Welcome to my world.
In a nod to full disclosure, I admit that I’m a die-hard dog person; I have been ever since I read Albert Payson Terhune’s classic Lad: A Dog as a youngster. I grew up cheering the heroic screen exploits of Lassie, Rin Tin Tin and Roy Rogers’ faithful pal, Bullet. Modern-day Hooch and Marley and Skip? In my humble opinion, they are great actors, one and all.
None, however, approaches the remarkable true story of a proud and faithful Akita named Hachiko. Never heard of him? I hadn’t, either, until a couple of years ago when I first viewed Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, a straight-to-video movie based on the most incredible story of faith, hope and determination in memory. Don’t even ask how many times I’ve watched the Americanized version. My credentials as a critic are admittedly wanting, understand, but for my money it is one of the greatest love stories ever.
Hachiko, who lived to the age of 11 before his death in 1935, is today a bona fide and oft-honored Japanese legend. Long before Richard Gere signed on to play his master in the aforementioned U.S. movie, a homeland version released in 1987 was a blockbuster success. Two charming books for youngsters (Pamela S. Turner’s Hachiko: The True Story of a Loyal Dog and Lesléa Newman’s Hachiko Waits) have enjoyed steady sales. Thanks to the loving skill of a Tokyo taxidermist, Hachiko has been on display at the National Science Museum of Japan since his long-ago passing. He’s even got his own statue.
The last puppy born to a litter of eight, he was purchased by Hidesaburo Ueno, an agriculture professor at the University of Tokyo. Once Hachiko grew old enough to venture from the Uenos’ yard, he routinely accompanied his master to the suburban Shibuya train station from which Ueno commuted to work. Daily, Ueno would find his beloved dog standing at the station upon his return.
In May 1925, Ueno suffered a cerebral hemorrhage during a classroom lecture and died, never to return to Shibuya Station. Still, for the next 10 years, Hachiko would promptly arrive at the doorway to the station exit each evening, patiently waiting.
Following the professor’s untimely death, Hachiko was given to the Uenos’ gardener, but the faithful dog knew but one home. He repeatedly escaped to make his daily journey to the station. There, he was adopted by commuters, snack-stand keepers and ticket takers; fed, given water, nurtured and watched by onlookers in amazement as the gentle Akita kept his daily appointment, waiting for a master who would never return. Over the years, Hachiko’s legend grew, and he became a living symbol of undying loyalty. Schoolchildren learned his story. His spirit became an oft-taught example in Japanese family culture. Even before Hachiko’s death, people traveled to Shibuya Station just to see him.
Though shaggy and by then walking with a noticeable limp, the aging Hachiko always wagged his tail in response, then turned his eyes toward the station gate in hopes of once more seeing his owner.
Today, at Shibuya Station, Hachiko’s bronze likeness is located at the spot where he sat daily, patiently waiting. The front paws of the statue have been worn smooth by the thousands of people who have stopped to stroke them. So inspiring is his story of loyalty that an endless number of marriage proposals have been made in the shadow of the statue. The station exit where Hachiko kept vigil has been renamed Hachiko-guchi (“Hachiko Exit”). And every April, dog lovers from throughout Japan arrive at Shibuya Station for a ceremony held in Hachiko’s honor.
It is an event I’d like very much to attend.
I find myself thinking often of this remarkable dog I never knew, of the traits that have made him so special to so many. And I look at those scattered about my office, imagining in them a bit of Hachiko. They do not judge my shortcomings, nor does it matter to them that I’ve failed to achieve lofty accomplishments or earn celestial wages. They seem always uplifted when I return from short absences. And they ask for little, aside from nourishment, protection from the elements and an occasional pat on the head. Their love is genuine and unconditional.
An occasional missing shoe aside, they, like the legendary Hachiko, add immeasurably to the quality of my life.