In the mid-1990s, the debate in North America on whether or not to split the Akita breed was raging over Internet forums, e-mail lists, at ringside and just about every other place Akita fanciers might gather; it was bitter and there was no solution in sight. Lines were drawn between the pro-split side and the anti-split side.
In April of 1997, Akita breeders Pat Szymanski of Akasta Akitas, Ben Herrera of Kobun Akitas and Jim Sjoberg of Hyozan Akitas attended an Akita-inu Hozonkai (AKIHO) Headquarters show in Odate, Japan, where they spoke to well-known and respected AKIHO judges and breeders. In addition, they were able to observe for themselves over 200 Japanese Akitas at one show.
These Japanese Akitas were, in fact, very different from the majority of Akitas commonly available in North America. It became obvious to these breeders from the US that, in the course of development over previous decades when the AKC closed the stud book, the Akita had indeed become two separate breeds: the Japanese and the American. This situation was not taken lightly by the Szymanskis (Pat and Rich), Herreras (Ben and Melanie) and Sjobergs (Jim and Carol) as they all had experience with both American Akitas and Japanese Akitas and had struggled with the split issue themselves. But with the irrefutable evidence in front of them and with the knowledge that the Japan Kennel Club (JKC) preferred to split the breed internationally, they had what Oprah Winfrey refers to as an “a-ha moment.”
Shortly after their return to the US, the Sjobergs and Szymanskis sat around Pat’s kitchen table in a suburb of Houston and called the Herreras, who were then living in California. They had “the talk” which would ultimately result in the formation of North America’s first club dedicated to the Japanese Akita.
After much more discussion with other friends in both the Japanese Akita and American Akita fancies, they decided to make a commitment to work towards the split, to breed only Japanese Akitas and to improve and preserve the breed as set forth by the country of origin, Japan. Little did they know the separation of the Japanese Akita and American Akita as two individual breeds in most of the rest of the world would happen so soon after their trip to AKIHO Headquarters and that the World Union of Akita Clubs (WUAC) would be formed.
Internationally, various individuals of the Japanese Akita fancy stated that the breed would need a representative club in the United States, and there was a growing worry that the AKC would stall the split on behalf of a particularly vocal group within the Akita Club of America (ACA). In fact, as of this publishing in 2014, the AKC continues to be one of only two kennel clubs in the world that does not recognize two distinct Akita breeds.
And so, in May of 1997, with encouragement from board members of the JKC, AKIHO HQ in Odate, AKIHO Los Angeles Branch, and Japanese Akita clubs in Europe, the Japanese Akita Club of America, Inc. (JACA), was founded by the Szymanskis, the Herreras, the Sjobergs, Cindy and Jim Hicks, Mike and Laurie Shannen, Frances Connor, Akira Miyabayashi and Hope Yoneshige. Also, it is important to note that Mike and Donna Bennett as well as several other members of the Heart of Texas (HOT) Akita Club believed in preserving both breeds as separate, so among JACA’s first members were breeders and owners of American Akitas.
Since our formation in a country whose main national kennel club still does not recognize two breeds, JACA’s role as the parent club in the international Japanese Akita fancy has spoken volumes. JACA was the ONLY Akita club from the United States to be invited by the JKC to participate in their very first Akita Judges’ Special Seminar held in Tokyo in January of 2001. The delegates from JACA enjoyed meeting Akita judges from around the world and the seminar itself proved very educational and informative on a variety of subjects. We have also been a consistent presence at the World Akita Conferences held by WUAC and maintain great working relationships and friendships with our counterparts in Japan, Europe and Latin America.
Although JACA has held conformation shows for the breed since 1998, most often in conjunction with the AKIHO Los Angeles Branch, it wasn’t until 2012 when the inevitable would happen. The United Kennel Club (UKC) recognized the Japanese Akita and designated JACA as the parent club of the breed in the US. Under the auspices of the UKC, JACA now hosts annual Invitational and Specialty shows in Southern California, and anyone with a registered purebred Japanese Akita is able to compete in UKC conformation shows across the US.
Over the years, JACA has proudly retained its close ties to the JKC, AKIHO and WUAC. We have also had the privilege of being designated as the representative club for the breed in America by many Japanese Akita clubs overseas. In fact, our membership spans across several continents as our international friends support our efforts here in the US. Moreover, we continue to enjoy the camaraderie of members who are devoted to their American Akitas, for they too wish to preserve their own breed.
With the exception of the AKC and CKC in North America, every other national kennel club has designated the American Akita and the Japanese Akita as two distinct breeds. The membership of JACA is committed to splitting the breed and to obtaining recognition for the Japanese Akita as a separate breed in the United States. But first and foremost, we dedicate ourselves to improving and preserving the Japanese Akita.