The Heartbreaking Story Of Hachikō — The World’s Most Loyal Dog

Published April 19, 2018
Updated February 12, 2020
Published April 19, 2018
Updated February 12, 2020

Every day, Hachikō would greet his human, a routine the faithful canine never gave up, even after his owner's death. The dog became a symbol of loyalty in Japan – and now the world.

Hachiko The Dog

Wikimedia Commons

Hachikō the dog was more than a pet. The canine companion of a university professor was faithful to the end. For nearly a decade after his master passed away, the dog continued to show up at the same spot where he would greet the professor every day after work.

When Hachikō Met Ueno

Hachiko And Ueno Statue

Manish Prabhune/Flickr
Hachikō meets his master.

A golden brown Akita, Hachikō was born on Nov. 10, 1923, in a farm located in Japan’s Akita Prefecture.

In 1924, Professor Hidesaburō Ueno, who taught in the agriculture department at Tokyo Imperial University, acquired the pet and brought him to live with him in the Shibuya neighborhood of Tokyo.

The pair followed the same routine every day: In the morning Ueno would walk to the Shibuya Station with Hachikō and take the train to work.

After finishing the day’s classes, he would take the train back and return to the station at 3 p.m. on the dot, when Hachikō would be waiting to accompany him on the walk home.

Master and pet kept this schedule religiously until one sad day in May 1925 when Professor Ueno suffered a sudden brain hemorrhage while teaching and passed away.

That same day, Hachikō showed up at 3 p.m. as usual, but his beloved owner never got off the train.

Despite this disruption of his routine, Hachikō returned the next day at the same time, hoping that Ueno would be there to meet him. Of course, the professor failed to return home once again, but his loyal Akita never gave up hope.

Hachikō Wins Over Shibuya

Shibuya Station In 1920s

Wikimedia CommonsShibuya Station in the 1920s, where Hachikō would meet his master.

Hachikō was at Shibuya Station the next day at 3 p.m., then the day after, and the day after that. Soon, the lone dog began to draw the attention of other commuters.

At first, the station workers were not very friendly with the dog, but over time people started to watch out for him. Even the station employees would bring treats for the devoted canine and sometimes sit and keep him company.

The days turned into weeks, then months, then years, and still Hachikō returned each day to wait. His presence had a great impact on the local community of Shibuya and he became something of an icon.

In fact, one of Professor Ueno’s former students, Hirokichi Saito, who also happened to be an expert on the Akita breed, got wind of Hachikō’s routine.

He decided to take the train to Shibuya to see for himself if his professor’s pet would still be waiting.

When he arrived, he saw Hachikō there, as usual. He followed the dog from the station to the home of Ueno’s former gardener, Kuzaburo Kobayashi. There, Kobayashi filled him in on the story of Hachikō’s life.

A Rare Breed

Close-Up Of Hachiko

Wikimedia CommonsHachikō was only 1 of 30 purebred Akitas.

Shortly after this fateful meeting with the gardener, Saito published a census on Akita dogs in Japan. He found that there were only 30 documented purebred Akitas — one being Hachikō.

The former student was so intrigued by the dog’s story that he published several articles detailing his loyalty.

In 1932, one of his articles was published in the national daily Asahi Shimbun, and Hachikō’s tale spread throughout Japan. The dog quickly found nationwide fame.

Soon, people from all over the country were coming to visit Hachikō, who had become a symbol of loyalty and something of a good-luck charm.

The faithful pet never let old age or arthritis interrupt his routine. Nearly a decade after his master’s death, he still returned to the station every day to wait, never giving up hope that the professor would return.

Sometimes he was accompanied by people who had traveled great distances just to sit with him.

Hachikō’s Legacy

Honoring Hachiko

Wikimedia CommonsCrowds gather at Hachikō’s statue on the one-year anniversary of his death.

Hachikō’s great vigil finally came to an end on March 8, 1935, when he was found dead in the streets of Shibuya at the age of 11.

Scientists, who weren’t able to determine his cause of death until 2011, found that the dog had a filaria infection and terminal cancer. He even had four yakitori skewers in his stomach, but they concluded that the skewers were not the cause of Hachikō’s death.

