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Many animal lovers are already familiar with Akita Inu and Shiba Inu, Japan’s two most prominent breeds of dog. But while they’re both popular choices as pets, there’s another special type of pooch in Japan, the Kawakami Inu.

Extremely rare, the Kawakami Inu are said to be descended from Japanese wolves. And while they have the courage you’d expect from such lineage, that doesn’t mean they’re not also adorable as puppies.

The Kawakami Inu takes the first half of its name from Nagano Prefecture’s Kawakami Village (and the second half of its name from the Japanese word for “dog”). Today, the town is known for its lettuce and Chinese cabbage farms, but its isolated location, surrounded on all sides by tall mountains, meant that in the past hunting was also an important way of keeping the residents nourished.

In order to breed capable hunting dogs, it’s said that in days past, female dogs were taken into the mountains to mate with wolves. The resulting offspring became the Kawakami Inu, which explains their wolf-like appearance.

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Due to their historical and cultural significance, the Kawakami Inu were declared living national treasures in 1921. However, due to cross-breeding with other types of dogs, especially during the 1940s, ‘50s, and ‘60s, the bloodline became thinned, evidenced by the many Kawakami Inu that were being born without their previously characteristic dewclaw vestigial digit. In 1968, the breed’s status as a living national treasure was revoked. Due to subsequent efforts to reestablish the purity of the breed, though, the designation was restored in 1982, and remains in place to this day.

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Today, some 80 of the dogs live in Kawakami village, and the total population in Japan is only around 350. Kawakami Inu are described as brave, smart, and obedient. That’s not to say there aren’t any issues caretakers need to be aware of, though. The breed is wary of strangers, and requires a high level of communication and physical affection to build trust. If these conditions are not met, the Kawakami Inu can become uneasy and even aggressive.

▼ We don’t think we’d have any trouble remembering to pet these cute littles fellas, though.

▼ Or these ones

Given the importance and scarcity of Kawakami Inu, though, you can’t just walk into a pet shop and ask for one. As a matter of fact, their status as living national treasures means technically you can’t even own one, since their special status means they’re supposed to belong to the nation as a whole.

It is possible to have one as a pet, though. The first step in the process is to apply with the Kawakami Inu Protection Society. Applicants go through a strict screening process, which examines not only the quality of life the caretakers can provide for the animal, but the surrounding natural environment as well. Cases of Kawakami Inu being awarded to residents of urban areas are few and far between, and the animals will not be placed in particularly hot or humid locales. While that eliminates large swaths of the Japanese countryside, the organization sees it as a necessary precaution, since although Kawakami Inu function well in cold, dry (by Japanese standards) Nagano, their bodies don’t adapt well to other climates.

▼ In other words, this guy isn’t relocating to Okinawa.

Even if you meet all the criteria for a Kawakami Inu home, there’s probably still no rush to stock up on kibble and chew toys. Currently, the Kawakami Inu Protection Society has a waiting list of roughly 100 would-be caretakers, so printing this photo out and hanging it on your wall is as close as you’re likely to get to having one in your house, at least for the immediate future.

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Related: Kawakami Inu Protection Society webpage
Source: Naver Matome
Top image: Kawakami Village
Insert images: JA Nagano, Kawakami Village (1, 2)