by Maiko Inoue
Once upon a time, back in 1930’s Japan, there was a dog named Hachi, a Japanese traditional Akita dog, who was waiting for his master, Professor Ueno at Tokyo University to come home every day at Shibuya train station at dusk. One day, his master collapsed from cerebral hemorrhage during the lecture and passed away. Not knowing what happened to his master, Hachi waited for his return at the station every single day for more than nine years until its own death. People were both surprised and touched by Hachi’s bond with his master and dedicated a bronze sculpture at Shibuya station. It’s a statue of Hachi, sitting, just waiting for his master’s return. I believe it’s fair to say this statue is one of the most renowned statues in Japan.
And last Sunday, a statue of Hachi was unveiled at Abbey Glen Pet Memorial Park in New Jersey. It is the replica of the statue erected last May at Tokyo University commemorating the 80th anniversary of Hachi’s passing away. If you are a dog lover, you cannot help smiling when you see this statue that depicts the moment when Hachi is happily reunited with his master, possibly in heaven, a much happier scene than the first statue of Hachi, sitting alone waiting forever for his master.
When the statue was unveiled receiving a lot of applause from the audience during the ceremony, proudly looking at the statue were the two, Mr. Derek Cooke, the owner of the Memorial Park and Ms. Yumi McDonald, the author of the book “Reminiscence of Shibuya,” a novel based on her mother’s encounters with Hachi.
It was a fate that connected Yumi and Derek to bring this amazing story all the way from Japan and it is now spinning another heart felt stories here in the US.
Hachi became famous in the US for the 2009 Hollywood movie starring Richard Gere, “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale,” a remake from Japanese 1987 movie “Hachiko Monogatari (Tale of Hachiko).” The heartfelt bond between the master and Hachi must have intrigued the Americans. Last March, when Tokyo University erected its own version of Hachi statue, the one with Hachi and the professor enjoying the reunion, several American newspapers carried the story of new statue and it caught the eye of Mr. Cooke, the owner of the pet memorial park in New Jersey.
“It’s the only representation of the bond between an animal and a person that I have ever seen and that’s why we exist to memorialize those relationships developed between people and animals so it was just perfect to have the statue here.” Mr. Cooke immediately contacted Tokyo University’s committee but could not receive a favorable answer. However, one of the professors at the committee remembered that the author of “Reminiscence of Shibuya (novel based on the author’s mother’s actual encounters with Hachi back in 1930),” Yumi McDonald was living in Connecticut and asked her to visit the Abbey Glen Pet Memorial Park to examine whether it was appropriate to have a Hachi and professor Ueno’s statue there.
Yumi, who had a passion to disseminate the true story of Hachi globally, visited the park, talked with Mr. Cooke, and immediately fell in love with this beautiful memorial park. The land of Abbey Glen Pet Memorial park used to be a farmland, over 80 acres surrounded by the rolling hills and woods and has comforted the spirits of more than 5000 pets and their owners since 1982. Designed by Ralf D’amato, the cemetery architect that designed Arlington National Cemetery, Abbey Glen Pet Memorial Park is a beautiful park. “Hachi and professor’s heart warming statue would be perfect for such a serine and calming park,” says Yumi. Initially Tokyo University was reluctant to place a replica outside its campus, however Yumi’s vigorous effort made it happen after a year.
The sculpture was made using the same mold, Hachi and its master professor Ueno enjoying the reunion but the feature was specially designed by Ralf D’amato. He put bamboos, railroad tracks and benches to give the train station theme to the statue, succinctly capturing the atmosphere of 1930’s Shibuya.
Over two hundred people together with fifty dogs, over half of which were Akitas, gathered at the opening ceremony and the Ambassador Reiichiro Takahashi, Consul-General of Japan in New York, arrived with his wife. “Today is a special day because both my wife and I are huge dog lovers,” smiled the ambassador recounting the story of his beloved dog which accompanied him for 17 years. They lived in many different countries such as Philippines, United States and India. “The dog was a Shibainu mixed with some other breeds and very healthy. We traveled to so many different places in different cities and the dog made us a happy family. The bonds between dogs and humans are universal and I believe this statue will help promote the exchange between Japan and the US, connecting people in many different ways.”
In addition to the ambassador was the heartfelt speech given by Ms. JoAnn Dimon, president of B.E.A.R. (Big East Akita Rescue). B.E.A.R. rescued and found new owners for ninety five Akita dogs last year. It was surprising to know that there is a rescue organization for Akita dogs in the US, but actually there are six special rescue entities here in and the cause was, according to Ms. JoAnn, the Hollywood Movie, “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale”
“Once the movie came out, everybody found it trendy to have Akita dogs. That was the problem.” So the same destiny awaited Akita just like so many pit bulls in the shelters. What made it worse was the Akita’s loyal trait. “They are wonderful, clean, smart and loyal but you have to raise them right.” So many dogs end up in JoAnn’s rescue. She’s super busy but happy to take care of these loving companions.
At the ceremony, there were many Akita dogs rescued by JoAnn, now happy with the new responsible owners. They are all Akita dog lovers, they love every detail of them; the fluffy, curly tail and loyal gentle eyes.
Our star guest speaker was “Spartacus,” followed by his owner, Mr. Brad Cole. Spartacus is a Therapy Dog and K9 First Responder, who visits and comforts the victims of accidents soon after the traumatic events before the mental health services start. “Sometimes people are not ready to talk to anyone but happy to be with dogs,” says Mr. Cole, “Akita dog can comfort people just by being there.” Mr. Cole helped the victims of Sandy Hook and Boston Bombing together with Spartacus.
Akita dog has already established a good reputation here in the US and the story of Hachi has played a role in it.
Yumi, who regards Hachi as her life long work, introduced me one interesting episode. “Helen Keller was a fan of Akita dog and visited the statue in Shibuya.She said she wanted to have one too, and someone gave her an Akita puppy. She took it back to her house in Westport Connecticut and that’s where I live now! This serendipity led me to plan a new project related to Hachi and Helen Keller.” Helen Keller had two Akita dogs in her life named “Kamikaze” and “Kenzan” and she valued the dogs for their sense of loyalty.
After 80 years of his Hachi’s death, his legendary story will keep touching the hearts of many.
Abbey Glen Pet Memorial Park
Big East Akita Rescue
Reminiscence of Shibuya by Yumi McDonald
My Original article in Japanese can be found here.
Japan In Depth