Domestic Pets of Shoguns of Japan

Examining the diverse pet companions of Japan's Shoguns

Shoguns were powerful people in Japanese history, but they also had a tender side. Stay tuned as we publish amazing stories about shoguns' relationships with their pets.

Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first leader of the Tokugawa Shogunate, had a fondness for birds that he shared with his descendants. Ieasu's passion for falcons made him well-known nationwide. Hideyoshi, along with his most prized falcon Hayabusa, amassed an incredible collection of rare birds such as parrots, peacocks, and nightingales. Their presence not only improved the aesthetics of his palace but also conveyed a sense of wealth and sophistication. 

Falconry, known as takagari, which includes the keeping and training of hawks, was a pastime in Tokugawa Japan
Falconry, known as takagari, which includes the keeping and training of hawks, was indeed a noble pastime in Tokugawa Japan

While some shoguns found consolation in birds, others developed great ties with their loyal dogs. Oda Nobunaga, a tremendously ambitious individual, was accompanied by a dog called Inu. Inu's commitment to his master echoed Nobunaga's wish for his troops to be as faithful to him. 

Some shoguns' eccentricity was heightened by their preference for unusual animals such as monkeys, deer, and even a tiger, rather than dogs and cats. Tokugawa Tsunayoshi is well-known for his animal welfare policies. Additionally, he owned a collection of exotic animals such as monkeys, deer, and even a tiger. 

Tokugawa Iemitsu, the third shogun, was known for his fondness for horses, particularly his prized stallion Kurokage. Iemitsu utilized Kurokage, a horse renowned for its speed and strength, to travel across the country swiftly and reach his destinations much quicker. Tokugawa Yoshimune, the Tokugawa dynasty's ninth shogun, had specific preferences. He built exquisite ponds for koi carp in his palace gardens, where he discovered the ideal spot to reflect and relax.

The picturesque castles of shogunal Japan were filled with domestic pets and exotic animals

The picturesque castles of shogunal Japan were filled with domestic pets and exotic animals


In a nutshell, animals like falcons on the hunt, dogs guarding their masters, and exotic birds decorating halls played important roles in ancient Japan. These human-animal interactions reveal much about Japan's culture and continue to be significant today.

Falcons and Hawks

During the Shogunate era, Japan had a well-established tradition of hunting with trained birds of prey, known as falconry. Falconry, also known as 'takagari' or 'takajutsu,' was not only a sport but also a symbol of status. 

Falconry was not a common pursuit among the general population. Caring for falcons and hawks demands specific expertise, significant time commitment, and resources. The majority of falconers were therefore either samurai or nobles.

Training methods for hawks were handed down from generation to generation, from father to son. Hawks were employed for hunting to catch various animals, such as small birds and rabbits, and even larger prey such as deer. The bird's successful training and use after many years of diligent care would have brought pride to the hawk's trainers.

A common sight in shogunal Japan was the majestic sight of hawks gracefully soaring through the air
A common sight in shogunal Japan was the majestic sight of hawks gracefully soaring through the air

Specific native birds like the Japanese Sparrowhawk and Northern Goshawk were used instead of imported ones. 

The Japanese Sparrowhawk, known as Kanmuri-Washi or Kotaka-Washi, is a small bird of prey native to Japan and used by falconers to catch smaller prey such as sparrows and quails. On the other hand, the Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis), known as O-Washi or O-Takazura, is a larger species of hawk and known for its strong grip and versatility in hunting a range of prey, such as medium-sized birds and mammals. Northern Goshawks are preferred by experienced falconers, but they also require more training time.


The Takagari Matsuri, known as the 'Hawk Hunting Festival,' was a significant event in the Shogunate era. Falconers showcased their hunting skills and understanding of natural science. To succeed, falconers had to understand hawk anatomy and behavior well, and take into account factors like wing shape, talon strength, and sharp eyesight.

Dogs

During that period, Japanese views on dogs were greatly influenced by the significance of social hierarchy and filial piety as these values were inherently found in dogs. In Japan's hierarchical society, where loyalty and obedience are highly valued, dogs exemplified these traits.