Hachiko Exhibit

Wikimedia CommonsHachikō exhibited at the National Museum of Nature and Science in Ueno.

His passing made national headlines. He was cremated and his ashes were placed next to Professor Ueno’s grave in Aoyama Cemetery in Tokyo. The master and his loyal dog had finally reunited. His fur, however, was preserved, stuffed, and mounted. It’s now housed in the National Museum of Nature and Science in Ueno, Tokyo.

Hachikō In Bronze

Portrait Of Hachiko

jpellgen/flickrHachikō still stands proud at Shibuya Station in Tokyo.

The dog had become such an important symbol in Japan that donations were made to erect a bronze statue of him in the exact spot he had faithfully waited for his master.

Soon after Hachikō’s death, the nation became consumed by war. When statues all over the country were being melted down to use for ammunition, Hachikō’s was not spared.

However, the story of the loyal dog was so loved that a new statue was placed in 1948 at Shibuya Station, where it remains to this day.

As millions of passengers pass through this station daily, Hachikō stands proud.

The station entrance near where the statue is located is even devoted to the beloved canine. It’s called Hachikō-guchi, simply meaning the Hachikō entrance and exit.

A similar statue, erected in 2004, can be found in Odate, Hachikō’s original hometown, where it stands in front of the Akita Dog Museum.

Hachiko Statue In Odate

terrazzo/flickrA statue of Hachikō in Odate, his original hometown.

In 2015, the Faculty of Agriculture at the University of Tokyo, where Ueno taught, erected yet another brass statue, which was unveiled on the 80th anniversary of Hachikō’s death.

This one depicted Hachikō jumping up to greet his master after a long workday. Ueno wears a hat, suit, and trench coat, and stands next to his briefcase. Meanwhile, Hachikō dons a studded harness, just like the one he’s seen wearing in his last photos.

Part Of The Family

Tokyo Mourns Hachiko

Wikimedia CommonsYaeko Sakano and the station staff sit in mourning with the deceased Hachikō in Tokyo on March 8, 1935.

In another spin on Hachikō’s story, Yaeko Sakano, Ueno’s unmarried partner knew firsthand the importance of the dog and professor’s relationship.

When she died in 1961, she was buried in a temple far from Ueno’s grave, despite her requests to be buried alongside Ueno.

Not until 2013, when University of Tokyo professor Sho Shiozawa found records of her burial requests, were Sakano’s wishes taken seriously.

It took a few years of negotiations, but finally, in 2016, some of her ashes were buried with Ueno and Hachikō. Her name was also inscribed on the side of his tombstone.

Movie Adaptation Of The World’s Most Loyal Dog

The movie trailer for Hachi: A Dog’s Tale.

Hachikō’s story first made it to film in the 1987 Japanese blockbuster titled Hachiko Monogatari, directed by Seijirō Kōyama.

It became even more well-known when the tale of a master and his loyal dog served as the backbone of Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, an American movie starring Richard Gere and directed by Lasse Hallström.

This version is loosely based on the original source material. It’s set in Rhode Island and centers on the relationship between Professor Parker Wilson (Gere) and a lost puppy that had been freighted from Japan to the United States.

Hachi: A Dog’s Tale features several characters that orbit around the two protagonists. His wife Cate (Joan Allen) is initially opposed to keeping the dog. After Parker dies and Cate sells the house, the dog goes to live with their daughter Andy, her husband, and their young son Ronnie.

Still, the dog always finds his way back to the train station where he used to go to greet his former owner.

The movie is set up with a frame narration. Ronnie uses the opportunity to tell Hachikō’s story with a school presentation about a personal hero. Despite the different setting and culture of the 2009 movie, the central themes of loyalty remain at the forefront.

Hachikō the dog might have symbolized the quintessential values of Japan, but his story and faithfulness continue to resonate with humans around the world.

After learning about the incredible loyalty of Hachikō the dog, meet “Stuckie” — the mummified dog who has been stuck in a tree for over 50 years. Then read about how Vladimir Demikhov actually made a two-headed dog. Finally, learn the tale of the canine hero called Balto.

Gina Dimuro
Gina Dimuro is a New York-based writer and translator.