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The origin of the Japanese Chin is in many aspects a mystery. There are several different theories and legends, all lending a certain mystical charm to the breed.

One theory is that as early as 520 A.D., Buddhists monks took tiny dogs with flat noses, called Skoku-Ken, from China to Japan during their missions. "These dogs were said to symbolize the sacred Lion off Buddha" (Stern, p. 70). Thus, the origin of calling the circular marking centered high on some Chin skulls Buddha's Thumbprint. Some consider this mark an indication of Buddha's blessing.

Some subscribe to the theory that Chinese royalty owned these small dogs. These Imperial Chin were kept by private eunuchs, who were charged with looking after the dog's needs. It has been said the Empress of China kept 50 of these dogs in the throne room, and when she entered, they would line up on their hind legs, bowing until she was seated. This may be no more than legend; however, having seen a Chin performing this type of action, it is easy to believe otherwise. For instance, while on a walk one afternoon, we met an oriental couple, who seemed quite charmed by our Chin. When the couple turned to leave, two of my boys danced on their hind legs, waving their front paws. Smiling ear-to-ear, the gentleman stopped and bowed back at them. Seeing this, made it easy for me to imagine Chin, bowing to their empress.

Another interesting legend is that the Chin were given sake, a liqueur made from fermented rice, to stunt their growth. It has also been said that they were kept in small cages, much like a birdcage. Regardless as to whether any of these legends hold any truth, it is likely the Japanese Chin as we know it does have an oriental origin. "Longhaired lap dogs have been treasured by the Japanese for centuries, and they, like many other Asian peoples, bred their lap dogs to such a small size that they could be conveniently carried in the sleeve or held comfortably under the Chin" (Cunliffe, p. 13). Ancient paintings often depict these "sleeve dogs," resembling the Chin.

In the early days in Japan, the Chin were treated as valuable and precious and were owned only by nobility or those who held a high rank. They were bred and kept in-house and were thus kept purebred in contrast to the other Japanese dogs who were kept outside. An acquaintance told me the same held true of her childhood memories of the breed in China. She made mention that although she could not wear shoes indoors and other "working- breed" dogs were kept outdoors, the Chin were allowed to sleep on their straw mats. (In other words, they were held in a higher esteem than other dogs.)

Chin were raised as in indoor dog in the Castle of Edo during the reign of Shogunate Tsunayoshi Tokugwa (1680 - 1709). It is interesting to note that Tsunayoshi, also known as the Dog Shogun, set laws protecting dogs over humans. In addition, he was a devout Buddhist, so perhaps the Buddha's Thumbprint legend can instead be linked to him.

Introduction to the Western World

In the early 1600's, the East India Company employed Captain John Saris to open up trade between England and Japan. Captain Saris reportedly returned with small spaniels for the king as gifts from the emperor. It may have been during this time, the first antecedents of our present-day toy spaniels were brought over. Shortly thereafter in 1623, Japan closed its doors to trade with Britain and later to most of the outside world.

Japan's self-imposed isolation lasted for a little over two centuries. It was not until 1852 when Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry was delegated to visit the country that Westerners again had an open trade with Japan. It is believed seven Japanese Chin were among the gifts given to Commodore Perry. Four Chin were given to Perry as a gift for the president, and one was given to William Speiden, the fleet purser's son. Three of these five Chin died enroute, and two were later transferred to the British Admiral Stirling's ship to be presented to Queen Victoria. Another two Chin were aboard a second ship, bound for New York, and presented to Mrs. Augusta Belmont, Perry's daughter and the future President of the American Kennel Club (in 1888).

During the mid-nineteenth century, dog fanciers in the West became fascinated with the Japanese Chin. "Royal patronage and the explosion of interest in all things oriental established the breed in the eyes of British society ..." (Stern, p. 15). Continued trading with Japan as well as thieving within Japanese kennels brought many more Chin to the United States and Great Britain.

One early breeder was Miss Elizabeth Brown of London. Her involvement with the breed began in 1870 with the arrival of two imports, Chin Chin I and Wee Woo. The breed's first U.K. Champion was Dai Butzu II, owned by Mrs. Eleanor Addis and was the only survivor of eight kennel companions, who died from distemper in 1893.

