No leading lady or heartthrob actor likes to compete with dogs or babies onstage. It’s a no-win situation. Richard Gere, however, was moved to tears by the true story of Hachiko, an Akita-ken who became a national symbol of faithfulness, loyalty and love in Japan, and filming of the movie Hachiko: A Dog’s Story has just wrapped up in Bristol, Rhode Island. Gere, 58, stars as Parker, an American professor, in a parallel to the life of Eizaburo Ueno (1871-1925), a professor at the Imperial Agricultural University (now Tokyo University). Have you heard the story of his dog Hachiko, who’s come to symbolize loyalty and unswerving faith?
Hachiko (pronounced HA-chi-ko) was born in November 1923 in Odate, in the Akita province of Japan. The next year, Ueno brought him to Tokyo. Hachiko followed Professor Ueno everywhere. He accompanied Ueno to the Shibuya train station every morning and then returned and waited for him every afternoon. But, one day in May 1925, Professor Ueno didn’t come home; he’d suffered a fatal stroke at work. Mrs. Ueno gave the dog away to some of the professor’s relatives. But the devoted dog came back and returned to the train station every afternoon for nearly 11 years, at precisely the time that Ueno’s train was due, waiting for the professor. Hachiko did this until his own death in March 1935.
Vicky Shigekuni Wong, a co-producer of the $15 million movie, has long been fascinated with Hachiko’s story. She told the Pacific Citizen: “Something about this dog’s simple act of unwavering loyalty, of waiting, is so profoundly moving…People seem to identify with Hachiko. He symbolizes so many different things to different people. Hachiko represents innocence, fear, hope, joy, loss and loneliness.”
Hachiko is memorialized in a bronze statue at Shibuya station. The location is a popular Tokyo meeting place, with the statue now symbolizing the commitment and love of people who meet there. The original statue was erected in April 1934, with Hachiko present, but it was melted down for use in World War II. The Society for Recreating the Hachiko Statue was formed, with sculptor Takeshi Ando, son of the original sculptor, commissioned to make a second statue, which was unveiled in 1948.
An identical statue of Hachiko is at the train station in Odate, Hachiko’s hometown and, in 2004, a statue of him was put in front of Odate’s Akita Dog Museum. Hachiko’s stuffed and mounted remains are at the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo.
Lasse Hallström, of Chocolat and The Cider House Rules fame, directed Hachiko, while Academy Award-nominated actress Joan Allen plays Gere’s wife. The film was inspired in part by a 1987 Japanese film, Hachiko Monogatari, and two children’s books have been written about this beloved canine.
In May 1994, Japan’s Culture Broadcasting Network played a recording of Hachiko barking which had been made from a broken record repaired with laser surgery. Millions of people tuned in to listen to Hachiko barking, 59 years after his death. Each April, tens of thousands visit the dog’s statue at the Shibuya train station, during a festival in which food offerings are left at the base of the dog’s statue, in hopes that his loyal spirit will visit all humans.
Read about four dog breeds shown for the first time this year at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show.
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