The samurai code of Bushido reinforced this perspective by elevating dogs to the role of protectors within the warrior class. Samurais had a close bond with dogs. Dogs were viewed as allies in battle and protectors of households. Samurais often formed powerful connections with their dogs, treating them with equal respect and devotion as they did with their fellow warriors. In contrast, women's households were predominantly characterized by the presence of cats, known for their subtle mystical traits and independent nature.  

Dogs, from the loyal companions of the samurai to the enduring tale of Hachiko's loyalty, have left an indelible mark on Japan
 Dogs, from the loyal companions of the samurai to the enduring tale of Hachiko's loyalty, have left an indelible mark on Japan

As in the West, dogs were bred for hunting, and large dogs were especially prized. In a seventeenth-century painting depicting life in and around Edo, large dogs, not just hawks, are visible on the hunt. In 1612, the first shogun Ieyasu requested 670 large hunting dogs and 5,000 to 6,000 archers for a deer hunt.

The Dutch knew the value of hunting dogs and sought favor by importing them into Japan. It is widely believed that the large hunting dogs mentioned in Japanese sources are a type of greyhound imported from Europe.

Cats

In contrast to dogs, which were esteemed for their loyalty, cats were admired for their grace and mystical characteristics. In Japanese folklore, cats are often shown as symbols of good fortune, defenders against evil, and protectors of sacred areas. 

This attitude was carried over into everyday life, where cats were welcomed into homes and businesses as pest controllers and prosperity-bringers. Buddhism, with its focus on compassion, has led to a deep respect for animals as sentient creatures. These views were often strongly linked to cats due to their graceful demeanor and mystical allure.

In Japan, it's common to see cats leisurely strolling through city back alleys or relaxing under the open sky
In Japan, it's common to see cats leisurely strolling through city back alleys or relaxing under the open sky

In summary, men favored dogs for their loyalty, while women favored cats for their mysterious allure. Although different in nature, both dogs and cats were respected for their distinct roles in daily life. Moreover, the status of dogs and cats was influenced by cultural and religious beliefs surrounding these animals. Dogs were often honored with special shrines due to their association with Inari, the Shinto deity linked to rice. Moreover, cats were linked to several Shinto and Buddhist deities, such as the beckoning cat Maneki-neko. Confucianism, Bushido, and Buddhism influenced the perception of dogs and cats significantly.


In traditional Japanese culture, dogs symbolize loyalty
In traditional Japanese culture, dogs symbolize loyalty

Monuments and Temples Connected To Domestic Pets Around Japan.

Dogs and cats were highly valued. Many monuments and temples were dedicated to them.

Japan boasts several temples and monuments linked to dogs and cats. Be sure to visit them on your next trip!
Japan boasts several temples and monuments linked to dogs and cats. Be sure to visit them on your next trip!

The Gotokuji Temple in Tokyo is well-known for its relationship with the Maneki-neko, or beckoning cat. According to an old tale, an impoverished temple priest's cat beckoned passersby with its paw to come inside, leading a samurai to seek refuge from a storm at the temple. Thankful for the cat's counsel, the samurai eventually donated large offerings to the temple. Today, Gotokuji Temple houses numerous sculptures of Maneki-neko.

Tashirojima Island, known as "Cat Island," in Miyagi Prefecture, has attracted cat enthusiasts worldwide due to its large cat population and cat-themed attractions.

Numerous cats inhabit many scenic spots in Japan, adding extra charm
Numerous cats inhabit many scenic spots in Japan, adding extra charm

The Hachiko Statue in front of Shibuya Station in Tokyo is dedicated to the legendary Akita dog Hachiko. 
The legendary loyalty of Hachiko to his owner, Professor Hidesaburo Ueno, has become a part of Japanese folklore. Despite Professor Ueno's passing, Hachiko remained faithfully waiting at Shibuya Station for his return every day.
The statue of Hachiko was put in place outside Tokyo's Shibuya Station in 1934 and nowadays it is a major tourist attraction.

The story of the dog Hachiko gained worldwide fame, particularly after the 2009 movie of the same name, starring Richard Gere
The story of the dog Hachiko gained worldwide fame, particularly after the 2009 movie of the same name, starring Richard Gere

The Nishi Honganji Temple in Kyoto is a significant location of Nyanko-do, or Cat Hall. The hall, built during the Edo era, is dedicated to cats. In addition, Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine in Osaka has a shrine known as 'Inu Jinja', where dogs are revered as guardians, which has been around since the Edo period.