According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), the breed was first recognized at the New York Bench Show in March 1877. The first member of the breed, Jap, was registered in the AKC Stud Book in 1888. The first U.S. champion is believed to have been Ch. Nanki Poo.

Royal Interest in the Breed

Probably one of the most well known Chin fanciers was Alexandra, Princess of Wales, married to the future King George VII and thus, the daughter-in-law of Queen Victoria. (Remember, Commodore Perry sent two of the Japanese Chin to the Queen in 1853. Also, to understand the lineage, Alexandra is the great-grandmother of Queen Elizabeth II). While visiting a Ladies' Kennel Show in 1903, it said Alexandra singled out the Chin for special notice from the parade of about 100 champions.

Take note of this interesting story from The Complete Japanese Chin (p. 72), regarding one of the Princess' Chin:

A particular favorite was Joss, who accompanied the Royal party to Victoria Station on their departure to Russia. Joss objected to being left behind and when the train started, as the Princess was leaning out of the window waving, he slipped his lead and ran off along the platform in pursuit. Joss chased the train along the line, much to the horror of the watching crowd. To this day, preserved among the Royal archives, is a telegram confirming that Joss was recovered safely.

In the book, Edward & Alexandra: Their Private Lives (p. 152), it is said:

She [Alexandra] never entered a room or sat down without dogs around her and often on her lap. When she played the piano, they would be at her feet; and there would often be one lying across her, too. There might be half a dozen of them beside her at any time, and although they looked so similar, she never got their names wrong.

Another high-society name associated with the breed is the Rothschild family, who were on intimate terms with the Prince and Princess of Wales. Alfred de Rothschild imported a number of Japanese Chin and presented at least four Chin to Princess Alexandra. Facey, an offspring of one of the Rothschild's Chin, is depicted in a well-known painting of the Princess of Wales by Sir Samuel Luke Fildes.

Effects of War

By the dawning of the new century, the interest in the Japanese Chin began to dwindle, partly due to the perceived delicacy of the breed and perhaps worsened by desire of many fanciers for the tiniest of Chin. Unfortunately, they were susceptible (like many other breeds) to diseases like distemper, and without the vaccines we have today, many were wiped out. World War I and World War II also took its toll on the breed in both Britain and the United Kingdom.

Japan too experienced losses as a result of war hardships and earthquakes. Few Chin survived the war, and with the people starving, there was little food available for pets. "However, a few dogs survived, hidden away in Buddhist monasteries and in private homes" (Legl, p. 19). After the war, the Japanese imported Chin from both Britain and the United States to improve their stock. Eileen Craufurd from Great Britain and Catherine Cross from the United States were two prominent breeders who helped with this endeavor.

Leading to Present Day

Catherine Cross' sixty-year involvement with the breed, started with the purchase of her first Chin in 1923. Her stock stems from two of Yevot dogs from Miss May Tovey of England. In the late 1950s, she served as president of the Japanese Spaniel Club of America. After losing 23 dogs to distemper in the 1960s, Cross' breeding program stopped for some time, then continued with the purchase of another Yevot dog, who sired many title-winning offspring. Catherine's dogs can be found in the lineage of many U.S. dogs today.

Another prominent influence in the 1940s through early 1970s was Mary Brewster. Her importation of dogs from England brought fresh blood to the United States, and her kennel name, Robwood, is many pedigrees today, here and in England. At an early age, Mary's daughter, Sari Brewster Tietjen, learned to recognize and breed quality, completing her first breeder/owner/handler champion at 7 years. Mrs. Brewster Tietjen continues to be a predominant influence in the dog world as a multi-group AKC judge.

In 1977, the AKC officially recognized the breed as Japanese Chin, hitherto known as the Japanese Spaniel. According to the AKC, there were 945 Japanese Chin registered with them in 1990 and 1,084 in 1995. Though not a commonly known breed, today, the Japanese Chin is flourishing. (from


Cunliffe, Juliette. Japanese Chin (Pet Love). Interpet Publishing, 2002.

Hough, Richard. Edward & Alexandra: Their Private and Public Lives. St. Martin's Press, 1993.

Legl, Elisabeth The Japanese Chin: Dog from the Land of the Rising Sun. Alpine Blue Ribbon Books, 2002.

Stern, Pamela Cross and Mather, Tom. The Complete Japanese Chin. Ringpress Books, 1997.

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