Book review: Dog Man

A tale of Japan’s lightning-speed evolution.

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Deep in the snow country of northern Japan during World War II, a 30-year-old engineer named Morie Sawataishi smuggled home an Akita puppy and hid it in a shed. (Keeping dogs as pets was frowned upon during the war, since there was barely enough food for people.) It was the beginning of an obsession: Since then, he has bred generation after generation of Akitas, seeking the elusive attribute of kish?—”a kind of strength and life force,” a throwback to the animal’s bear-tracking past. Sawataishi, now 94, went from hardship to prosperity as his dogs became national champions. Yet it was a bittersweet victory: Though he’d raised both show and working dogs, the public preferred its Akitas mild, not wild.

Dog Man is not just the story of Sawataishi and his dogs’ transformation but also of Japan’s lightning-speed evolution from a bellicose society with bear hunters and recluses living in the mountains to an industrialized superpower of salarymen and city dwellers. Sherrill, a former Washington Post staff writer and author of The Buddha From Brooklyn, tells Sawataishi’s story in spare, subtle prose, showing how this eccentric man remained connected to the natural world through his dogs. We gradually come to realize that the dog man’s quest to preserve the Akita’s spirit reflects a deeper desire to preserve the once-wild spirit of his homeland.”Morie wondered where Japan was heading, where the world was heading, and where the dogs would wind up, if [kish?] weren’t honored and preserved,” Sherrill writes. “What will happen if the principles of nature—pure animal nature—got lost?”

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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