This short article intends to take it a deep look in ~ the words for "dog" in Japanese, "inu" and "ken", both written with the same kanji (sinogram; Chinese character): 犬.

You are watching: How do you say dog in japanese

I will start with some simple phonological and etymological information, then move to an elaboration that the immediate reason for the composing of this post, observations from colleagues, and also a short conclusion.

For those who space unfamiliar with Japanese, most kanji (Sinograms) have actually at least two quite various pronunciations, an on<"yomi> 音<読み> (Sino-Japanese reading) and also a kun<"yomi> 訓<読み> (native reading). In the instance of 犬 ("dog"), the former is ken and also the latter is inu. They both typical "dog". The underlying concern that triggered me to create this post is once to use which. And also that come in the type of a lengthy message native Nathan Hopson, which ns quote here:

In recent years, Japanese tv has embraced a function as cheerleader because that “Cool Japan,” creating a mess of self-congratulatory paeans come Japan in the kind of reflects about:

a) Japanese people, culture, and businesses prospering in the world, or

b) how much however, (especially, however not solely Westerners, i.e. gaijin) love those exact same Japanese people, culture, and also businesses

The segment ns saw recently on TV Aichi’s どうぶつピース!! (Dōbutsu Pīsu!!) about Japanese dogs shows how much this goes. Yes, the dogs of war have end up being the dog of culture wars. And the dog of failed worldwide political manipulation, follow to this BBC article about Japan’s attempt to ingratiate itself with Putin by providing him a second dog ahead of his visit and also talks around finally signing a tranquility treaty and the Japanese pipeline dream of obtaining Russia to “return” four northern islands.

Before going any kind of further, it’s precious noting that, in English, the title, “Animal peace!!” would certainly be properly punctuated, “Animals, ‘Peace!’” In other words, it’s basically, “Hey animals, to speak ‘Cheese!’” The caption is “Super-cute pictures one ~ another!” television is learning, and also plagiarizing, native YouTube.

Anyway, the segment in question was among several top top the regimen that’s a story rather than a glorified YouTube video. It appears to be part of a longer collection of stories about the popularity of Japanese dog in the world. Television would have actually its captive audiences believe that Akitas and also Shibas are growing renowned in the world, and there’s an implicit link to Japan’s “Gross nationwide Cool” and the whole “Cool Japan” phenomenon. This is emphasized by the Japanese names the Western owners select for your dogs, their story of fall in love through Japan and/or Japanese culture (usually manga and also anime), etc. This is precisely the sort of thing that’s pushed me to disregard Japanese TV as lot as feasible recently.

But my interest was piqued as soon as my wife mentioned that she was quite suddenly bothered by other that had been nagging in ~ me because that a while now.

When i learned Japanese 20 years ago, Akitas (秋田犬) and Shibas (しば犬) to be most certainly “Akita ken” and also “Shiba ken,” both making use of the sinicized reading (on yomi) because that the character because that dog (犬). However in current years, I’ve been hearing broadcasters use the “nativized” analysis (kun yomi), “inu” for both.

So as soon as my wife pointed out that she was feeling the same uneasiness around “Akita inu,” I determined to figure out what’s going ~ above here.

First, the English sources.

In English, points are reasonably simple because that the Akita, since the breed surname doesn’t include either inu or ken.

The American Kennel Club, which describes the breed together “Dignified, courageous, and also profoundly loyal,” officially well-known the Akita in 1972, despite breed standards in Japan date to the 1930s. The AKC website adds, “The ‘inu’ that is sometimes added to the name simply method ‘dog.’” over there is no point out of the “ken” reading.

As far as I deserve to tell, The Akita club of America does not take a was standing on the issue.

One vital tidbit that both the these organizations (and Wikipedia) note is that, as the Akita society puts it, “The Akita is one of Seven breeds designated together a national Monument in his native nation of Japan.”

So on to the Japanese sources.

The company for cultural Affairs, which manages together designations, is unambiguous: the reading in the agency database (Japanese only) for Akitas is あきたいぬ (Akita inu), and also “ken” is i do not have anything to be found. Therefore officially, inu it is.

