Synopses & Reviews
How one man's consuming passion for dogs saved a legendary breed from extinction and led him to a difficult, more soulful way of life in the wilds of Japan's remote snow country
As Dog Man opens, Martha Sherrill brings us to a world that Americans know very little about-the snow country of Japan during World War II. In a mountain village, we meet Morie Sawataishi, a fierce individualist who has chosen to break the law by keeping an Akita dog hidden in a shed on his property.
During the war, the magnificent and intensely loyal Japanese hunting dogs are donated to help the war effort, eaten, or used to make fur vests for the military. By the time of the Japanese surrender in 1945, there are only sixteen Akitas left in the country. The survival of the breed becomes Morie's passion and life, almost a spiritual calling.
Devoted to the dogs, Morie is forever changed. His life becomes radically unconventional-almost preposterous-in ultra-ambitious, conformist Japan. For the dogs, Morie passes up promotions, bigger houses, and prestigious engineering jobs in Tokyo. Instead, he raises a family with his young wife, Kitako-a sheltered urban sophisticate-in Japan's remote and forbidding snow country.
Their village is isolated, but interesting characters are always dropping by-dog buddies, in-laws from Tokyo, and a barefoot hunter who lives in the wild. Due in part to Morie's perseverance and passion, the Akita breed strengthens and becomes wildly popular, sometimes selling for millions of yen. Yet Morie won't sell his spectacular dogs. He only likes to give them away.
Morie and Kitako remain in the snow country today, living in the traditional Japanese cottage they designed together more than thirty years ago-with tatami mats, an overhanging roof, a deep bathtub, and no central heat. At ninety-four years old, Morie still raises and trains the Akita dogs that have come to symbolize his life.
In beautiful prose that is a joy to read, Martha Sherrill opens up the world of the Dog Man and his wife, providing a profound look at what it is to be an individualist in a culture that reveres conformity-and what it means to live life in one's own way, while expertly revealing Japan and Japanese culture as we've never seen it before.
"Morie Sawataishi had never owned a dog, but in 1944, when the Japanese man was 30 years old, the desire for one came over him like a 'sudden... craving.' During WWII, snow country dogs were being slaughtered for pelts to line officers' coats; working for Mitsubishi in the remote snow country, Morie decided to rescue Japan's noble, ancient Akita breed whose numbers had already dwindled before the war from certain extinction. Raised in an elegant Tokyo neighborhood, his long-suffering wife, Kitako, hated country life, and his children resented the affection he lavished on his dogs rather than on them. The book brims with colorful characters, both human and canine: sweet-tempered redhead Three Good Lucks, who may have been poisoned to death by a rival dog owner; high-spirited One Hundred Tigers, who lost his tail in an accident; and wild mountain man Uesugi. To Western readers Morie's single-mindedness may seem selfish and Kitako's passivity in the face of his stubbornness incomprehensible, but former Washington Post staffer Sherrill (The Buddha from Brooklyn) imbues their traditional Japanese lifestyle with dignity, and Morie's adventures (he is now 94) should be enjoyed by dog lovers, breeders and trainers. B&w photos." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Dog Man is an elegantly written account of a stubborn man who found meaning in old-fashioned values while his nation threw itself headlong into building an affluent, materialist, consumer-oriented society. In her wonderful journey to Japan's snow country, Martha Sherrill introduces us to a world-and a gruffly independent personality-that transcend national boundaries."
-John W. Dower, author of Embracing Defeat
"A story of a hard life and dedication to preserving a traditional dog breed in the mountains of Japan. Fascinating descriptions of life in rural Japan during World War II."
-Temple Grandin, author of Animals in Translation
"Here's a story of a rare life lived in sharp contact with the natural world-- not just mountain and forest, but even more with that most interesting of species, the dog. These akitas have wildness in them, enough to bring it out in those who look into their eyes. There's not a sentimental word in this book, but it will move you strongly."
--Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature
"Dog Man evokes the ancient myths: deep and quiet like high mountains in snow. Morie Sawataishi has learned from his beloved Akitas to embrace the wild. Read this book and feel that power."
--Neenah Ellis, author of If I Live to be 100
is a peerless tale of a life's work unfolding, written in prose so spare, rare, and beautiful it took my breath away...Written with equal parts rigor and grace, Dog Man
captures something near the knotty essence of the human bond with dogs."
-David Wroblewski, author of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
"A spellbindingly beautiful and affecting story. Sherrill...extends the story so deeply that it seems to stand for choices in all our lives."
"A portrait of Japan few outsiders see...A quirky story of heroism, defiance, and dedication. A fascinating slice of cultural history."
-Los Angeles Times
-The New York Times
"Dog Man" tells the story of how one man's consuming passion for dogs saved a legendary breed from extinction and, in the process, led him to a difficult, but more soulful way of life in the wilds of Japan's remote snow country.
Dog Man: An Uncommon Life on a Faraway Mountain is a stunning portrait of the Japanese rebel who single-handedly rescued the 4,000-year-old Akita dog breed.
At the end of World War II, there were only 16 Akita dogs left in Japan. Morie Sawataishi became obsessed with preventing the extinction of the 4,000-year-old Japanese dog breed. He defied convention, broke the law, gave up a prestigious job, and chose instead to take his urbanite wife to Japan's forbidding snow country to start a family, and devote himself entirely to saving the Akita.
Martha Sherrill blends archival research, on-site reportage, and her talent for narrative to reveal Sawataishi's world, providing a profound look at what it takes to be an individual in a culture where rebels are rare, while expertly portraying a side of Japan that is rarely seen by outsiders.
About the Author
Martha Sherrill is a former Washington Post staff writer known for her penetrating profiles of people, both famous and obscure. Her award-winning writing has appeared in Esquire and Vanity Fair, among other publications. She is the author of The Buddha from Brooklyn, a work of nonfiction, and two novels, My Last Movie Star and The Ruins of California. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and son.