Image © Akiyama No Roushya

The Kishu Ken is one of the medium sized Nihon Ken, originating from the Mie and Wakayama prefectures, formerly known as the Kishu region. The breed was declared a National Treasure in 1934. Kishu were bred as a hunting dog, primarily used in hunting deer and boar. The breed is still used for hunting in Japan today.

The Kishu is double coated, and come in four accepted coat colours: white, sesame, red and black. White coats are most common in the breed, due to one famous hunting line whose dogs were predominantly white. The black coat is functionally extinct. Pinto coats may also be seen, but are considered undesirable; brindle coats are considered a disqualifying fault. Their tails can be curled (maki-o) or sickle (sashi-o), but may also stand straight (tachi-o).

Kishu are a powerful hunting dog, they are typically charismatic, athletic and determined. Most Kishu today still have a high energy level, retaining their fitness for purpose. As they are still used by traditional hunters today, they have kept the courageous personality needed when hunting boar and deer. They are an intelligent and independent breed – like most Nihon Ken – and form a strong bond with their owner. They require an active lifestyle and can excel in dog sports.

Image © Akiyama No Roushya

FCI Breed Standard

Standard for FCI

UTILISATION: Hunting dog, companion.

FCI-CLASSIFICATION: Group 5 Spitz and primitive type. Section 5 Asian Spitz and related breeds.

General Appearance:

Medium-sized dog, well balanced and muscles well developed. The dog has pricked ears and a curled or sickle tail. The conformation is strong, well boned and compact.

Important Proportions:

The ratio of height at withers to length of body is 10:11.

Behaviour / Temperament:

Dog of noteworthy endurance, showing nobility, dignity and naive feeling. The temperament is faithful, docile and very alert.


Skull: Forehead broad.
Stop: Rather abrupt, with a slight furrow.

Nose: Black. Slight lack of pigmentation in white dogs is accepted. Nasal bridge straight.
Muzzle: Fairly thick, and wedge-shaped.
Lips: Tight.
Jaws/Teeth: Strong, with a scissor bite.
Cheeks: Relatively well developed.
Eyes: Nearly triangular, not too small, and dark brown in colour. The outer corners of the eyes are slightly upturned.
Ears: Small, triangular, slightly inclining forward and firmly pricked.


Thick and muscular.


Withers: High.
Back: Straight and strong.
Loin: Broad and muscular.
Chest: Deep, ribs moderately sprung.
Belly: Slightly tucked up.


Set on high, thick, carried vigorously curled or curved like a sickle over the back, the tip nearly reaching to the hocks when let down.


Shoulders: Moderately sloping with well developed muscles.
Upper arm: Forming a moderate angle with shoulder blade.
Elbow: Set close to the body.
Forearm: Straight.
Metacarpus (Pastern): Slightly oblique.
Forefeet: Toes well arched and tightly closed. Pads thick and elastic. Nails hard and preferably dark in colour.

General appearance: Well developed, strong and moderately angulated.
Hocks: Tough and strong.
Hind feet: Toes well arched and tightly closed. Pads thick and elastic. Nails hard and preferably dark in colour.

Gait / Movement:

Light and resilient.


Hair: Outer coat harsh and straight, undercoat soft and dense. The hair on cheeks and tail fairly long.

Colour: White, red, and sesame (well mixture of black, red and white hairs in whole).


Height at withers: Males 52cm. Females 49 cm. There is a tolerance of + 3 cm.


Any departure from the foregoing points should be considered a fault and the seriousness with which the fault should be regarded should be in exact proportion to its degree and its effect upon the health and welfare of the dog.

  • Lack of sexual dimorphism.
  • Long hair.
  • Slightly overshot or undershot mouth.
  • Shyness.
  • Pinto colour.

Disqualifying Faults:

  • Aggressive or overly shy.
  • Any dog clearly showing physical or behavioural abnormalities shall be disqualified.
  • Extremely overshot or undershot mouth.
  • Ears not pricked.
  • Hanging tail, short tail.
  • Male animals should have two apparently normal testicles fully descended into the scrotum.
  • Only functionally and clinically healthy dogs, with breed typical conformation, should be used for breeding.

NIPPO Breed Standard

The NIPPO standard for the Kishu Ken is outlined in a single standard for all four of the medium sized Nihon Ken. An excellent translation of the NIPPO standard can be viewed at Kazeshimasou (Shiba Inu Ireland)’s website.

Image © Fédération Cynologique Internationale
Image © Akiyama No Roushya

Kishu Ken in Media

黄金の犬, or Dog of Fortune, is a 1979 Japanese TV series about a girl and her lost dog trying to find each other. The dog is played by a Kishu.

Image © Daiei Studios

Another 1981 Japanese series named 炎の犬, or Dog of Fire, also features Kishu Ken.

Image © Mifune Productions Co. LTD.

Kishu play key roles within Yoshihiro Takahashi’s series, particularly Ginga: Nagareboshi Gin and Ginga Densetsu Weed.

Image © Yoshihiro Takahashi