Book review: Dog Man

A tale of Japan’s lightning-speed evolution.

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

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?”


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend