Japanese Wolves ~ “Guardian Dog of the Mountains”

Japanese Wolves

“Yama no Bankun” (Guardian Dog of the Mountains)

Japanese Wolves_The Guardians of the Mountains

Ōkami (wolf)  狼(おおかみ)

Also known as: Okuri-inu 送り犬 (escorting dog), Okuri-ōkami 送り狼 (escorting wolf), Yama-inu 山犬 (mountain dog)

Officially, the last of the Japanese wolves was extinct in 1905 and no wolves now exist in Japan. The Hokkaidō or Ezo wolf, cousin to the grey Honshū wolf (Canis lupus hodophylax, or ōkami, the smallest of all wolves) located in Hokkaidō fell victim to extinction in 1889.

                               Japanese Wolf Japanese Ezo Wolf Japanese Honshu wolf_National Museum of Science and Nature 

It is however thought locally, that the wolf, also very much a creature of folklore and religion is still living, deep in the Japanese mountain forests and many people continue to claim they have seen one. This is probably based on the Wolf’s unique ability to keep so well out of sight of man, that it was almost invisible, allowing it to also keep an unwatched eye on man! Local Hongu saying: “The wolf can hide even where there is only a single reed.”

Wolf Deities – The Wolf in Myth and Legend

 jap wolf agyo at Mitake jinja in shibuya2

The wolves association with the mountains also remains very clear with places names such as Okamitaira (Wolf Plateau), Okamizawa (Wolf Marsh), Okami’iwa (Wolf Rock) and Kobirotoge (Howling Wolf Pass) in the Kii Peninsula mountains abounding.
The wolf, closely connected with the god (kami) of the mountains is considered to be the gods pet or their messenger (otsukai お使い) in the Tamaki Jinja and Takataki Jinja shrines located in Totsukawa Mura. In some cases it is even thought to be a god in its own right, “great kami (大神)”, and the Ōguchi-no-makami (大口真神, “true god of the great mouth”) is a wolf figure that is worshipped at Mitsumine Shrine in Saitama Prefecture,

“Yama no Bankun” (Guard Dog of the Mountains)

                                                  Guard Dog of the Mountains_Yamu no BankunJapanese_wolf_poster_Canis "Hodophylax"

The Japanese wolf is commonly known as Yama-inu,(mountain dog), and as with domestic dogs that display guard-like behaviour, in myth and legend the okuri-inu or okuri-ōkami (“escorting wolf”) can also be seen as man’s protector, frequently from the dangers of other wolves when they are alone in Japan’s deep mountain forests. Another type of wolf is thought to escort in the form of stalking mankind as prey, malevolently attacking if their human “prey” should fall or trip and taking many different forms in order to deceive and bewitch humans. This has led in South/Central Honshū and Shikoku, to the belief that the wolf is a supernatural being. But one which if treated with respect by humans is also an honest creature, willing to offer protection when asked to spare a life and in the face of submissive human behaviour towards them.

Canis hodophilaxCanis Hodophylax – the Japanese scientific name linked to the legend of the benign okuri-ōkami (“escorting wolf”) derives from the Greek word for “way/path” – Hodo, and the Greek word for “guard” – phylax, together creating “guardian of the way.” ** This also relates to the Ice wolves of Europa – Guardians of the Wolf-Gates and Pathfinders of the Wolf-Ways (interstellar pathways/gateways between worlds)

Such wolves are encouraged to remain protective with rewards consisting of their favourite foods (salt or sekihan -azuki beans and rice) when they have ensured safe passage for those concerned, helping to cement the relationship between man and wolf. Sekihan was also offered in congratulation, according to tradition in Yamanashi Prefecture, to the She-wolf when her wolf-cubs were born. It was believed that by the giving of this ceremonial food, usually served at the time of newly birthed human babies, would lead to return gifts of congratulation from the wolf when the villagers babies were born, in the form of deer, boar, hares etc.

