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From The Asian Reporter, V14, #40 (September 28, 2004), page 11

A loyal pet begets a beloved statue

Hachiko: The True Story of a Loyal Dog

By Pamela S. Turner

Illustrated by Yan Nascimbene

Houghton Mifflin, 2004

Hardcover, 32 pages, $15.00

By Mike Street

Special to the Asian Reporter

New York City residents typically meet friends arriving at Grand Central Station underneath a highly visible landmark, the four-faced clock that rises above the main information kiosk. In Tokyo’s Shibuya train station, passengers congregate next to a similarly prominent bronze statue of a dog, inscribed with the words, "Loyal Dog Hachiko." Hachiko waited for his owner every day for a decade outside the busy depot, even years after his owner’s death, becoming a popular figure at Shibuya station. The scores of passengers who befriended the loyal dog later contributed the money to build the statue in his honor. Pamela Turner and Yan Nascimbene have united to tell the touching story of this unique animal, whose faithfulness has become legendary in Japan.

The narrator of the book is Kentaro, a boy who lives near the Shibuya station and meets Hachiko one afternoon while waiting for his father. Hachiko’s owner, Dr. Ueno, and Kentaro’s father are good friends, and soon Kentaro and Hachiko spend their afternoons together, waiting for the two men. One day, however, Kentaro’s father returns alone, with the sad news that Dr. Ueno had died that afternoon. Even though he is taken in by relatives of Dr. Ueno who live in a nearby village, Hachiko still returns every day to Shibuke, to wait for his master to come home, sleeping every night on the porch of the house where Dr. Ueno had lived.

This ritual continues for nine more years, and Kentaro brings him food and water daily. Daily commuters befriend the dedicated dog and become accustomed to seeing him waiting anxiously at the station entrance. When Hachiko dies in 1935, all of his friends donate money to build a statue of the famously loyal dog, and erect it on the spot that had been constantly occupied by Hachiko.

Nascimbene’s understated watercolors vividly evoke the Japan of the early twentieth century, from the steam engines and streetcars to the bright kimono worn by Kentaro’s mother, giving the story just the right touch of nostalgia. Turner’s clean prose offers similar period details and stays just this side of sentimentality, allowing the emotions of the story to develop on their own. The author occasionally slips into the stilted syntax that writers of English often employ to suggest the formality of Japanese prose and society.

The tale itself is told accurately, although Turner leaves out the time during World War II when the original statue was melted down to meet the wartime demand for metals. Hachiko’s statue was later remade by the son of the original sculptor. Including this part of the story would bring in the difficult subject of Japan’s involvement in World War II, but it would also show the transcendent nature of Hachiko, whose loyalty was considered no less valuable in the postwar years. Turner does discuss this in her postscript, but she could have included it in the actual story text without diminishing the luster of Hachiko. Her afterword also provides other interesting details about the story of this incredible dog, including the annual festival held in his honor.

Beyond these rather tiny quibbles, Hachiko is a lovely story that children, especially those with pets, will read, appreciate, and love. Nascimbene’s soft, vibrant illustrations and Turner’s crisp prose make the book a good bedtime read-aloud, although the vignettes of Hachiko, appearing on every other spread, are too small to see when reading in front of a group. Just don’t be surprised if kids who hear this story will want to travel to Shibuya station to pet the statue of this loyal dog, too.

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