You can purchase cat-themed souvenirs at temples
You can purchase cat-themed souvenirs at temples

The Yanaka Cemetery in Tokyo is the location for Taito-ji Temple, which has a statue of Bakeneko, a mythical cat creature, guarding the temple. The Bakeneko is worshipped as a guardian spirit who safeguards the cemetery and its inhabitants from harm. 

These monuments and shrines serve as clear reminders of pets' contributions to Japanese civilization. During the Edo period, individuals developed a strong attachment to their pets, particularly dogs and cats, and showed their affection for them by erecting landmarks.

The History of Animal Welfare in Japan: The Story of "Dog Shogun," Tokugawa Tsunayoshi

Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, also called the Dog Shogun, ruled Japan from 1680 to 1709 and is famous for his animal welfare policies. Specifically, his policies aimed to safeguard dogs. Tokugawa Tsunayoshi issued the 'Edicts on Compassion for Living Things' to protect animals, especially dogs, from harm and neglect. These edicts were intended to promote compassion and kindness throughout Japan.

Strict laws were in place to prevent harm or abuse of dogs, with severe consequences for violators. This was different from the usual belief that dogs were mostly used for work or hunting.

Tsunayoshi Tokugawa earned the nickname 'Dog Shogun' due to his extensive animal protection laws
Tsunayoshi Tokugawa earned the nickname 'Dog Shogun' due to his extensive animal protection laws
 
Tsunayoshi even established dog hospitals to treat injured or sick dogs. 

In 1686, the first law against harming dogs decreed that injuring them was a punishable offense, stating: "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated."

Tsunayoshi's public works included building bridges and roads with low curbs for dogs, ensuring their safety while traveling along humans on the bustling streets of Edo Japan, because many dogs were often crushed by heavy-loaded wheel carts.

Tsuyanoshi's concern for animal welfare extended beyond dogs; he issued directives to ensure the well-being of horses before those for dogs. Shortly after becoming shogun, Tsunayoshi ordered the halt of the practice of cutting horses' sinews to enhance their energy in the stables. Under the new laws, individuals faced fines for burdening horses with excessive cargo. Inspired by Buddhism, his reign included a thorough effort to prevent harm to animals. Creating stringent punishments for all forms of animal abuse, neglect, and cruelty. These regulations would apply to all animals, not just dogs, and would contain mechanisms for reporting, investigation, and prosecution of violators.
Tsunayoshi's animal welfare policies led to his nickname 'Dog Shogun' and left a lasting impact on Japanese culture. 
However, some contemporaries criticized his policies. They believed his focus on animal welfare was excessive or misguided. This was especially notable given the socio-political challenges of the time. Overall, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi's animal welfare initiatives, especially his efforts to protect dogs, marked a significant departure from traditional views on animals. These initiatives had a notable impact.

Animals were a common theme in Ancient Japanese Literature

"In the heart of every warrior lies the spirit of the wolf, loyal and fierce. In the company of such noble creatures, we find strength and courage." - Allegedly spoken by a samurai of the Tokugawa era, highlighting the revered status of dogs among the warrior class.

"The cat, with its graceful movements and piercing gaze, embodies the essence of tranquility and wisdom. In its presence, we find solace and serenity." - A sentiment expressed by a court poet of the Edo period, reflecting the admiration for cats in Japanese culture

"The falcon, with its keen eyes and swift wings, epitomizes the spirit of nobility and freedom. In its flight, we see the embodiment of power and grace" - Inspired by the writings of Matsuo Bashō, a renowned haiku poet of the Edo period, who often depicted nature and animals in his works.

"I have found in my faithful hound a companion whose loyalty knows no bounds, whose courage inspires my own, and whose presence brings me comfort in times of solitude" - Anecdotal account attributed to a samurai of the Tokugawa era, reflecting the deep bond between warriors and their dogs.

"In the quiet moments spent in the company of my beloved cat, I find solace beyond words. In her innocent demeanor, I glimpse the beauty of life's simple joys" - Supposedly spoken by a noblewoman of the Edo period, capturing the reverence for cats among the aristocracy.

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