The website of Odate City, the dog’s genealogical home (it was formerly referred to as the Odate dog and included to the perform of national Monuments together the Akita in 1931), is likewise firm top top this point.

What of other Japanese indigenous dogs?

The Shiba is an additional Japanese dog popular exterior Japan, and it is also referred come in the media using inu rather than ken. The agency for cultural Affairs agrees, despite I have to admit this weirds me out a bit, too.

So what about the other five dogs registered as national Monuments? (And what around the native “monument” here…?) Well, ns just about threw my hands up and also walked away once I put the database results into a list:


秋田犬 (あきたいぬ) Akita

柴犬 (しばいぬ)Shiba

越の犬 (こしのいぬ) Koshi or Koshino (extinct)


甲斐犬 (かいけん) Kai

紀州犬 (きしゅうけん)Kishu (Kishū)

土佐犬 (とさけん)Tosa (distinct native the Tosa fighting dog, apparently)

北海道犬 (ほっかいどうけん)Hokkaido

FWIW, the Japanese dog fan ar site (note “ken!!”) lists:

Akita (秋田犬)

Hokkaido Inu (北海道犬)

Shiba Inu (柴犬)

Kai Ken (甲斐犬)

Kishu Ken (紀州犬)

Shikoku Ken (四国犬)

Well, as you could expect, it turns out that my wife and I space not the only Japanese speakers bothered by this. A rapid Google search yields dozens the questions like this one (in Japanese) in virtual Q&A informational forums choose Yahoo! Japan’s Chiebukuro (“Adviser”) alluding to man or frustration with this choice.

So why is it that the government company in fee of social affairs and also the media persist v the inu pronunciation?

Turns out, NHK has actually an answer. And also yes, it’s solution to a perplexed viewer’s question. And yes, i felt tower by this. Yet then I witnessed the date: 2001. So this has actually apparently to be “a thing” because that much much longer than ns realized. Feeling of vindication melted away….

Japan’s publicly broadcaster keeps a hand-operated (ことばのハンドブック, Kotoba no handobukku) for simply such inquiries of linguistic usage. So when a viewer / listener asked around NHK’s policy on the discrepant readings of 犬, the handbook involved the rescue through a general non-answer:

“The readings room decided based upon consideration that both pertained to organizations (such as neighborhood preservation societies) and also customary common usage.”

But the specifics space actually quite interesting:

“For instance, in its residence region, 秋田犬 is traditionally referred to as ‘Akita inu’ … However, a February 1990 poll of Tokyo male and female occupants sixteen year old and older revealed the 95% express this surname ‘Akita ken.’ because that this reason, NHK chose to include ‘Akita ken’ to the timeless ‘Akita inu’ as acceptable for use in broadcasting.”

The answer proceeds with a perform of NHK’s embraced pronunciations, which differs from the agency for cultural Affairs:


しば犬 <×柴犬> Shiba

(Note that the “x” way that NHK does not accept the kanji 柴 because that the dog breed, despite it is provided both commonly and by the firm for cultural Affairs)


甲斐犬 Kai

紀州犬 Kishu

北海道犬 Hokkaido

カラフト犬 Karafuto


秋田犬 Akita

土佐犬 Tosa

This left me wondering around how and also why “Akita ken,” and also for that matter “Shiba ken,” had end up being so commonplace. My assumption is the it’s since of parsing issues. As soon as treated together a suffix because that the preceding word, “-ken” together in Nihonken (Japanese dog/s), that treated as one personality of a longer Sinitic compound. When treated together a different word, together in “Akita + dog,” climate inu makes sense. However, that’s a more difficult sell offered normal Japanese parsing patterns.

Any insights? and what about analogous instances in various other languages?

Nathan"s observations might really well stand together a comprehensive Language log in guest article on your own, and indeed they are, but I"m including a couple of things below to complement all the an excellent information the he has provided.

The joint of 犬 (犭when offered as a radical ~ above the left next of a character) in MSM is quǎn, in Cantonese is hyun2, in Hakka is khién / khián, in southern Min is khián, in Wu is qyoe2, in middle Sinitic is /kʰwenX/, and also in Old Sinitic is /*ʷʰˤʔ (Baxter-Sagart) or /*kʰʷeːnʔ/ (Zhengzhang).

