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Dog Man: An Uncommon Life on a Faraway Mountain

Dog Man: An Uncommon Life on a Faraway Mountain

4.2 10
by Martha Sherrill

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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


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.

Editorial Reviews

Pico Iyer
In Dog Man, Sherrill takes her gifts for empathy and concentration even deeper than she did in The Buddha from Brooklyn, her account of a former psychic who was suddenly declared to be the incarnation of a 17th-century Tibetan Buddhist saint. In her new book, Sherrill tells the spellbindingly beautiful and affecting story of Morie and Kitako Sawataishi as they have gone through their days, raising Akita dogs, for more than 60 years in the dark and unforgiving "snow country" of northern Japan…Sherrill takes us into all these dramas with the warm attention and spirited sympathy of an Alice Munro or a Monica Ali. She rarely cuts away from the snowy landscape where Morie and Kitako live, and yet all of Japan's recent history comes out through their reminiscences.
—The Washington Post
Karl Taro Greenfeld
It is a tribute to Sherrill…that she depicts her protagonist, Morie Sawataishi, a legendary breeder of prize-winning Akita dogs, as much more than an anime rendering of a mountain man, even if that means leaving the reader to grapple with a mysterious and sometimes dark central character…Dog Man is best when it describes Japan's snow country—those northern prefectures, usually abutting the Sea of Japan, where the drifts can rise to 20 or 30 feet and where prodigious amounts of fine, particulate snow blow through the tiny gaps left by closed windows and doors…Sherrill's portrait of the fauna and flora of this lost world make Dog Man a rich compendium of fine nature writing.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

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 Poststaffer 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. (Mar. 3)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

The dog man of the title is Morie Sawataishi, famed breeder and champion of akitas. While working as an engineer for Mitsubishi in far northern Japan during World War II, he became fascinated by this hardy dog breed, one of the oldest in the world. Because of wartime shortages (many of the dogs were eaten or used to make fur vests for the military), the breed had dwindled to just a few animals. Sawataishi illegally kept one hidden, and, as soon as the war ended, he began working to strengthen and expand the breed. His fame and that of his dogs soon spread, and his champions were winning dog shows around Japan. After retirement, Sawataishi continued working and living with his dogs, hiking in remote mountains, and even hunting bears. Vanity Fairand Esquirecontributor and novelist Sherrill (The Ruins of California) offers great insight not only into one man and his dogs, but into an older, rural way of life unfamiliar to Westerners for whom Japan symbolizes fast-paced urban life and the latest technology. Recommended for pet and Asian studies collections in public and academic libraries.
—Dan Forrest

From the Publisher
"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

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
"Dog Man 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."
-Washington Post

"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

Meet the Author

Martha Sherrill is a former Washington Post staff writer and the author of The Buddha from Brooklyn and The Ruins of California.

Laural Merlington has recorded well over one hundred audiobooks and has received several AudioFile Earphones Awards, including one for Never Say Die by Susan Jacoby.

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Dog Man: An Uncommon Life on a Faraway Mountain 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a careful rendering of a Japanese man's passion for and dedication to the Akita dog, a reflection of his rural-northern Japanese boyhood. Morie's efforts help bring Akitas back from near extinction at the end of WWII. Author Sherrill skillfully weaves the stories of Morie's family life with his determination to see the Akita survive and become again a symbol of Japan's rural traditions. Most of these northern-Japanese 'mountain dogs' died during WWII when families could not afford to keep non-food animals. This story should appeal to people interested in animals, in Japanese rural culture, and in a Japanese point of view of its country's redevelopment after WWII. Morie is dedicated to these dogs and there are lovely descriptions and photos revealing the animals' temperments and presence, which to him are more important than their physical appearance. Sherrill strives for balance by also discussing Morie's family members and their struggles dealing with his obsession with his dogs. Dog lovers will marvel at the magnificent characteristics of this rugged, protective, brave breed 'but I still don't really want one!'. Anyone familiar with Cesar Millan will see the parallels-- long rambles through Japan's countryside 'Cesar's walks', Morie's insistence on dominance 'pack leader', etc. Morie was 30 when he acquired his first puppy. In his long career of breeding/showing, he never sold a puppy--it felt 'wrong' to him. Morie's wife, Kitako, is a uniquely tolerant woman who shoulders a great deal of the family burdens so that her husband can pursue his career at Mitsubishi and his dog passion. Sherrill treats her sacrifices with great respect, and quotes the couple often 'they're retired in rural Japan'. It's a great read, a lesson in dedication, in networking, and pursuing a passion. If you love dogs, you'll like this book.
Maertel More than 1 year ago
Writing really weaves the tale of the return of the Akitas and their incredibly beautiful snow country with their rescuers. Yet, with all the love and compassion given to each dog, the author does not explain why no vet, doctor, or nurse was brought to the heroic Samurai Tiger as he lay suffering for a month. And why were no pain medications given to him?
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love this story
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Crystalfrost pads in, relishing the feeling of her sparkling paws sinking in the snow. She turns to look back at the already distant seeming beacon of RockClan and waits pensively for Heronmoon.
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krystolla More than 1 year ago
An excellent cultural snapshot of a Japan that has faded into history, as well as an excellent view of the development of the Akita breed.