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Tsuruoka and dogs: a long love story anchored in history

Hachiko, the world's most loved dog in Tsuruoka station..?

Replica of Hachiko's statue in Fujishima area

Some of you who have visited Tsuruoka the past years may wonder why there was a white Hachiko statue inside the train station, that resembled a lot like the one that can be found in front of Shibuya's station. Fun fact that is not very well-known, the dog's statue you can see in Tsuruoka Station is actually the plaster prototype made in 1947 by Andô Takeshi, sculptor of the actual statue that stands in Shibuya. The prototype was first bought by an employee of a ryokan in Yunohama Onsen, who eventually passed it on to the founder of the founder of a construction company in Fujishima area. The latter finally gave it as a present to Fujishima's Office.

A pharmacist named Takamiya Hiroshi 高宮宏 led researches on the statue that revealed the statue was actually a prototype of the much more well-known statue in Shibuya. This news marked the rise of social movements for animal protection in Tsuruoka. In 2006, the city's inhabitants gathered to build the Association for the Preservation of Tsuruoka's Hachikô 鶴岡ハチ公保存会. The Association aimed to spread Hachikô's story in the region. Their passion ended reaching Tsuruoka Station's director, who eventually asked Mr. Takamiya to lend him the prototype to be exposed inside Tsuruoka Station to help them reach more people. From then, love for the loyal dog has never ceased to grow, and nowadays in Fujishima park, one can see a replica of the plaster prototype owned by Fujishima Office.

Replica of the prototype in Fujishima

Oyama Inu Festival

Omikoshi carriage enshrining Mekke-inu the dog

But Fujishima's passion to protect Hachiko's prototype statue is not the only proof of Tsuruoka's love towards our beloved four-legged friends. Actually, such love might be more anchored in history than it seems. Let me remind you of Oyama Inu Matsuri (Oyama village's Dogs Festival), that happens every year on June 5th and held by Sugio Shrine in Oyama village.

Dog statue at the entrance of Sugio Shrine

That legend is at least 300 years old, and says that a strong, loyal, selfless dog bearing the name of Mekke-inu, saved Oyama village from two disgusting demons looking like giant old men (onyudo 大入道), who demanded to get a beautiful young girl given to them as a sacrifice every year unless what they would destroy the village's fields and crops. Before Mekke-inu was found and brought to the village, nobody succeeded in defeating the demons. But the brave dog's selflessness was enough to defeat them, but not without a price. The dog had died to save Oyama village's humans. As a token of gratitude, Oyama's villagers hold a festival in tribute to his courage, and to celebrate all dogs' unconditional love.


As the legends states it, Mekke-inu became a "god" in the eyes of Oyama's people, in that he saved them from something no humans could not defeat: "two demons shaped like giant old men" and protect their daughters from evil. Many interpretations of that legend are possible. Were the two "demons" a metaphor to speak about child abusers who used to perpetrate crimes in Oyama village? Were the demons invaders from another region who came to reap Oyama's young girls? Did the dog kill the abusers? It might just be a legend, but what is sure, is that still nowadays, in the villagers' mind, dogs represent the archetype of protection and courage and are the only creatures capable of saving humans from certain types of afflictions. As a proof of Oyama's people's strong love for dogs, in Sugio Shrine (Oyama village), you can see that even the goma statues alongside the entrance stairs (that usually represent lion-like creatures), clearly represent dogs: one male and one female.

Female

Male

There is no doubt that such an ancient tradition and legend have shaped the region's people's mind and brought them closer to this wonderful loyal friend that nature gave Humans.

Oyama Inu Matsuri on June 5th

DEGAM Tsuruoka Tourism Bureau (General Incorporated Association)

Address: 3-1 Suehiromachi, MARICA East Building, 2nd floor, Tsuruoka, Yamagata 997-0015, JAPAN

TEL: (+81) 0235-26-1218

E-mail: tsuruoka@degam.jp

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