“The Cypress of Dog Howls”

http://youtu.be/tupOeH4bcfw Wolf Howl in Asahiyama (Hokkaido, Japan)

               honshu-wolf_statue2and Japanese Wolf SymbolThe Cypress of Dog Howls Symbolism

North of Hongu high in the Tamaki mountains “The Cypress of Dog Howls” is found – a giant tree where on the eve of the 1889 Great Flood that killed numerous inhabitants of Hongu and surrounding areas, prophetic wolves howled continuously. They materialised on the Tamaki mountains to protect and aid the vulnerable villagers from the disaster that had overtaken them.

Wolf Charms and Boar Deterrents

Villagers would often pray to the wolf. “Lord Wolf [oino tono], please protect us and stop the ravages of the deer and wild boar.”  Especially in the Sendai region, this would happen whenever the wolf was spotted, as it was believed they would protect the mountain farms and help to control the ever increasing and destructive boar population. So strong was this belief, that even charms were used in the wolf’s absence, enshrined in the shrine of the village. In Hongu and even across Japan they had and still do, a wolf charm (ofuda) they called a boar deterrent (shishiyoke) to guard against the wild boars.

Japanese Wolf’s Natural Symbolism of Society in Japan

Japanese Wolf

The quality and nature of the wolf’s relationship to humans, also reflects its moral relationship to them. This can be clearly seen in “Japanese wolf lore” which relates tales not of good or bad wolves but of good or bad people. Wolf lore promotes the wolf as a “natural symbol of society”

There is a strong message to the Japanese people that the exchanges they share with the wolf are also a model of how they should conduct the relationship between themselves and nature.

The wolf symbolises both the wildness and the control of the mountains (Yama) and although the original Japanese wolf may now be extinct, it is most certainly not out-dated or superseded. The reintroduction of wolves to Japan – as has been appealed for over recent times would have many positive influences:

· The wolf would help restore order to the ecology of Japan’s forests

· Nature would also be restored in the process

· Human control would be reinstated

· The Japanese mountains would become manageable again…..

But in order for human control to be reinstated, first the return of the Yama no bankun, the “guard dog of the mountains”  is a required necessity.

                                  Kuroinu_Japanese Wolf Mask

1.  John Knight ~ “On the Extinction of the Japanese Wolf.” Asian Folklore Studies

2. “Japan Guide Book” ~ japanguidebook.com

66 thoughts on “Japanese Wolves ~ “Guardian Dog of the Mountains”

    1. I understand they were poisoned after becoming a problem killing livestock. Very sad, they were only little tiny wolves. There have been almost 800 alleged sightings of them despite their extinct status. But in Japanese culture it is considered highly insulting to question the official word of the authorities, and it is likely that any “evidence” was destroyed out of fear of reprisals. Still…maybe they will re-introduce wolves and their haunting howl will be heard again throughout Japan! 😀

  1. Really, really interesting post! So much I had no idea about…wow. Gorgeous photos with the historical lesson, too. 🙂

    1. The trail of the Japanese Wolf was a fascinating one! I was originally wondering if there were any in Japan in reference to the possibility of a similar scenario occurring in the Fukushima exclusion zone as occurred with the Chernobyl Wolves in Russia! Obviously not since the Japanese wolves are extinct but it led to a rich and rewarding wolf trail of a different nature instead 🙂

    1. I wondered if there were any links Clowie! You being a “Mountain Dog” yourself! I thought you might possibly be a giant distant descendant of these tiny wolves 😉 You are a “Yama no Bankun” (Guard dog of the Mountains) yourself really aren’t you? 😀 Your ancestors could have migrated to the Pyreneeeeeeeeeeeees don’t you think?!! It would have taken a while so they’d have had plenty of time to evolve into the big fluffy white version we see in you today! All seems very wolfishly logical to my wolfie paw!! 😉

      1. Yes, I wondered if there was a link! No one quite knows how or when the first wolves teamed up with humans. I’ll tell you, briefly, what I know of my ancestors.
        You probably know that there are a number of white guardian breeds in mountainous places in Europe – these are all closely related. They are thought to be descended from guardian dogs that the Romans had. These dogs protected the large herds of animals that followed the Roman armies (walking food). These dogs are said to have come to Europe with the Phoenicians. Prior to that it’s hard to find out anything, but all the large breeds are thought to be descended from Tibetan Mastiffs. I haven’t researched where they come from.

