Importing a Japanese Akita by Steven Takamatsu

Since more members are importing dogs to the United States, I thought I would write about the risks that may be involved when bringing Japanese Akitas (JAs) from outside the country.  I will relay some stories that the Board has come across over the years, in addition to my own experiences.  It may sound like I am discouraging imports but I am not.  I just want to prevent newer members from making the same mistakes and assumptions longtime members have made and to avoid buyer’s remorse before proceeding to import Japanese Akitas, either from Japan or any other country.  I will also briefly relay how other members have imported dogs in the past.

PRICING

Overseas, it is not uncommon to find that show quality adults are going for as high as $75,000.

If you are thinking about importing a dog, the most obvious thing you should know is that it is not cheap, especially if you want a show quality AKIHO-pedigreed Japanese Akita.  The price for a show quality puppy starts around $2000-$3000 and goes up from there.  That does not include the additional costs for shipping, crate, vet checks and customs fee.  You can always buy a pet quality dog for less, but keep in mind, a pet quality dog is not meant for breeding and you will incur the additional costs anyway.  A pet quality dog typically means there are faults in the dog that could result in automatic disqualification (at the judge’s discretion) from or large point deductions in the AKIHO ring.  It can also mean that there are health issues.  Many AKIHO breeders will not give an official AKIHO pedigree if a puppy or adult dog is sold as a pet.  So if you do not have an AKIHO-pedigree JA, our Los Angeles Branch will not recognize any litters you intend to whelp (and if you are not breeding AKIHO to AKIHO, your membership may be revoked).  If you add in the cost of shipping a pet quality dog to the US, then it may cost the same as a show quality JA bred and sold domestically. Adult show quality Japanese Akitas can cost even more than a puppy.  This is because the Japanese Akita is very popular in Russia, other parts of Europe and China, so people are spending top dollar to get these adults into their breeding programs.  Internationally, Japanese Akitas have become a status of wealth, at least for now.  Here in the United States, it’s simply a cute rare dog.  Overseas, it is not uncommon to find that show quality adults are going for as high as $75,000.  So if you happen to look through any Japanese breeder’s website and find a cheap puppy or dog, odds are, it is a pet-quality dog.  Of course, there are exceptions to these examples; for instance, if you have a good rapport with a breeder in Japan, then it can be considerably cheaper, but it is not the norm.

HEALTH + SHIPPING

Risks are higher when importing due to lack of health testing in Japan.

The next thing you should know is that there are no health checks in Japan like checking hips and eyes as breeders do in the US.  Unfortunately, health tests for every single disorder do not exist, but we do encourage the breeders in the LA Branch to run tests that are available for common ailments that affect JAs.  Because of the lack of testing in Japan, members have unknowingly imported dogs with bad hips, which may be fine for a pet but if you plan on breeding, then it is unethical to breed them.  We also have had imports diagnosed with autoimmune disorders such as sebaceous adenitis and VHK syndrome, both of which can be costly, heartbreaking, difficult and time consuming to take care of.  In addition, we have had reports of possible infertility in a couple of imports.  So if you are thinking about making money by breeding and spent a lot of money importing a dog, this is the triple whammy of disasters because you just spent a lot of money for the dog, you can’t breed the dog and you have to spend a lot of money taking care of the health problems for the import.  A few breeders in Japan and Europe will offer to replace a JA with health problems but you generally still have to pay for shipping.

Shipping includes airfare from Japan to the US but can also include the costs of transporting the dog from the breeder in Japan to the nearest international Japanese airport; it is important to note that not all breeders live close to one of the three major international Japanese airports that serve airlines that fly to the US.  Also, you may have to pay for the vet exam to import, the crate and customs fees for your replacement dog.  Keep in mind that many breeders do not offer guarantees if there are health problems, so “buyer beware.”  Again, there are exceptions, but it is a gamble.  Naturally, health problems like the ones I mentioned can occur with domestically bred Japanese Akitas, but at least the breeder is relatively nearby to replace your dog (or offer a previously agreed upon refund to buy back the dog) according to each breeders’ sales contract, and the cost is significantly cheaper.