(There"s a quite various word for "dog" in Chinese, viz., gǒu 狗, but I will leave that for an additional occasion, just as I will not comment on the two main words because that dog in English, "dog" and "hound" , despite others might wish to say something around the Chinese and also English bag in the comments.)

Thus us know really well where the character 犬 and the pronunciation "ken" come from, however where go "inu" come from? I have the exact same sort that question around all Japanese pairs of on and also kun readings, for this reason it will certainly be a treat for me to look intensively in ~ this one particular case.

I"m the proud owner the Yamanaka Jōta 山中襄太, Kokugo gogen jiten 国語語源辞典 (Etymological thesaurus of the nationwide Language) (Tokyo: Azekura Shobō 校倉書房, 1976, 1993 <4th ed.>). Top top p. 78a, the writer lists the adhering to words because that "dog" in Tungusic topolects of Manchuria: ina, inau, inai, inaki, inda, and nenda.

I cannot help but think the these Tungusic words and Japanese "inu" are somehow related. Roy Andrew müller famously thought that Japanese and also Korean to be members of the Altaic language group. The agreement view of skilled linguists, however, is that there"s not also a well-established Altaic language group, much less one that has Korean and Japanese. Check out J. Marshall Unger, "Summary report that the Altaic panel", in Philip Baldi, ed., Linguistic change and repair Methodology (Berlin: Mouten de Gruyter, 1990), pp. 479-482.

The Manchu word for "dog" is "indahun". I have actually a hunch the "hun" is some kind of suffix. See the remarks the Juha Janhunen and Jichang Lulu below.

Comments by historical linguists and philologists

Linda Chance:

At very first I assumed that this should be straightforward answer: in compounds in i m sorry the character 犬 complies with a name, it should generally be properly inu, since names would tend to be kunyomi-based, but readers have tendency to uncover it daunting to decision whether a reading of a name is kunyomi (calling because that the kunyomi inu) or onyomi (calling for the onyomi ken). The Nihon kokugo daijiten native Shôgakukan lists only Shibainu for 柴犬. The favors Akitainu, back it likewise lists Akitaken as an alternate for 秋田犬. Because that 日本犬, Nihonken is the main entry, back Nipponinu is an alternating (I"m glad we"re not emotional on Nihon vs. Nippon). Ns wasn"t really conscious of a chronology because that the bifurcation, but it would seem to it is in recent.

NHK has solution to the query "is that inu or ken?" online. Castle say the in their practice of the moment, some compounds are only read XXinu (e.g. Shibainu), some are just read XXken (e.g. Kaiken, Kishûken, Hokkaidôken, Karafutoken), and also some are review either method (e.g., Akitainu/Akitaken, Tosainu/Tosaken). They describe that the official name of the Akita each other is Akitainu, follow to the locally-based preservation society (Akitainu hozonkai), yet a 1990 survey of males and females over 16 in Tokyo discovered that 95% say "Akitaken." so the choice depends top top the context. Https://

I have actually heard that the Nihonken hozon-kai 日本犬保存会 (Japan Dog conservation Society) adjusted its reading from inu to ken twenty-five year ago, yet I can not confirm. If I had to guess, ns would ar the change about then.

John Whitman:

On the face of it, the seems like a usual on/kun department of job to me. Yamato words are not great for absorption with ideal names, for this reason parallel come koinu 子犬 ("puppy") vs. Akita-ken 秋田犬 you get koushi 子牛 yet Wagyū 和牛.

Alexander Vovin:

In modern Japanese the typical word is indigenous Japanese inu. Sino-Japanese ken occurs mostly in idiom expressions prefer ken-en no naka 犬猿の仲: the relationship between a dog and a monkey, which is one idiom because that the relationship in between irreconcilable enemies.

Jim Unger:

Well, ken is the normal Sino-J analysis for 犬 and also inu is its normal J gloss. Both signify "dog", however the connotations the inu used together a free noun different from its usage in link (inu by itself deserve to mean "spy" too). Ken can not be supplied as a cost-free noun; it only occurs in compounds.

