Welcome! This is Umma (pronounced “oom-mah). She’s a brindled Hokkaido Ken, one of the rarest breeds in the United States. She’ll be two years old in September and was a part of the first known litter of Hokkaido Ken to be born in the U.S. She lives with my wife and I in our suburban home with a modest backyard of dead grass where she loves to chase squirrels and is adamant every single time she just missed them by a hair (she’s never been that close).
She’s just under 30 pounds, which is on the small end for the breed, and full of life. Umma is extremely intelligent – like all the Japanese breeds – but also has a very goofy side. She likes pets from her people and is wary of strangers. She loves to go on hikes and to be out in nature, and she’s also perfectly fine with sleeping all day on the couch.
Chances are you’ve never heard of Hokkaido Ken. When we take Umma out with us to a park or to run errands, inevitably people ask if she is a Shiba Inu (we have one of those – more on Misaki at a later date) or what kind of mix she is. Some have even asked if she is a coyote or a dingo (she growled at the person who called her a dingo – don’t call Umma a dingo).
Hokkaido Ken are one of the six main breeds from Japan. Most people are aware of Akitas (though most aren’t aware of the differences between Japanese and American Akitas) and Shibas, but those represent the range of the six breeds, large and small. There are four medium breeds: Shikoku Ken, Kai Ken, Kishu Ken and Hokkaido Ken. “Ken” is a Japanese term that refers to breed or family (“Shiba Ken” is used in Japan, though “Akita Ken” is not because another definition of Ken is prefecture and there is a prefecture named Akita). The Hokkaido Ken get their name because they are from Hokkaido, the northernmost island in the Japanese archipelago. (This naming convention is true for all of the six except the Shibas. Kai and Kishu refer to regions that are no longer called by that name.)
Never heard of Hokkaido? You aren’t alone. It’s the least populated area of Japan, though you probably have heard of its largest city, Sapporo, either because of the eponymous brewery or the legendary ice festival (it’s also a sister city of Portland, Oregon, which is our metro area). The winters there are very cold and the Hokkaido Ken have lived with humans for decades, used mostly for hunting large game like bears and for guarding their homes. The humans are the Ainu, the native people to Japan, and the breed is oftentimes referred to as Ainu Ken.
So why am I starting this blog? As mentioned above, this breed is rare. There is very little information on them outside of their native language and what there is mostly pertains to breed standards and the like – almost nothing about living with a Hokkaido Ken. I started this blog to share some of what life is like living with a Hokkaido Ken in your home and also to share tidbits about the breed and it’s history as we learn things ourselves. Much of what gets shared will be based on our personal experience with Umma and shouldn’t necessarily be construed as pertaining to all Hokkaido Ken; just like with any dog they are individuals, so it’s important to be very careful when generalizing a characteristic (you know, just like with people, stereotyping is bad).
In future posts I plan on sharing funny stories, talking about her relationship with her Shiba “sister,” laying out what we feed her (that’s going to be epic), researching the history of the breed and Hokkaido in general, discussing her part of the HANA Project, talking about her parents and siblings, and essentially anything Umma or Hokkaido-related we can come up with that seems interesting. I’m on Twitter and Instagram (links on the main page), though those are not Umma-specific.
My hope is to educate about the breed and to entertain you, to share with you what we love about Umma and the Hokkaido Ken.
I’m also 100% open to questions or topic suggestions – send me something via the Contact Me.