Also, if you plan to import a JA from another country, do not expect the puppy or dog to be disease-free.  Imports from Japan must have clearance from a veterinarian prior to shipping and be checked again at the airport; however, my personal experience is that it has been common for imports I have gotten to have Giardia.  Giardia is an intestinal disease caused by a parasite.  It is usually transmitted through consuming feces or contaminated water, but it is easily treated with antibiotics and the prognosis is good. Other members have had this same problem from different breeders and different countries.  So it might be the water at the airport or the lawn where dogs defecate at the airport, and not necessarily the breeder’s fault.  I would recommend getting a fecal sample right away from your import and have your local veterinarian test the sample to begin treatment if Giardia is present.  Since we’re on the subject of toileting matters, do not be surprised when upon arrival your puppy is covered in its own urine and feces.  There is only so much space in a crate and the pup will have been stuck in it for hours before, during and after the flight.

SHOW QUALITY vs. PET QUALITY

[Japanese breeders] basically want to keep their best puppies for their own breeding programs and to show at their own AKIHO shows in Japan.

Another point you should know when importing a Japanese Akita is that you should not expect your show quality import will be better than a JA bred in the United States.  Japanese breeders generally keep their best puppies for themselves, for other breeders they associate with in Japan or sell them to international buyers willing to pay exorbitant prices.  They basically want to keep their best puppies for their own breeding programs and to show at their own AKIHO shows in Japan.  If you have a good relationship with a breeder then you might be able to get the “pick of the litter” like our veteran branch and Board member, Akira Miyabayashi who is very good friends with the a particular kennel in Japan.  You can also offer large amounts of cash to a Japanese breeder to get the pick of the litter.  I will say that any breeder will tell you that a breeder’s pick of the litter does not always pan out.  Sometimes, the one you least expect turns out to be the best dog of the litter when they become adults.  So it is possible to get a great dog from Japan but it could be more by accident and upbringing (i.e., diet, exercise and grooming).  Since demand for high show quality Japanese Akitas are low in the United States, it is generally easier to get the pick of the litter from any LA Branch breeder.  Long-time member, Josie van Otterlo, received the first pick when she got her one year-old Sachiko, from veteran LA Branch breeder, Kenji Kawasaki.

LOST IN TRANSLATION/CULTURAL MISUNDERSTANDINGS

We have one LA Branch AKIHO member who has managed to offend three different Japanese breeders due to a lack of cultural and linguistic knowledge.

In addition, anybody who wants to buy a dog or puppy needs to know about some cultural issues when dealing with Japanese breeders that I would like to categorize as the “lost in translation” point.  I would strongly recommend using a Japanese translator who is knowledgable about dogs when expressing interest in a dog from Japan for various reasons.  Buyers should be aware that Japanese breeders can be easily offended if you do not communicate clearly with them.  We have one LA Branch AKIHO member who has managed to offend three different Japanese breeders due to a lack of cultural and linguistic knowledge.  One such cultural issue that you should be aware of if you do not want to offend them is that the Japanese typically do not bargain or negotiate.  If a breeder says their puppy is $4000, you should not say, “I’ll pay you $3000.”  In effect, you are telling the breeder that something is wrong with their puppy, so it’s not worth $4000 (implying that the breeder lacks knowledge which is very insulting).  Also, if a buyer wishes to purchase a show-quality puppy with the intent to breed that puppy later, the buyer has to make it crystal clear to the breeder from the beginning.  Failure to heed this advice may lead one to get a pet-quality puppy.  I would also recommend that you clearly state that you want the AKIHO pedigree for your dog or puppy.  Do not assume you will get one.  A good translator who knows Japanese culture can steer you away from these pitfalls.  Google translator is the worst thing you can use to communicate with a breeder due to its inaccuracies and limitations because no translator app can help you with cultural practices or the nuances of the Japanese language.