Juha Janhunen:

Sino-Japanese ken is today normally used in the feeling of dog breed, e.g. Ainu ken "Ainu dog" or akita ken "Akita dog". Inu is the consistent word when used alone, or likewise in some fixed expressions like koma inu "Korean dog" = the Chinese mythical dog-lion hybrid. Words inu has actually no generally embraced etymology but has been contrasted with Tungusic nginakin "dog". It can hardly be connected with the Eurasian kyon-kywen > ken-quan 犬 etymon, which is also present in oriental gae and Ghilyak kan/ng. 狗.> Manchu indahun corresponds exactly come Ewenki nginakin. The Proto-Tungusic form would have actually been *ngïnda-kun, with *-kun (> Ewenki -kin) apparently as a suffix yet with no particularly identifiable definition – maybe diminutive.

Jichang Lulu:

Indahūn (from older indahon; Jurchen maybe *indahu) is Manchu for "dog", and also the -hV(n) component would look choose some kind of suffix due to the fact that elsewhere in Tungusic there are dog words there is no it (Oroch inda). But additionally with something the same, similar thing it (something prefer ninakin in Evenki), meaning the suffix isn"t necessarily exclusive come Manchu. The elephant in the room is of food the Japanese and there have been do the efforts to link these Tungusic dog words come it.

Pamela Kyle Crossley:

Manchu because that dog is “indahûn”. Vaguely choose Japanese inu, huh? as for various other Tungusic languages, i don’t know. Manchu is absolutely not borrowed from Turkic or Mongolian, which have words favor “ köpek” and "nokhoi" because that dog. Daniel Kane (Kitan language and also script) assumed Kitan can have to be ni.qo (Liáo shǐ guóyǔ jiě 遼史國語解 <"Explanation that the national Language in the main Dynastic history of the Liao Dynasty>) gives the Chinese transcription as niehe) or something close, and also gives “it” together Old Turkic.

Daniel Kane (responding come Pamela Crossley"s keep in mind on ni.go gift the Kitan word for "dog"):

Yes, more or less, yet like many Kitan words, there is a type of fuzziness as one tries come balance the Kitan script version, the Chinese transcription (Liaoshi usually) and also various forms of Mongol. In this case we room lucky we have actually several sources, but still they execute not jell exactly. I think ni-qo is as an excellent as any – about 70% most likely = which in Kitan is quite high!

Here is a group of entries indigenous the Sìtǐ hébì wénjiàn 四體合壁文鑒 (Four-script merged textual winter printed during the Qing / Manchu dynasty (provided courtesy the Pamela Crossley):


The entries in this section all typical what the Chinese means:

Chinese: wán yīng quǎn lèi 頑鷹犬類 ("playing v falcons / eagles and dogs"), wherein wán 頑 ("obstinate: stubborn; recalcitrant") = 玩 ("play; enjoy; have actually fun")

Tibetan: khra khyi rtse ba"i skor ("about / worrying / pertaining to the play / games / enjoyment of hawks and dogs") — hunting with falcons and also dogskhra=hawk, khyi=dog, rtse ( or brtse)=play/game, skor= about/around

Manchu: giyahvn indahvn efire hacin ("the category of sporting v falcons and dogs")

Mongolian: qarcaghai noqai naghadqu jüil ("section / component play hawks dogs")

The Manchu come the ideal of the Chinese provides Manchu voice glosses for the Chinese phrase.

See more: What Is The Lewis Structure For Hydrogen Chloride Hcl, Lewis Structure For Hcl (Hydrochloric Acid)

Two final notes ~ above the history of words quǎn / inu / ken 犬 ("dog") in eastern Asia:

I might not uncover this kanji / hanzi in man R. Bentley, ABC thesaurus of old Chinese Phonograms (Honolulu: university of Hawaii Press, 2016).Axel Schuessler, in his alphabet Etymological dictionary of Old Chinese (Honolulu: college of Hawaii Press, 2007), p. 437, notes that this indigenous survives in Min topolects, but has been replaced by gǒu 狗 in many of the others.