Saturday, January 7, 2012

Ancestors of the Shiba Inu

The Honshu wolf: 
Gray Wolf vs Sesame Shiba inu

The Honshu wolf was identified in 1839 as the gray wolf subspecies (Canis lupus hodophilax by Dutch zoologist Coenraad Temminck). It was also known as the Hondo wolf, the yamainu, and the mountain dog.

The small wolf lived on the Japanese islands of Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu primarily in remote mountain areas. Officially, the wolves that once inhabited the Japanese archipelago have long been extinct. Though some researchers such as John Knight believe that some may still roam the lands. The Honshu wolf is said to have become extinct in 1905 due to an epidemic of a contagious diseases like rabies. 

In Japan mountains are dangerous, frightening places that are associated with death, not only as sites of physical burial but also as the abode of the spirits of the dead. There is a large body of Japanese folklore featuring encounters in the mountains with ghosts and a range of other, often malevolent, spirits....The mountains form a world with its own separate way of thinking and ethics, one that belongs to the yama no kami (mountain spirit)....Man's presence there is a potential infringement on the kami's territory, and thus potentially provocative.

Wild animals, such as bears, feral dogs, and vipers, are a further source of perceived danger to humans. The boundary between wild animals and spirits in the yama is often blurred on account of the theriomorphic character of the spirits. Many forest animals, particularly remote-dwelling ones, are associated with the yama no kami.

The association of the wolf with the mountains is indicated by the many wolf-related place-names found in upland areas of Japan. In the mountains of the Kii Peninsula, for example, there are places known as Okamitaira (Wolf Plateau), Okamizawa (Wolf Marsh), Okami'iwa (Wolf Rock) and Kobirotoge (Howling Wolf Pass...). These tend to be sites of past encounters with or sightings of the wolf. In some cases an area may be associated with wolves even when the name does not reflect it, such as the forest around one remote village in the Hongu area, which is said to be cold in the summer and warm in the winter. The wolf is also associated with Shinto shrines on the peninsula, shrines such as Tamaki Jinja and Takataki Jinja (both in Totsukawa Mura), where they serve as the kami's otsukai (messenger).

The Honshu wolf (okami) was grey-haired, and, standing just over one foot at the shoulder, was the smallest wolf of all. It has long been recognized as significantly different from other wolves, even to the point where its very status as a wolf has been called into question.

The Japanese zoologist Imaizumi Yoshinori, stressing its difference from other wolves, claims that the Honshu wolf was in fact a distinct species. But most mammalogists have not accepted this position and continue to regard the animal as a miniature subspecies of the common wolf.

Perhaps adding to this uncertain taxonomical status has been the incorporation into scientific nomenclature of certain Japanese terms. Thus the Honshu wolf has been known as the shamainu, a corruption of yamainu, literally "mountain dog," the name by which the wolf was known in much of Japan.

An extension of this semantic affinity of the wolf with the dog is the image (in myth and legend) as a protector of mankind -- a sort of banken (watchdog) in the mountains. This watchdog role appears in the benign okuri-okami (sending wolf) stories. "When someone is walking along mountain roads at night sometimes a wolf follows without doing anything. On nearing the house the wolf disappears." Sometimes the ubiquitous okuri-okami tales also mention the danger of looking back or falling over while being followed by the wolf, acts that may invite the wolf to attack....Nonetheless, what is usually stressed is that the wolf's purpose is not to prey but to protect, to see the lonely human being safely home through the dangerous night-time mountains....Even today many villagers claim to have had such experiences in their youth.

In this connection the scientific name of the Japanese name, hodophylax, is worth reflecting on, for it is related to the okuri-okami legend described above. Hodo derives from the Greek for "way" or "path," and phylax from the Greek for "guard," together giving the meaning of "guardian of the way." A local Hongu saying attests to the wolf's singular capacity to conceal itself: "The wolf can hide even where there is only a single reed."

Japanese folklore credits other wild animals, such as the fox, tanuki (raccoon-dog), and snake, with a capacity for concealment. The difference is that these animals are said to achieve this by assuming human (often female) form, while Japanese wolf-lore -- unlike European wolf-lore -- has little to say about wolf shapeshifting or lycanthropy. Rather, the Japanese wolf is concealed by the natural environment itself. This virtual invisibility of the wolf in the yama is the basis for the claims to have encountered it after its supposed extinction. Even when the wolf actually did exist, in the yama it was able to keep well out of sight of man, while keeping man in its sights.

Much folklore -- not least from the Kii Peninsula -- presents the wolf as a good animal. Chiba argues that up until the second half of the seventeenth century the wolf was considered an ekiju, "benign beast." or a gentle spirit.

