Dog Man by Martha Sherrill

Sometimes it takes a rugged individualist to make a society recognize a national treasure in its ownDog_man  backyard.  Such was the case for the Akita dog in Japan. 

During World War II, the Akita breed was quite close to extinction in Japan.  In rural areas of the country at this time, it was considered unpatriotic to keep these, or almost any other dog, as a pet, since food was increasingly scarce and Akitas were heavy feeders.  It didn’t help that the pelts of these beautiful animals were highly valued as linings for army officers’ coats. 

Thank goodness for Morie Sawataishi, an engineer from rural northern Japan who at thirty had a spiritual awakening of sorts and acquired an Akita puppy on the grounds of his own deep intuition.  This was the first of a hundred dogs that Morie would raise in his lifetime, some of which he kept and others that he would give away to carefully chosen owners; he never sold any for his own profit.

As the author tells Morie’s amazing story, you discover equally the subtleties of Japanese culture and the delicate (and not always easy) relationship between Morie, his wife Kitako, and his dog-raising peers.  Kitako shows a huge resiliency throughout the years – a Tokyo socialite, she marries a man rough and rural in manners and talk, but yet an individual with powerful character and drive.  As their marriage progresses, she progresses in turn from confused and unhappy city girl to a highly supportive and strong partner in a life way that is often confusing to her.

The other characters that inhabit Morie’s world are equally memorable – from zealous dog keepers to the fascinating matagis (lone hereditary hunters, one of whom Morie befriends).  The lore and myths of Northern Japan come wonderfully alive in this account.  And then of course, the dogs themselves…

This is my humble opinion – it’s one of the best books of the year.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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