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

Published April 19, 2018
Updated September 12, 2019
Published April 19, 2018
Updated September 12, 2019

The Akita dog Hachiko used to go greet his human, a university professor, at the Shibuya train station. He became the symbol of undying loyalty because for years after his human's death, he would always show up on the spot where he would greet the professor.

Hachiko Portrait

Public Domain

Hachiko the dog was more than a pet. The loyal companion of a university professor who passed away suddenly, over the years he became a symbol of loyalty in Japan and all around the world: for years after his human’s death, he would always show up on the spot where he would greet the professor once he came back from work

A Loyal Companion

Shibuya Station Where Hachiko Waited

Wikimedia CommonsShibuya Station as it looked when Hachiko kept his vigil.

A golden-brown Akita, Hachiko was born on November 10, 1923 in a farm located in the Akita prefecture.
In 1924, professor Hidesaburo Ueno, who taught in the agriculture department at the Tokyo Imperial University, acquired the pet and brought him to live in the Shibuya neighborhood of Tokyo with him. The pair followed the same routine every day: in the morning he would walk to the Shibuya Station with his Akita Hachiko and take the train to work. After he had finished the day’s classes, he would take the train back and return to the station at 3 p.m. on the dot, when Hachiko would be waiting to accompany him on the walk home.

Master and pet kept this schedule religiously until one sad day in May 1925, Professor Ueno suffered a sudden brain hemorrhage while teaching and passed away. Hachiko showed up at 3 p.m. as usual, but his beloved owner never got off the train.

Despite this disruption of his routine, Hachiko 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.

Hachiko Takes Over Shibuya

Hachiko

Wikimedia CommonsHachiko the loyal akita.

Hachiko 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. Sure, station workers were at first not their friendliest selves with the dog, but, over time, people would stop to pet and feed him. Even the station employees would bring treats for the loyal canine and sometimes sit and keep him company. The days turned into weeks, then months, then years, and still Hachiko returned each day to wait.

His presence in Shibuya became iconic in the local community. In fact, one of professor Ueno’s former students, Hirokichi Saito, who had become an expert on the Akita breed, got wind of Hachiko’s routine, and he took the train to Shibuya himself to see if his professor’s pet would still be waiting. Hachiko was there as usual, and he followed the dog to the home of Ueno’s former gardener, Kuzaburo Kobayashi, where he was filled in on the story of Hachiko’s life. Shortly after this fateful meeting, he published a census on Akita dogs in Japan: there were only 30 documented purebred Akitas, and one of them was Hachiko.

Statue For Hachiko The Dog

Wikimedia CommonsCrowds gather at Hachiko’s statue on the year anniversary of his death

Aside from his expertise in the area, though, the former student was so intrigued by the story that he published several articles detailing Hachiko’s loyalty, and, in 1932, one of his articles was published in the national daily Asahi Shimbun, which resulted into Hachiko’s nationwide fame.

Soon, people from all over the country were coming to visit Hachiko, who had become a symbol of loyalty and something of a good-luck charm. The faithful pet did not let old age or arthritis interrupt his routine, a decade after his master’s death he still returned to the station every day to wait, sometimes accompanied by people who had traveled great distances just to sit with him.

Hachiko’s Legacy

Hachiko Dog

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

Hachiko’s great vigil finally came to an end in 1935, when he was found dead of natural causes in the streets of Shibuya.According to the scientists who determined the cause of death in 2011, the dog had a filaria infection, terminal cancer and four yakitori skewers in his stomach, which, however, did not cause a lethal infection.

Despite not having seen his master for ten years, the dog had returned to the station without fail every day, never giving up hope that the professor would return.

Hachiko Body

Hidesaburo Ueno’s partner Yaeko Ueno and the station staff sit in mourning with the deceased Hachiko in Tokyo on March 8, 1935.

Hachiko’s death made national headlines. He was cremated with his ashes being placed next to Professor Ueno’s grave so that master and loyal dog were finally reunited. His fur, however, was preserved, stuffed, and mounted and can now be visited at the National Science Museum of Japan in Ueno, Tokyo.

The dog had become so beloved in Japan that donations were made to erect a bronze statue of him in the exact spot he had faithfully waited for over a decade.

The nation would soon be consumed by war; when statues all over the country were being melted down in the desperation for ammunition, Hachiko’s was not spared. However, the story of the loyal dog was so loved that a new statue was erected at Shibuya Station in 1948, where it remains to this day, still a popular meeting spot for people in the city. A similar statue, erected in 2004, can be found in Odate, Hachiko’s original hometown, where it stands in front of the Akita Dog Museum.

Hachiko Statue Odate

A statue of Hachiko in Odate, his original hometown.

Movie Adaptation

The movie trailer for Hachi: A Dog’s Tale (2009)

Aside from the 1987 Japanese blockbuster titled Hachi-ko directed by Seijiro Koyama, Hachiko’s story 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: instead, it centers on the relationship between professor Parker Wilson (Richard Gere) and a lost puppy that had been freighted from Japan to the United States, and it’s set in Rhode Island.

Due to its being an adaptation of the story Hachi: A Dog’s Tale features several characters that orbit around the two protagonists: his wife Cate (Joan Allen), for example, is initially opposed to keeping the dog, and, after Parker’s death, and after Cate sells the house, he goes to live with Parker and Cate’s daughter Andy, her husband and their young son Ronnie. However, he always finds his way back to the train station where he used to go greet his former human. What’s more, the whole movie is set up with a frame narration, where Ronnie, Parker’s grandson, is giving a presentation a school about a personal hero, choosing to tell Hachiko’s story.

Despite the different setting and culture of the 2009 adaptation, the central themes of loyalty and faithfulness remain on the forefront. Hachiko the dog might have symbolized the quintessential values of Japan, but his story does indeed have a universal resonance for the way it touches people’s hearts.


After learning about the incredible loyalty of Hachiko 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.