Dog Man: An Uncommon Life on a Faraway Mountain

Dog Man: An Uncommon Life on a Faraway Mountain

by Martha Sherrill

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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781594483905
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/04/2009
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 362,909
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

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.

What People are Saying About This

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

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 QUESTIONS
  • 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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Dog Man: An Uncommon Life on a Faraway Mountain 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 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
PatsyMurray on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An extraordinary book about Morie and Kitako who forge a remarkable life for themselves in the snow country of Japan, a life defined by their work rescuing the Akita dog breed from near-extinction. Sherrill provides a sympathetic and balanced portrait of two strong-willed and very different people who live a difficult but rewarding life together. She tells their story from the beginning when Kitako leaves her upper-class Tokyo home at the age of nineteen and joins Morie on the side of a mountain to their final years when they live in comfort, surrounded by a loving extended family, and with one last dog. In between are years of hardship, including the loss of two children. Kitako struggles to feed her family while Morie, who purchased his first puppy on a whim, insists on feeding the dog what the children eat. These and other struggles reveal much about Japanese post-war culture. This is a Japan I did not know. Most surprising was their friend, Uesugi, a matagi, or professional hunter licensed by the Japanese government to hunt year around and protect the villages from marauding animals. He was a man of great knowledge about the natural world and who lived by his own rules, as, largely, did Morie. Perhaps that is was makes this book so extraordinary. It is seldom that you meet someone with so much independence of character and integrity. The 2008 Penguin Press hardcover edition I read has numerous black and white photographs and was printed on high quality paper. The presentation added to my pleasure in the book. Sadly, such books seem to be as rare as the characters portrayed in Dog Man.
TracyK1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a very interesting book. It is about a man who is Japaneese and who lives from before WWII to present day. During WWII, a lot of the Akita dogs were being killed and they were going extinct, so this man brought home a puppy, which was illegal. After the war it turned out that there were only 16 Akita's in Japan and this is his and their story of servival.
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.