Dog Man: An Uncommon Life on a Faraway Mountain

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Overview

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 ...

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Overview

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.

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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
"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

"Thrilling."
-The New York Times

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781615608843
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 2/28/2008
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet 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.

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Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION

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 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 MARTHA SHERRILL

Martha Sherrill is a former Washington Post staff writer. Her award-winning writing has appeared in Esquire and Vanity Fair, among other publications. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and son.

DISCUSSION QUESTION&Sgrave;

  • Dog Man is about one man’s bond with his dogs, but more broadly, it’s about deciding what you want your life to be about, and pursuing your passions. As Newsweek said, it is about “the search for enduring values and the determination to live life on one’s own terms.” What does Morie’s dream cost him and his family? What do they gain from it?
  • Morie is thirty years old when he brings home his first dog, an Akita puppy. He tells himself that he wants to protect the Akita breed from dying out during World War II. As Martha Sherrill writes in the Introduction, the Akita is “the local dog, the regional dog, the breed he’d seen everywhere as a child growing up in the snow country.” At the time, most people don’t consider the breed worth saving. What about these dogs attracts Morie most? What is he really trying to protect and keep alive?
  • The story of Dog Man spans sixty-five years. It begins in the midst of World War II and ends in the 21st century. Some readers have said it is a story that only could have happened in Japan. Others say it could have happened anywhere. What do you think?
  • The book is also a portrait of a marriage, and at key moments in the story, Kitako looms as large as Morie. Would you call their marriage a happy one? What does Morie receive from the dogs that he does not receive from his wife? Does being married make it more difficult to live life on one’s own terms?
  • Nature—and the wild—plays a leading role in the book. It is not simply a backdrop to Morie’s story, but a spiritual and moral force. How does Nature affect the evolution of Morie’s thinking and life? What does he learn from the wilderness that he didn’t know before?
  • Over the years, Morie gradually flees modern civilization in pursuit of a different way of life. Yet civilization finds Morie and decides his story has something valuable to tell us. Why do you think civilization often cherish those who reject its values? Is there something wrong with a country that produces rebels like Morie, or conversely, are rebels a sign of a society’s health?
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Customer Reviews

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