IMPORTING JAPANESE AKITAS FROM OTHER COUNTRIES

What this activity [overseas breeders back-registering litters to a Japanese kennel for papers] amounts to is basically fraud and AKIHO Headquarters have been cracking down on this process, leading to penalties for Japanese breeders.

Furthermore, we have had some incidents of members buying JA’s from other countries outside of Japan that have had some issues.  One issue is that you cannot expect pedigrees and ownership transfers to occur quickly.  It took one member about a year to get a pedigree and ownership transfer from a non-Japanese breeder.  We, in LA Branch, have a great relationship with AKIHO Headquarters, thanks to Board member and breeder, Kenji Kawasaki.  Other international branches have poor translators, are inexperienced in AKIHO protocols and lack good resources to transfer money to Japan, so proceed with great caution when importing from breeders in other nations.

The biggest issue we have with breeders outside Japan and the US is that many of them are not registered through AKIHO.  Although the parents might both have been imported from Japan, the breeder may not have registered their kennel or their litter to AKIHO Headquarters.  Remember, AKIHO Headquarters control the pedigrees for the Japanese Akitas.  Many non-Japanese breeders outside the US do not see the value of an AKIHO pedigree, so they do not bother to register through AKIHO.  Often, they find the process a hassle or just want to save money.  However, these international breeders are finding out that buyers, in fact, do want that AKIHO pedigree.  So, what many of these non-Japanese breeders are doing is going back to the Japanese breeders they bought their JAs from and having the Japanese breeder register their litter under the Japanese breeder’s kennel.  That way these non-Japanese breeders can get an AKIHO pedigree for their buyers, even though the Japanese breeder did not whelp the litter.  What this activity amounts to is basically fraud and AKIHO Headquarters have been cracking down on this process, leading to penalties for Japanese breeders.  Now if you just want a pet, then it is no big deal.  But, if you intend to import a dog to breed, then your import MUST be AKIHO-pedigreed if you want to breed that dog and remain in the club.  According to our Terms of Membership, one of the few rules that can lead to expulsion from the club when broken is you may only breed AKIHO to AKIHO-registered Japanese Akitas.  So, don’t be misled; make sure that the puppy you get will be registered through AKIHO and that you will get an AKIHO pedigree BEFORE any transfer of funds.  I would ask the following questions: 1) is the breeder an AKIHO member, 2) is their kennel registered through AKIHO, 3) will they register their litter through AKIHO, and finally, 4) will they complete the ownership transfer paper work.  According to LA Branch member, Thomas Osinski, there are non-AKIHO JA breeders in Japan also.  But most people who are well informed about the breed know that a dog with an AKIHO pedigree is much more sought after than one without.

SO WHY BOTHER?

So if your sole purpose for importing dogs is to make money, then it is definitely not worth it.

If you take into account all the risks involved while importing a Japanese Akita, it sounds like the members who have done so are crazy.  Perhaps we are.  I would recommend importing Japanese Akitas if you are interested in helping the club preserve and improve the breed in the United States.  If you want to import Japanese Akitas to make money, which I truly hope you are not, then be aware that it is equivalent to gambling.  You will be praying the whole time that your import is free of diseases, defects, and infertility, then you will be praying that you can sell your puppies into caring homes, and then you will be praying that your buyers’ puppies will not have health issues because if they do, as a responsible breeder, you should be willing to offer a replacement pup or issue a refund and take back the dog.  This is on top of all the money that is needed for health checks plus the time and financial expenditure it takes to care for your dog(s).  So if your sole purpose for importing dogs is to make money, then it is definitely not worth it.  I would recommend you take your money and invest it in the stock market or an index fund because it will be safer, and there will be less worrying and fewer headaches.  But if you are crazy like us, then read on.

OUR BEST ADVICE

It is up to each buyer to do their due diligence and research when importing a JA.

