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Book Review: "DOG MAN" by Martha Sherrill
I was drawn to this book because it is about Akita dogs, a Japanese breed. I had and Akita, her name was Keiko. Keiko means peace in Japanese. She passed away last year at the age of fifteen. This story is about Akita's and much more. It is also about the incredible beauty of rural Japan, and the ancient history full of many traditions that have been passed down through generations. There are a few well known Akitas and there stories are famous- such as the story of Hachi-ko who even has a bronze statue of him at the Shibuya train station in Japan. The first Akita to come to America was given as a present to Helen Keller. His names was “Kami” but a few months later he died of distemper, Miss Keller was heart-broken. She was sent another from the same litter and she called him Go-Go. Go-Go would be a true companion to Helen Keller as she put it, “his every move suggests, 'I know who I am.'” And of course “Kato” the infamous Akita that witnessed the Nicole Brown Simpson murder.
Martha Sherrill has the gift of story telling which she elegantly brings to “Dog Man”. The main character in the book is Morie Sawataishi, a very old- world traditionalist and naturalist. Perhaps to some he seemed a cranky and heartless person, but he held his beliefs about the Akita breed above everything else, including his own family. His love for his dogs comes first before everything and everyone. My friend read Dog Man and she said she did not like Morie at all and I tried to tell her that he was old world and the Japanese men were distant and even aloof when it came to family members. But you will be the judge of this if you take this incredible journey with Martha Sherrill.
The story unfolds in an area of Japan that is almost wilderness and at the foot of Mount Kurikoma - the "snow country" as the Japanese call it. The beautiful descriptions of the wildlife, and native plants that grow in this area, and the cold springs that are fed by the snowy mountains, make you almost smell the moist ground as you are taken on paths up the mountain. This was a great place to raise Akitas but maybe not so easy a place to raise a family.
Then came the great cloud that would engulf most of the world, including Japan as the world was hurled into World War II. This not only affected all the people, but all so the animals. When the war started there were many Akitas but by the end of the war there were twelve Akitas left on this earth. Morie owned two of them. Akitas had been slaughtered for there hides to line coats and had also been eaten. There was a law that you could not own any kind of animal during the conflict. Martha tells how Morie hid his Akitas during that time and how he was able to feed them by taking food from his own family to keep the dogs alive. Later he became one of the top Akita breeders in Japan and raised some notable and distinguished dogs.
Many fascinating characters will appear on this journey, and a few horrifying events will take place, but I guarantee you it is well worth reading this book.
Martha wrote of many different traits and characteristics of the dogs, and I saw a lot of those in Keiko. She was very protective and loyal. Only a few things set her off; like if the door bell rang, no matter where she was in the house she would be very vocal and if you were on the other side of the door you would not open up that door. Her coat was black and white and her face was all black and when you looked in her eyes you could see no pigment, she looked just like a bear. She was raised inside of the house never once sleeping outside, she never tipped over tables or got onto sofas or chairs.
She had her toys and they were kept in a big basket in the bedroom. When she was in the mood she would pic one and maybe go back and get another, and play tell she got bored. From the first day we brought her home as a puppy she never once made a mistake in the house. Towards the end of her days I would look in her eyes and they would look so tired and it was as if she was saying, "I have had a wonderful life and now I just want to go to sleep". I hope you all will take the time to read “Dog Man” this is an easy read it is 234 pages long and every page is a page turner, enjoy.