueno’s relatives, Hachikō nonetheless continued his daily commute to Shibuya—now a 10 mile trek through the streets of Tokyo. After a year of this, Ueno’s family conceded, and entrusted Hachikō to the late professor’s gardener, who lived nearer to the station.
He became something of a familiar face among travelers, and the word of his loyalty came with acts of compassion and kindness. The station master set out food and a bed for Hachikō, and many passengers petted him affectionately as they passed.
A newspaper article was written, and Hachikō became a celebrity figure in Japan. His loyalty set an example to be strived for; he was referenced by schoolteachers and parents alike.
In 1934, a bronze statue of Hachikō was installed in Shibuya Station to commemorate the dog that had come to be seen as the station’s mascot, and Hachikō was present at the opening ceremony.
After nearly 10 years of solitary and stoic waiting, Hachikō died in 1935. Numerous books and films, across multiple cultures, have since been made commemorating the life of Hachikō, a story both heartwarming and heart wrenching.
If you ever find yourself in Shibuya, one of the nearly 2.5 million travelers who pass through each weekday, you’ll see him there, cast in bronze, still watching for the return of his companion. A nation symbol of loyalty and faithfulness, Hachikō redefined what it means to be a friend—whatever species you may be.