Ideally speaking, the best way to import a dog is to go to Japan directly and meet with a few breeders in the company of a good translator.  Build up a positive rapport with the breeders, offer them a small gift from America in keeping with the Japanese cultural practice, meet their dogs and then eventually pick up or have a puppy shipped to the US.  Although this method can be fun, it can be very expensive. Unless you speak Japanese or have a friend or relative with you who speaks fluent Japanese, you still have to pay for a translator on top of your flight and accommodations.  Depending on the location of the kennel(s) you visit, you may have to pay for transportation (taxi, bus, train or even a car and driver if different from your translator), meals and accommodation for your translator as well.  The next best thing is to have someone else pick your puppy and deliver or ship your JA to the US.  If you are lucky, someone from the LA Branch can do this for you.  For example, in my case, LA Branch members, Akira Miyabayashi and Kenji Kawasaki, were gracious enough to help me acquire two of my imports.  Otherwise, you can have a reputable exporter bring a puppy for you.

Some members from our branch have used a Japanese breeder/broker who has been exporting dogs to the US from other Japanese breeders and has been instrumental in securing the best JAs for high prices to China and Russia as well.  He does virtually all the work for you, according to club and Board member, Kathy Gima: getting health checks, meeting you at the airport or flying the pup in for you.  The only thing you need to do if you are traveling yourself is make reservations through your airline for your import.  The airline will ask for dimensions of the crate so you have to have that ready.

Also, our LA Branch member, Tae (Tim) Kim has used a Korea-based exporter to get Japanese Akitas.  This exporter knows many breeders in Japan and imports lots of Japanese Akitas to Korea.  He can acquire a puppy for you but you are responsible for shipping the dog out of Japan or picking up the dog yourself at the Japanese airport as he himself does not ship.  He can send you pictures through email and you can decide if you want to purchase the puppy or dog.  Once you decide you would like the puppy or dog, he can be paid by wire transfer like Western Union.  Both of these brokers/exporters have decent English skills but neither are perfect.  We know that some Japanese breeders have used a translator app in the past which confounded members who read their correspondence.  That also means that they may be running their clients’ emails through the same app.  In these cases of written correspondence, it is best to keep sentences short and simple to communicate effectively and avoid any confusion.

I hired a Chiba branch AKIHO member as a translator while I was in Japan.  His native language is English but he has lived in Japan long enough to have become fluent in the language and he knows Japanese customs.  He used to find Japanese Akitas for people, but does not do this anymore.  He says it is too difficult to find a good show quality dog for breeding as a third party, but if you can find one for yourself, then he can help with the delivery of the pup or dog.

As President of AKIHO LA, I am not endorsing any overseas kennels, breeders, brokers, exporters or their services.  I am merely describing how other members and myself have brought JAs into the US.  It is up to each buyer to do their due diligence and research when importing a JA.

Furthermore, I would NOT recommend seeking assistance from some stranger on the Internet as a broker because you have no way of knowing what you’re going to get.  We had an incident where a non-LA Branch American got a broker to get him a Japanese Akita.  The dog came with an AKIHO pedigree but no signatures or seals on it.  Usually, that will mean it’s a pet-quality dog.  The American buyer was charged a flat fee, which had no breakdown of costs like the AKIHO ownership transfer fee or an AKIHO registration fee.  The AKIHO LA Board contacted the broker who became defensive, so our suspicion is he may have been angling to get a larger profit margin by not including AKIHO fees and may have sent a pet quality dog for a show quality price.

As President of Los Angeles Branch AKIHO, I would urge any members considering an import to find a dog with different bloodlines from our other LA Branch dogs.  AKIHO member Tim Kim and Board member Sean Nollan would be the best resources if other members have questions concerning pedigrees and bloodlines.  They pour over pedigrees like a kid studying baseball cards in the 1980’s.  This action could potentially help our club diversify our own bloodlines if you intend to breed or stud your dog.  Currently, most of our imports come from the larger breeders in Japan, but there are many breeders in Japan that are not large or commercially available through the Internet, so there are alternatives.  It would also be nice if we could start importing dogs from these breeders in order to help diversify our bloodlines in the US.

Good luck if you decide to import a Japanese Akita, but please feel free to ask other members if you need advice.

(Thanks to AKIHO North America for giving us permission to republish this article from their July 2015 newsletter).