Akita history has its beginnings in Japan--specifically in the Akita Prefecture, a mountainous region in the northern part of the nation. Akita dogs existed there as far back as the 1600s, when they guarded Japanese royalty and hunted large game like bears and boar.
But it wasn't until the early twentieth century that Akitas started gaining worldwide notice. First was the legend of Hachiko, an Akita owned by a college professor in Shibuya, a Tokyo suburb. Beginning in 1923 when he was a puppy, Hachiko accompanied the professor to and from the Shibuya train station each day for the professor's commute into the city. But two years later, Hachiko made his customary trip to the station to meet his master after work--only the professor never arrived; he had died of a brain hemorrhage at work that day. Even so, Hachiko, though he went to live with the professor's relatives, traveled to the station every day for the next nine years to wait for his master. Hachiko's loyalty became known across Japan (and eventually worldwide), and a bronze statue of the dog was erected at the Shibuya station shortly before Hachiko's death in 1934.
Shortly thereafter, the Akita breed gained even more infamy when deaf-mute American author/activist Helen Keller visited Japan. She learned much about the breed during her trip (which included a visit to the Hachiko statue in Shibuya), and was given her own Akita--a pup named Kamikaze--to take with her back to the States. Sadly, Kamikaze died of distemper shortly after Keller's return, so the Japanese government arranged to send her another one--Kamikaze's litter-mate, a dog named Kenzan. Keller grew to love the breed, and called the Akita "an angel in fur" in her later writings.
During World War II, the Akita, like many breeds, grew scarce in number. Fortunately the breed's population has steadily increased in recent decades. In modern times, two variants of Akitas--the Japanese and the American--have emerged, and fierce debate rages over whether they are separate breeds.