      2. Wow Clowie! What a fascinating history! I didn’t know any of this…I do believe you are indeed a Yama no Bankun!! Your guardian ancestors go right back into history…what a wonderful background to have descended from 🙂 I never knew all large breeds descended from the Tibetan mastiffs either. What a long and noble lineage and what a privilege for your bipeds to have you 😀 Maybe you were one of those great herd protecting dogs for the Roman armies in a past life! I would love to know more about these other white guardian breeds…and I think it would be a very wise wolf that did NOT mess with Clowie!! 🙂 Thanks for sharing this with moi 🙂 It is very exciting and it sparks the Wolfie imagination beautifully!

  2. This is a brilliant posting regarding the Japanese Wolves / Guardian Dog of the Mountains; indeed it is hard to believe that such a great asset to the Japanese villagers would even become extinct in the first place being that they were such protective creatures of folklore. I was surprised to learn the most favourite food, yes ceremonial but beans and rice would have been my last thought, it is quite amazing how much we can learn from these finely researched postings that you add and I am again surprised that you don’t offer these on a regular basis, you can cover all aspects of mythology or just add your other much loved theme of outer space, both subjects are highly interesting you know?

    Let us hope that wolves are reintroduced into the Japanese mountains so that they are once again allowed to roam freely without the threat of man and the destructive attitudes that accompany mankind in its forever destruction of our wildlife, and in all of its habitats, this is a truly inspirational post Icywolfy and thank you very much for adding this one my great friend…

    Andro XXx

    1. Wow! You didn’t waste any time paying a visit! Thank you 🙂 You must have been missing your mythology fix badly! The fate of the wolves and their role in protecting the villagers does somewhat contradictory doesn’t it? But I understand they were becoming a problem with their killing of livestock and that was dealt with by poisoning them. Whether they intended to kill them all is a debatable point but we always get carried away when it comes to matters such as wolves don’t we? There have been many alleged sightings over the years but questioning the word of the authorities who say it is extinct is just not done in Japan so any “evidence” is thought to have been destroyed.

      Oh yes! The beans and rice! I was surprised by that too, but it is Japan we’re talking about with a whole array of completely different food types to those which you or I would usually consume, so on reflection maybe not so surprising 🙂

      I do appreciate your thoughts as regards more frequent mythol’ posts etc but Icewolfie likes variety and would get bored sticking to one subject all the time! However I will keep your thoughts in mind! 😀

      1. They don’t have to be entirely based on mythology, I was using that as a… shall we say a biased example as I enjoy those postings but yes do add an assortment, or should I say a variety after all that is the spice of life as they say 🙂 I am shocked that they chose to poison those wolves and surely they didn’t need to cull the whole species? 😦

        That is unbelievable being that in Japan they are regarded as sacred, but then man has been a vicious force over many centuries and with many diverse aspects of our wildlife, so in that sense it is just another horrendous statistic, and one that we could do without. I wonder what your next posting will be Icywolfy? 🙂 🙂

        I know whatever it is that you will have taken a lot of time to research it, indeed your postings always add that enjoyable edge to them, which in turn gives an incredible read for anyone that passes by your Space 🙂

        Have a fun rest of evening Icywolfy and keep adding your stylish postings my great friend 🙂

        Androgoth XXx

      2. The wolves had rabies!!! Nice 😉 Rabies-induced aggression did nothing to help their cause and for obvious reasons it was problematic in itself. However man did nothing to help either combining the already volatile rabies problem with deforestation of the wolves environment. Consequently they turned to the ranchers livestock for food. The government dealt with the issue by using chemicals to poison them. Whether they planned to erradicate the species completely or whether this was just the ill wind of fate appears to be an unanswered question. However on a more positive note there are hopes of re-introducing wolves so that’s got to be a step in the right direction. And maybe…just maybe they aren’t quite as instinct as the authorities claim 🙂

      3. This is something that we
        can hope for on both counts
        Icywolfy 🙂 🙂 Hey be good
        today and a bit naughty too
        if you like? 😉 🙂 lol

