The History of the
Japanese Chin
Written by Libby Langford.
The Japanese Chin is an ancient toy breed, whose earliest history is shrouded in mystery. Various theories abound: that the breed originated in Korea, that it originated in China, that it was brought by traders, by Buddhist monks, or by Emperor's emissaries. The most common belief is that the Emperor of China presented the Emperor of Japan with a pair of these dogs, and that they developed as they are today, under the difference of cultural and climatic conditions. Whichever is correct, we do know that there was much traveling between China, Korea, and Japan as far back as the fifth century, and both Korea and China constantly presented small pet dogs to Japan.

It is safe to say that the breed that we recognize today was developed in Japan. These toy dogs were highly prized in Japan, they were always kept among the people of noble birth, and occasionally presented to a noted person, a diplomat, or to a foreigner who was in favor with the members of nobility. Each noble house kept and bred the Chin, each breeding to their own standards. For this reason, several distinct sizes and styles were developed, each independent of the others. Japan is well known for its ability to create unique things. They are famous for their bonsai, the miniature trees, and for their goldfish. Inbreeding the Japanese Chin, they tried for a blend of cat and dog; a dog with many catlike characteristics. In this they succeeded; ask anyone owned by a Chin, and they will tell you incredible tales of climbing and jumping feats, of fastidious cleaning habits, of using their front feet to bat and explore, and of finding their Chin in the most unlikely of spots!

The Japanese succeeded to such an extent that they did not consider these dogs to BE dogs. In the Japanese language, all dogs are known as "inu" (Akita-inu, Shiba-inu, Tosa-inu) with the exception of this breed, which are known as Chin. In 1853, Commodore Perry arrived in Japan to open that country for trading purposes. He, along with some of his crew, were given Japanese Chin as gifts. Two were sent to Queen Victoria as gifts, two were given to Admiral Perry, who sent them to his daughter, Mrs. August Belmont, and two were to be given as gifts to the President. No one is sure what happened to the pair bound for England, but the three on Admiral Perry's ship died on the voyage. Mrs. Belmont received hers, but they never produced any offspring. Subsequent trading vessels all returned with some of these highly prized dogs. Some were given as gifts to the captains; others were stolen by crewmembers.

As the popularity of the Japanese Spaniel (as it was known until 1977) grew in the Western world, so did the demand for more. The constant drain led to the lack of better quality dogs being imported. The dogs coming by steamer from Japan were sold in lots to dealers on the Pacific Coast, who would buy everything at a set price per dog. These dogs would then have to be acclimated and shipped across the continent to the East Coast. It's amazing that any survived!

Unfortunately, they were very susceptible to the Western diseases like distemper, and had no immunity whatsoever. Entire kennels were regularly wiped out when this deadly virus struck. This led to a terrible quote from this time that said; If you have an enemy, give them a Chin, for you've given them a dead dog.

The New York show of 1882 had an entry of nine Japanese Spaniels. A tenth was entered in error in the miscellaneous class as a Pekingese (China) Spaniel. The three judges of the show were so impressed with this dog, that they gave Chico a special prize. They considered it to be the best of the Japanese Spaniels shown that day.

The Japanese Spaniel was one of the early breeds accepted into the American Kennel Club. In 1888, with registration number #9216, the first Japanese Spaniel was recorded in the American Kennel Club Stud Book. The dog's name was Jap, owned by Fred Senn of New York City, and his breeder and pedigree were unknown. The first Champion is believed to have been Ch. Nanki Poo, American Kennel Club #9220. The Japanese Spaniel Club was organized about this time, but became inactive. The Japanese Spaniel Club of America was founded in 1912, and continues until today.

It went through another period of inactivity around WWII, and in 1955 at the behest of the American Kennel Club, Mary Sanford Brewster spearheaded the reorganization of the club. In 1977, the name was changed to the Japanese Chin Club of America, when the name of the breed was also changed. When the World Wars cut off all supply of Chin from Japan, we had to rely on the dogs already in our country, and other Western countries, to continue the line. Japan, too, had her losses among this prized breed, as earthquakes played havoc among the breeders. One name that stands out when studying the early history of the Chin in America is that of Mrs. Ineko Shimogawa. She was born in the U.S., and returned to Yokohama, Japan during her childhood. She began breeding Chin at the age of 16. As a result of the earthquake of 1923, she moved to Kobe, Japan. During the 1930's and 40's, she sold many Chin in the U.S. During WWII, it was strictly forbidden for anyone to keep dogs in Japan, except for police and guard dogs. Mrs. Shimogawa moved to Tokyo, where she was unknown, and managed to secrete a select few of her breeding stock. She kept them alive by buying rice and other foods on the black market, using money made from selling her silk kimonos. Mrs. Berendsohn from Brooklyn, NewYork, was another influential person in the early history of Chins in the U.S. She had been interested in this breed from early childhood, having seen one of the earliest imports, brought by a sea captain neighbours.

She was the early Secretary for the Japanese Spaniel Club of America, the columnist for the American Kennel Club Gazette, as well as being an American Kennel Club judge. In 1932, she was the Toy Group judge that gave Ch. Keuwanna Titi the breed's first Group 1 at Westminster Kennel Club. In the early 30's, she imported the Austrian bitch, Nagako v Miniatur, who won the Japanese Spaniel Club of America Specialties in 1933, 1935, and 1936.

Mary Sanford Brewster was one of the major influences of the breed beginning in the 40's, and continuing into the early 70's. She imported many dogs from England, bringing fresh blood to the United States. Most became U.S. champions, and the "Robwood" kennel name can be seen in many pedigrees, both here and in England. Her daughter, Sari (now Tietjen) learned at an early age to recognize and breed quality, winning her first National Specialty in 1957. Sari Brewster Tietjen remains an influence in the dog world today, as a judge, a Chin breeder/owner/exhibitor, a writer, and former Director of Internet Services for the American Kennel Club.

Of course, the first name that springs to mind when the Japanese Chin breed is mentioned is Mrs. Catherine Cross. After purchasing her first Chin in 1923, she became a major influence in the breed for the next 60 years. There are very few dogs bred in American that do not have a "Cross" dog in their pedigree, even today. At the end of World War II, Mrs. Cross was one of the breeders who helped return the Japanese Chin breed to their original country, since almost all of the dogs in Japan were killed during the war. Today the Japanese Chin is one of dogdom's best kept secrets.

Those who know this breed will never again live without one or more. To the fans of the Chin, they represent all that is ideal in a pet. Elegant yet comical, dignified yet silly at times, luxuriant coat that requires little care, and a personality that meshes perfectly with its owner, the Chin makes a perfect companion. The caretakers of this breed are eager to share their love of the breed, but are unwilling to let this marvelous little companion become compromised by becoming too popular. They remain exclusive members of royalty, for anyone who is fortunate enough to be owned by a Chin is considered "royal" by their Chin!