Many breeds have an origin story or mythology which enthusiasts hold on to or repeat. The Kishu Ken breed is no exception, though their story sometimes reads more like a fairytale. This tale has been written by a number of authors and passed down by orators through the years, and has some differences based on the author, but it goes like this…
Once upon a time, there lived a boar hunter who had cut out a life for himself in the mountains of Japan’s Kii Peninsula. This area was defined by its steep volcanic mountain ranges and thickly forested areas, and was blessed by temperate weather. One wet and cold winter day, when he was returning from a hunt, the hunter found an injured she-wolf on the road. The wolf was a great hunter herself, and so, he showed compassion for her; he fed her and restored her to health enough so that she could return home.
In return for his kindness, the wolf offered the hunter a gift to show her gratitude, but when asked what he would like for his generosity, the hunter asked the wolf for one of her pups. Life in the mountains was difficult and lonely without a companion, and she was surely a superior hunter. Having a companion to hunt with would make life safer and easier for both of them.
Many months passed after the wolf had made her way home. It had been so long without contact that the hunter believed she had forgotten her promise. Yet, one day in the spring, when the hunter returned home from an unsuccessful hunt, he found a wolf pup waiting at his door.
This pup went on to become a fierce, tireless boar hound and the progenitor for the Kishu Ken breed.
In the case of the Kishu Ken and many other tall tales, this mythology may have a sliver of truth to it. The Kishu Ken is currently known, by genetic testing, to have a maternal haplotype that is unique to the Japanese archipelago and unique to the Kishu Ken breed. This maternal haplotype is clustered in the same haplogroup as the Australian Dingo and the New Guinea Singing Dog—both relatives of the lost Honshu wolf. There are several traits the Kishu Ken retains that enthusiasts and hunters sometimes say are signs of wolf blood; from their large, straight teeth, believed to be uncommonly strong, to even their “wonderfully wild” temperaments and personalities. The Kishu Ken should be a docile hound with people, but fierce in the face of animals.
To this day, the Kishu Ken is still the foremost purebred Japanese dog used worldwide in the pursuit of wild boar. The breed has also been chosen for hunting deer in Japan, tracking moose in Europe, and exterminating legal non-game animals in the US, and the breed has even had famous bear dogs among its numbers.
Originally standardized in 1934 by the Nihon Ken Hozonkai, the Kishu Ken is a medium-sized dog of the aboriginal Japanese hound type. Though once its only use, the breed is far more than an accomplished hound today. These are dogs which have proven their accomplishments in several conformation, performance, and companion venues, including Conformation, Agility, Nosework, Rally, Obedience, FastCAT, Coursing Ability Tests, Barn Hunt, and more. They do not fall short on spirit or versatility. In the realm of performance, their history and use as a dedicated hunting dog and hound has created a “try it” kind of dog that is dedicated and tractable with its handler, and willing to do anything for its handler.
Despite its energy and drive to get out and do anything, the breed also makes a wonderful companion dog that is able to relax inside the home on their down time, making the breed a handsome choice for many modern homes. Unfortunately, their critically low numbers and relatively few enthusiasts have caused the breed to go tragically overlooked and undervalued as a companion or sport dog. Likewise, their rarity and the lack of numbers in the US makes them under-selected as a prospective hunting dog.
The Kishu Ken does currently enjoy a niche, but dedicated, following that enjoys the breed’s endless charm and gentle nature at home. This following has slowly been growing, but unfortunately, this has not been enough to sustain the breed as of yet. Registration numbers with the Nihon Ken Hozonkai (the Japanese breed club) dropped to just shy of 250 individuals in 2020 and 2021. This number is often representative of the majority of Kishu Ken registration numbers worldwide. The National Kishu Ken Club, the official AKC parent club for the Kishu Ken, has had a total of 69 dogs listed from 2009 to 2022 and zero population growth as of the third quarter of 2022.
If you are interested in the Kishu Ken breed as a companion, a conformation dog, a sport choice, or a hunting dog, there are options available for domestic-born litters from health-tested and proven parents from breeders listed through the National Kishu Ken Club. The National Kishu Ken Club provides more in-depth snapshots of life with the breed, the breed standard and history, and the opportunity for import.