The Akita is one of the older types of dogs, recognized historically in Japanese art as an early dog type bred for hunting. The original type of dog from which the modern Akita Inu in Japan or American Akita in the USA developed was known as the Matagi Inu, which translates to "hunting dog". It was not a true breed as such, but rather was a larger sized, spitz type dog used for all types of hunting including deer, elk, antelope and even bear. This Matagi Inu type of dog was valued for its courage, physical strength, intelligence as well as its hunting ability. They were not bred for any particular conformation or appearance and many different breeds of dogs, both imported and local, were used in the type up to the late 1800's.
In the early 1900's the Matagi Inu became the foundation for the then popular dog fighting events in Japan. The natural strength and hunting abilities of the dogs was used as a foundation, with other breeds such as Tibetan Mastiffs, Pariah Dogs, European Mastiff breeds, Great Danes, Tosa Inu and other large hybrid dogs added to increase size and fighting abilities. These dogs were used exclusively in pit fighting and were kept trained as such, not used for hunting or other types of services.
At the same time in the Akita Prefecture of Honshu, more specifically the town of Odate, a group of village owned dogs became popular as fighting dogs. These dogs, some which exhibited the traits of the modern Akita breed became legendary as competitive fighters. There was one dog, Moku-Go, that had the spotted or pinto coat now recognized in the American Akita but not in the traditional Japanese Akita Inu. It is believed that this dog is the reason that many legends exist today that the Akita Inu was a temple dog or was only owned by royalty within the country of Japan. It just so happens that this one fighting dog, which did become very famous, happened to live in the Jououji Temple in Odate.
As dog fighting gradually decreased in popularity the number of fighting dogs, which were not yet the Akita breed known today, began to sharply decline. In addition a movement started in the early part of the 1900's to preserve the native breeds, as fanciers of the original Matagi Inu realized that the breed was so hybridized that it was basically unrecognizable. The involvement of Japan in World War l significantly decreased the numbers of all types of the early precursors of the Akita breed and the government moved in to declare the dog a Natural Monument of Japan in 1931.
At about the same time several important things happened for the foundation of the modern Akita breed. The first is the famous legend of Hachika, an Odate dog, now called an Akita, that was loyal to his owner for nine years after the owner's death when returning home from work on the train. Every day the dog would travel to the train station and wait faithfully for his owner to get off the train. The city of Tokyo, along with the hundreds that routinely saw the dog travel and wait for his owner, eventually placed a monument to the dog at the station. The legend of Hachika became known around the world, and the reputation for the breed's loyalty began to increase.
Helen Keller, in 1937, traveled to Japan and was presented with an Akita puppy. Although this puppy died very shortly after, another puppy was provided which became the hallmark of her appearances and drew attention to the breed. In Japan itself there was still little formalization of the breed until after World War ll when American soldiers exported Akita puppies back to the United States. During WW ll the Akita breed as changed considerably as Japanese owners crossed their Akita's with German Shepherds to produce military service dogs that were exempt from being killed for food and for their coats in a starving and almost ruined country. The numbers of Akitas that were true to the Matagi Inu type were virtually eliminated through this process. In addition a rabies scare combined with the fear of disease resulted in an order to kill all domestic dogs, especially the larger dogs.
Several owners were able to turn their Akita's loose to fend for themselves in the remote areas of Japan, while one or two brave breeders, chiefly organized by Morie Sawataishi, managed to hide what became the founders of the modern Akita breed. The breeders began standardizing a breed appearance, which has resulted in the beautiful dogs that are now known as Akitas around the world today.
The American Kennel Club first recognized the Akita as a breed in 1973. However, they did not accept the breed standards presented by the Japanese Kennel Club, resulting in the conformation and color differences accepted in the AKC and the Canadian Kennel Club (CKC) that are not acceptable in the Japanese Kennel Club. It is important to note that the Japanese Kennel Club considers the American Akita a separate breed while the AKC and the CKC do accept both types of Akitas within their registries. The AKC began accepting the JKC types of Akita dogs only after 1992. Imports of Japanese Akitas, which tend to favor the Matagi Inu style of Akita rather then the larger fighting style Akita popular in the United States, are now possible and have created a bit more variation in the American Akita breed. Currently the FCI, the international controlling body for dog shows, recognizes the American Akita and the Japanese Akita as two separate breeds. The American Kennel Club does not recognize the breed difference and both are shown under the Akita breed standards of the AKC. As of 2008 Akitas ranked as the 50th most popular dog in the AKC registry.
Generally the JKC only accepts the colors of brindle, red, white and sesame without black masks or pinto colorations so popular with the American Akita. In addition the red and brindle colorations of the JKC Akita have to have white shading on the face and chest, more in keeping with the colors seen in the much smaller Shiba Inu dog from Japan. The JKC Akita is also narrower through the face and more fox-like in overall facial shape and appearance.