a. I got most of the information from their respective breed/location articles from the questionably reliable WikiPedia.
-Rarest of the annually registered Nihon Ken, the coyote-looking Shikoku is said to hail from Kochi Prefecture, whose capital of Kochi City hails as the home of Sumi "Nausicaa" Shimamoto. Also, that same city has a baseball team called the Kochi Fighting Dogs and this refers to the largest Japanese dog breed, the Tosa dog.
-With the only non-Japanese breeders being in Texas and the Netherlands, the very rare Kishu is a sight to see should you ever see one in person. It's alleged home of the Kishu Province, now the Kii Province, in the Wakayama Prefecture was where the Tokugawa clan had there Kishu branch during the Edo Period.
-The most popular and smallest is the Shiba. The surviving post-WW2 bloodlines come from the Nagano (home to the Japanese national treasure of Matsumoto Prefecture), Gifu (known for hot springs), Tottori (heavily agricultural and a noted product is watermelon), and Shimane Prefectures (Koizumi Yakumo/Lafcadio Hearn taught there and was born on the island of Lefkada. This is near the Epirus Prefecture which is near Albania. Hearn's home island has been cited by local tourist officials that, using several passages of the Odyssey for evidence, that this was the Homeric Ithaka).
-The Kai is held to be the oldest and most pure of the Nihon Ken. Said to be from the Yamanashi Prefecture whose Kai Province has Mt. Fuji along the bordering Shizuoka Prefecture. The Kai Ken is regarded as the breed in the movie "First Dog".
-The Hokkaido/Ainu is said to hail from the most northern and largest of the 47 Japanese prefectures. A telecommunications company called SofBank Mobile is noted for its commercials of the "White Family" that is headed by a white Hokkaido dog.
-The largest, most famous, and possibly most revered is the Akita. Of course, Hachiko is the definitive Akita and its alleged home of the Akita Prefecture is noted for having Japan's highest sake consumption.
b. I sent an e-mail to translator/Nihon Ken breeder Shigeru Kato on New Year's Day:
"Hello, my name is Michael. I am majoring in Criminal Justice at Arizona State University. I also am 25 and love anime and dogs (I love to look up even the rarest and most obscure ones). I have some questions about the
1. I know that you mention in your Akita write-up that only about 2000-2500 are annually registered in Japan. The other write-ups mention the estimated overall population of the Kishu/Kai/Shikou/Hokkaido breeds. Is there a current estimate on the estimated overall population of Akita in Japan? I don't know when http://home.online.no/~kintos/britt/eng_fire.htm was last updated and the 80,000 mentioned in that article may have gone down or up. I also ask this because, for example, there could be a breed in America that has 10,000 total but only 400 are annually registered.
2. While Nihon Ken does mean "Japanese dog", would a generic description include all the Japanese breeds including the Tosa/Japanese Terrier/Chin/Spitz, or is it more specific for the 6 main Spitz breeds?
3. Here's a list of nearly all the Japanese breeds that I could find a list of: http://www.shibaspain.com/las-razas-caninas/los-perros-japoneses (including over 15 extinct breeds). Is it because that so many of these breeds are virtually unknown outside their native prefectures and are recognized only by local specific breed registries that these dogs are recognized by the Hozinkai and JKC?
4. Final question: Because I am planning on getting a Japanese Akita, how do you advise someone that has only had a Springer Spaniel and 2 black Lab/Lab mixes transitioning to owning this marvelous breed?
Thanks for your time and have a great 2012!
P.S.-After black Labs, Akitas are my favorite breed. This is because this is the breed that was once reserved only for Japanese aristocracy and Hachiko. If you are interested, http://www.akitarescue.com has an article called "HIROSHIMA and NAGASAKI: Ionized Radiation and the Akita".
4 days later:
"Michael, thank you for your mail. It's always great to hear from another Nihon Ken aficionado.
1. Akita population: All the population estimates are just that, rough estimates. When compiling the breed write ups, I did speak with the governing breed clubs about estimates, but of course there are no exact numbers of how many dogs are actually living, only yearly registration numbers. Most of the clubs were helpful and tried to give me guesstimates, but the Akita Inu Hozonkai declined to give me one. Since yearly registrations are at around 2000-2500, I can't imagine there being a population of 80,000 in Japan at this time. Given the breed's lifespan, I'd imagine there are @ 30,000.
2. The Nihon Ken: The Nihon Ken (Japanese Dog) is the officially recognized indigenous dog of Japan. This includes the 6 'types', Shiba, Akita, Kai, Shikoku, Kishu, and Hokkaido. There was a 7th, the Koshi no Inu which is now extinct. The Tosa, Japanese Chin and other breeds created in Japan do not fall under this category.
3. I took a look at the list you linked to, and there are many names in there I have not heard of. Many regions have their own variations of the Nihon Ken that have been in the area for years, but when NIPPO was created, teams of researchers scoured the country looking for pockets of quality specimens that had not interbred with Western dogs, and showed a fair amount of type and had enough numbers to be considered a 'breed'. The 'breeds' that were recognized are the present day Nihon Ken. Even in the breeds today, there are different traits carried by different lines within the breeds, carry overs from when they were from different villages or regions. The dogs from a larger geographical area that were seen to carry enough of the same type were lumped together as a breed. Pretty much all the dogs in the list you linked do not even have registries, and never did. There are a couple of breeds such as the Ryukyu, that do have breed specific registries that are not recognized by any other clubs. Just an FYI, the Hyuga, Higo Okami, and Kawakami are not extinct, as I've actually seen some of these dogs around, often though they are hunting mixes, and there is no real preservation effort in most of these minor breeds (Kawakami excluded).
4. Advice: As far as transitioning goes, I'd advise patience. The Japanese breeds are fairly different than the Western breeds, especially when compared to Labs and Spaniels. They often seem stubborn and headstrong to first time owners, but if you are a dog person, which it seems you are, with a bit of patience and observation, you should be able to figure it out. The Nihon Ken Forum is a great place to meet other owners of the Japanese breeds, and to collect and share information. http://www.nihonken.org"