The okuri-okami legend above is an example of the way the wolf protects the vulnerable -- in this case the lone traveler in the night-time mountains. Other stories tell of how the wolf protects the young and helpless, some echoing the famous Romulus and Remus legend in which the founders of Rome are suckled and raised by a she-wolf. In the Nonaka area of the southern Kii mountains an abandoned infant (of the court noble Fujiwara Hidehira, on a pilgrimage to the area with his wife) is said to have been brought up and protected by wolves; and in the postwar years the tale was told of an old man who lived to be nearly one hundred years old after having drunk the milk of a mother-wolf as an infant.

The wolf may also help the poor. In the tale Okami no mayuge [The wolf's eyebrow], a starving man resigns himself to death and goes to the mountains to offer himself to the wolf. But the wolf, instead of eating him, offers him an eyebrow hair, and with this the man returns to human society to become wealthy and happy.

Another dimension of the protective character of the wolf has to do with its powers of prophecy vis-av-vis the natural world. In the high Tamaki mountains north of Hongu there is a giant tree known as "the cypress of dog howls." Here wolves are said to have howled continuously on the eve of the great flood of 1889, which killed many people in Hongu and nearby areas....The wolf appears as a human ally in the mountains, protecting villagers from the vicissitudes of the natural world around them.

The Japanese stress on the protective, benign character of the wolf contrasts with the widespread view outside Japan of the wolf as a threat to human livelihood, if not human life initself, and therefore as the very embodiment of evil. Accordingly, wolf-killing has often been encouraged, celebrated, and institutionalized in places like northern Europe, where this took the form of large-scale wolf chases, the levying of taxes in wolf-skins, or even the hanging of wolves. In southern Europe too a strongly negative view of the wolf has been documented... report from the Iberian peninsula points to villagers' loathing of wolves -- the "most hated creatures from the wild" -- and mentions the custom of "begging for the wolf." "when someone has killed a wolf, he or she takes it from house to house around the village and is given eggs, sausage, potatoes, and other foods by grateful cattle-owners." Greek mountain villages are another place where, even in recent years, wolf-killing is an occasion for great celebration....

Japan offers a marked contrast. In yamanashi Prefecture, for example, there is the tradition known as inu no ubumimai...whereby sekihan (azuki bean rice) is offered to the wolf when wolf cubs are born. Sekihan is a ceremonial food traditionally served to celebrate human births and other felicitous occasions...; its offering to the wolf therefore appears to be a striking expression of the belief in the wolf's benign character (indeed, in some cases the ubimimai practice included the belief that the wolf, in return, would make a congratulatory offering [deer, wild boar, hare, or even bear's paw] on the occasion of a human birth in the village.)....

In practice, wolves were on occasion killed in Japan. Indeed, there are tales of villages organizing wolf-hunts (inugari) in response to livestock predations.However, through his actions the wolf-killer exposed himself, and his family, to the risks of spiritual retribution. There are stories from the Kitayama area of the Kii Peninsula of wolf killers who subsequently met with great misfortune, from successive sudden deaths in the family to dissipation of the family wealth and property. Moreover, the death of the last recorded Japanese wolf in Yoshino in 1905 is annually remembered in the form of a kuyo (requiem) ceremony carried out in the local temple at the time of the Bon midsummer festival. Thus the existence of wolf killing in Japan seems to reinforce, not undermine, the cultural status of the wolf as an animal that should not be killed.

A common reason given for the positive view of the wolf in Japan is that, far from being a threat to village livelihoods, it helped to protect them from farm-raiding forest animals such as wild boar, deer, and hares.

Wolves were a form of farm protection, as they mitigated losses by keeping down wild boar numbers. Whenever a wolf was sighted, villagers in the Sendai area would beseech it thus: "Lord Wolf [oino tono], please protect us and stop the ravages of the deer and wild boar." But even when a wolf was not physically present its power could be invoked through a charm. Some villages in the Hongu area enshrined a wolf ofuda (charm) -- known as shishiyoke, or "boar deterrent" -- in the village shrine to guard against wild boar predations. There are...Shinto shrines throughout Japan that have the wolf as their otsukai, the most famous of which is Mitsumine Shrine in Saitama Prefecture....A significant number of such shrines are to be found on the Kii Peninsula.

The earlier benign character of the wolf was therefore related to its identity as a spirit: the beneficial ekiju was also a reiju, a "spirit beast." Indeed, the wolf has often been more specifically identified with the yama no kami (mountain spirit) in rural Japan. Teira suggests that in ancient Japan the wolf was viewed as "the dog belonging to the mountain spirit" (yama no kami ni shitagau inu)...

