There was once a dog so loyal that he changed the perspective of an entire culture. Raised on a small farm outside Ōdate, six Akita pups were born into an apparent heaven on earth, free to dash through meadows, track unfamiliar scents, and bark at birds. The people that raised them were caring, warm and generous, and yet, something remained amiss in this paradise, something essential to the soul. The Akita pups, one by one, were adopted by loving families and then taken to the city by train until only one of the six Akitas remained. Unsure what his future held, the remaining Akita male knew that on some level, what he sought eluded him. There existed somewhere out there a higher calling than chasing birds and digging holes, and so the remaining Akita pup sat patiently on the farm porch awaiting the arrival of his true purpose.
The final Akita pup, with his bowed front legs and a floppy ear, was visited and inspected by many, but never adopted. It made sense that of all people, Hidesaburō Ueno, an agricultural engineering professor from Tokyo’s Imperial University, would travel far and wide to the small Ōdate farm in search of a worthy companion. Arriving with several of his students, the remaining Akita instinctively recognized his counterpart and zipped past the others to meet Ueno. Standing upright on a stool, the pup licked Ueno’s face, relieved at last. Looking down at the brown-eyed Akita pup with all his physical flaws and yet a most tenacious spirit, Ueno saw more than just any Akita pup. He saw that which reaches to the heavens and circles back to earth, he saw the infinity symbol, the number eight, a powerful omen — a Japanese symbol for good fortune. Transcending language, man and dog had enacted a bond for life. Those present mere witnesses, they watched in awe as two long lost souls became reunited. “Hachi,” said Ueno to the farm owners. “Hachi,” he repeated with certainty.
The sun twice rose and twice set while Ueno and his wife prepared their home for Hachi’s arrival. The farm owners said their goodbyes and sent Hachi by express train to an altogether different life, one filled with the promise of purpose. Eagerly awaiting his companion’s arrival, Ueno moved swiftly past the other people on the platform, anxious to greet Hachi. Jumping with joy, Hachi lept off the train and into Ueno’s embrace. Hachi took in his new surroundings on their way home. The scents, the buildings, the streets but more than anything, Ueno; his scent, walk and demeanor. Like a sponge, Hachi absorbed everything he could about his new home and long-lost companion. Laying where he was instructed to, Hachi watched closely every evening as Ueno prepared three meals; one for Hachi, one for his wife and one for himself. With life’s purpose coming to light, Hachi felt the missing piece that his soul yearned for materializing.
Like clockwork, every second day Ueno would stroll to the market, and every third he would carry out the very same chores and errands. Ueno shopped at the same stalls, drank the same tea, and read the same newspaper each and every day. Following him room to room, place to place, and market to meadow, Hachi went wherever Ueno went. Satisfying his life’s purpose, he acted as Ueno’s herald, his reflection, escort, and shadow. The more Hachi followed Ueno, the more the Akita came to recognize the importance of consistency. A man of resounding philosophical beliefs, Ueno embedded into Hachi the importance of reliability — the importance of showing up each day. Before long, the summer ended, the autumn leaves began to fall, and Ueno returned to teaching. On his first day back, Ueno received a telegram from his wife telling him to return home immediately. Sensing that it had something to do with Hachi, Ueno paced back and forth aboard the train. He stepped out onto the platform, and was greeted by considerable relief; there sat the escaped scoundrel, tail wagging and eyes wide — there sat Hachi.
Larger dogs were not well-received in Japan at the time, making Hachi’s trip to and from the train station each day most challenging. Enduring all manner of abuse from mild to wild, Hachi was shooed, sprayed with water, drawn on, spat on, struck, and largely assumed to be an abandoned menace. Slowly but surely, it came to light that the ‘rogue’ Akita was in fact no stray, nor a menace, nor anything of the sort. He was loyal. Taught well by his master that steady attendance outweighed sheer luck and raw talent, that steady participation was paramount to success. Hachi never faltered in this regard. Confident that the connection he and his companion shared was vastly more valuable than any abuse he might endure or all the vacant meadows in the world, Hachi showed up day in and day out, rain or shine, without fail. Hachi discovered something that most people have forgotten; that the content of our character is not measured by our thoughts, feelings, words, or ideals. It isn’t even measured by our actions. It is measured almost entirely by the consistency of our practices.
One fateful day, Ueno did not return home from teaching. Loyal beyond understanding, Hachi continued showing up to the station, proving more resilient than ever. Those that had sought to remove him grew outnumbered as more and more people came to appreciate his steadfastness. Hachi knew his place in the world, and there was no one, no force earthly or divine, that could sway him from reuniting with his master. Hachi arrived and departed from that station every single day for nine more years in the hope that each one would be the day his companion returned. But it was not to be. Hidesaburō Ueno suffered a stroke and had died that day in a lecture theater doing what he loved, teaching. Newspapers eventually caught wind of the loyal Akita that never stopped showing up. Celebrating his devotion, the people of Japan dubbed him “Chuken-Hachiko“, which means “Hachiko — the faithful dog“. His example was taught in schools for what it means to be truly loyal and pure of heart, a story told by parents to their children before bed, a lesson learned by all, that showing up daily, no matter the adversity, will always lead to fulfillment.
Although Ueno never returned to Hachiko, the people of Japan showed up each day for him, reassuring Hachiko of his journey’s purity, feeding him, petting him, drying him, and escorting him as he travelled to and from the station. Piercing into the heart and soul of the Japanese people when they least expected, Hachiko did justice for all large dogs, going so far as to save the Akita breed from extinction. Akitas quickly went from being scorned to a breed held in the utmost esteem. Following his well-worn path to and from the station each day, Hachiko proved his resilience to the last. Just like Ueno, Hachiko also died doing what he loved, standing by his companion. Passing of natural causes at eleven years old on his way to the station while surrounded by a crowd of onlookers that cherished, adored, and loved him, Hachiko crossed over, his purpose fulfilled. Idolized and celebrated by the Japanese people, he was worshipped and revered as a deity, his loyalty legendary, his legacy infinite.
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