....Not only does the wolf rid villagers of farm pests, it even leaves behind part of its prey for villagers, something known as inu'otoshi or inutaoshi (dog-prey). While inu-otoshi tends to be cited as evidence of the wolf's benign disposition toward human beings, it is important to remember that when this happens villagers are expected to leave something behind for the wolf in return, whether this be a limb of the animal (in the case of a whole carcass) or some salt, lest they incur its anger....

The principle of reciprocity also works the other way around. When a human is kind to a wolf the animal will give something in return, for the wolf is girigatai, that is, it possesses a strong sense of duty. One story from Hongu tells of a wolf that falls into a pit used for trapping wild boars. On finding the wolf sometime later the villagers, after their initial fear had been overcome, take pity on the beast and decide to help it out of the pit rather than leave it to a slow death. The wolf is released to return to the mountains. A few days later the villagers hear a wolf-howl from the direction of the pit, in which they discover a large deer (in some versions a large wild boar). The wolf has made its return gift (ongaeshi, oreigaeshi, okami ho'on). Kindness to the wolf is ultimately to the villagers' benefit because it obligates the wolf to make a return of some kind. Similar examples of the wolf's sense of reciprocity can be found elsewhere on the peninsula and beyond.

Offerings to and worship of the wolf notwithstanding, we should be wary of simply attributing a "benign" character to the animal in neat contradistinction to the "evil" of Mediterranean wolves. The Japanese wolf does not have an essential or fixed character, either good or evil. Rather like a human being, a wolf can be good or bad, helpful or dangerous, depending on how the relationship with it is conducted and managed. Provided that a relationship of reciprocity is properly and faithfully maintained, the wolf is a benign beast. It is only when this principle is not observed by humans...that the positive relationship with the animal breaks down and it develops an ada (enmity) towards human beings....The disposition of the wolf to mankind, whether benign or malign, is an expression of the state of the moral relationship with it. Dangerous wolves are more a sign of human infidelity than of the animal's bad nature....Japanese wolf lore tells not of good or bad wolves but of good or bad people.

The Honshu wolf -- whether extinct or not -- continues to symbolize something much larger than itself, something about modern Japan as a whole.

There are very few documented wolf attacks in Japan prior to the seventeenth century. Three main reasons are given for the emergence of rogai (wolf damage): rabies, deforestation, and changes in farming practices. Rabies entered Japan in the late seventeenth century, and the early reports of inukurui (dog madness) were soon followed by reports of rabid wolves, foxes, and tanuki. The first report of rabid wolves (in Kyushu and Shikoku) occurred in 1732, and the disease then spread eastward.

The urban development that took place from the late sixteenth century, involving the construction of castles, temples, shrines, mansions, bridges, and roads, consumed vast amounts of wood. In addition, rapid population growth led to sharp increases in the use of the forests for fertilizer, fuel, and fodder, and to the conversion of woodland to tillage. The result was wide-spread deforestation. While deforestation, insofar as it leads to grassy new growth, may have been initially favorable to deer, the subsequent establishment of timber plantations ultimately meant less forage, with a resultant fall in deer numbers that reduced the amount of prey available to wolves. This is the background, it is argued, to the rise of wolf predation of village livestock in the later Tokugawa period.

There also occurred a shift of farming away from the mountains towards the reclaimed land of river valleys.... While this arrangement did not preclude field-raiding by animals like deer and boars, it did make it more difficult....If the wolf was looked to for protection from forest farm pests before, in these new circumstances it was no longer needed.

Not only did this change in farming patterns make obsolete the wolf's earlier, protective role, it also led to a new form of predatory relationship between the wolf and the village. As noted above, the earlier pattern of farming...created gatherings of deer and wild boar, providing the wolf with a highly successful hunting ground ....But with the passing of this...earlier farming, the wolf's opportunity for such easy predation was lost.

There is little doubt that the Honshu wolf was the world's smallest wolf, standing just over a foot at the shoulder and measuring 35 inches from nose to end of the tail. They had short wiry hair and a thin dog-like tail that was rounded at the end. Their legs were shorter in relation to their body length. In many ways, it resembled dogs, much more so than its Siberian wolf ancestors.

Although it is presently classified as a gray wolf subspecies, many argue that its physical differences are enough to consider the Honshu wolf to be its own species. Some believe it may not have even been a true wolf.

While the true origins of the Honshu and the Shiba are shrouded in the mysteries of the oriental past, the evidence speaks for itself. 

Special Thanks to all of those wonderful people that aided me in my research directly and indirectly:
The creators of Shibashake and
John Knight
Amanda Morrighan
Tanabe City Kumano Tourism Bureau.
Julia Cadwell with Shosha Shiba Kennels
Blue Country Shiba Inus

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