        Androgoth XXx

    1. Danke liebe Gislinde. Ich bin sehr froh, dass Sie diese ein genossen 🙂
      Meine Internetverbindung ist sehr langsam, wenn das Wetter schlecht ist.
      Mein Signal verloren geht. Also werde ich zurück sein zu sehen, alle morgen!
      Ich hoffe, Sie haben einen schönen Tag morgen 🙂
      Liebe von nass und regnerisch UK und wolfie umarmen 🙂

    1. Thank you Rosemary 🙂 So glad you enjoyed it, and thank you for your continued interest! It’s always lovely to see you even though W/P isn’t at all co-operative for you! Wolfie hugs 🙂

    1. Ciao orofiorentino 🙂
      Ti ringraziamo per il tuo commento bella … e benvenuto!
      Sono molto felice di incontrarvi qui e siete sempre molto benvenuto se si sceglie di visitare di nuovo!
      Fate attenzione e hanno una settimana incantevole 🙂

  3. A very interesting post, Icewolf, and I hope these wolves are not extinct, but hidden in plain sight!
    I have a character in one of my tales who is guarded by a wolf, although they are more like friends, and the wolf has been by her side for quite a while.

    1. Sounds intriguing…is that a recent tale I’ve not got to yet, or one from the dim and gelly past before I tripped snout first into your mansion 😉 or is it a future one yet to be posted… 🙂

      1. It’s a tale I started to post on my main blog last year (maybe the year before!), and then moved it over to another blog to continue the story… it’s a very long story set in many places and times… and I haven’t finished it yet! The character with the wolf appears a few parts into the story. I think I may post it again on my main site, I’m getting used to the serials now… and that will prompt me to finish it as well!

      2. Oh yes! The long ones! I know all about those! Painful writing experience I have!! I too was thinking about posting but on a different blog one specifically for the purpose I guess 😉 Definitely have to be a serial if I did…a very, very long serial! I think it would be a great idea if you were to post it 🙂

      3. I got up to part 27 on the other blog before I had a break, so if I was to post it, I’d have a bit of time to get back into the swing of things. I actually liked writing about the characters in it, so we’ll see!

      4. 27 parts and counting sounds good to moi! Go for it…you don’t have to do it all at once if you don’t want to do you? Just a part when the mood takes and keep us all gnashing our teeth for the next part whilst you have a break and post something different if you wish 🙂 If you like writing about the characters people will like reading about them. It’s half the battle of writing. Go for it!!

  4. Thrilling article, well documented and interesting to read. I bet these wolves still live in the dark reaches of those prestine forests you mentioned.
    Mankind will always have a mystery or two. Enjoy life, Eddie

    1. Thanks Eddie! Wouldn’t it be awesome if there were still “secret” wolves living deep ion those forests far from the human eye! I think you could be right about that! And what is life without a little mystery? We all love a good mystery the truth be known! 🙂

    1. HooOOOOOWWWwwwwWWWLLLLLoooo Storrieteller 🙂 Thank you for your visit and for taking the time to like my blog and leave a comment…The Pack welcomes you and sends greetings from the Icy world of Europa!

  5. Hi Wolfie, Im back on the prowl again myself,after a spell of the virus called flu, loved this post as you know wolves hold a special place within and I have no doubts that in the vast forests in the mountains they still roam.. I so hope so… I always find the information and the way you present it all Wolfie so well presented.. excellent my friend.. Loved the images too..
    Have a Howling of a day.. ~Sue

    1. Hi Sue 🙂 I hope you’re well on the road to recovery and are feeling much better now. It would be lovely to think they still exist, far from the destructive hands of humans this time! They were such little wolves too!Less than one metre tall! Have a great Autumn weekend and take it easy so you make a full and speedy recovery! Wolfie hugs 😉

  6. Hej Wolfie..
    Vilken klok varg du är..Jag instämmer helt och hållet med dig..
    Tack för dina fina ord..Nu önskar jag dig en härlig helh med en kärleksfull relation..Puss och kram //Nicki

  7. Danke dir liebe Wölfe für deinen Besuch heute ist hier in Köln ein wunderschönes Herbstwetter die Sonne scheint es ist fast so wie im Sommer nur das Laub ist schon bunt.Wünsche dir auch einen schönen Sonntag hoffe die dir ist es auch so schön. Deine Geschichten vom Japanischen Wolf ist sehr spannend.Wünsche dir noch einen guten glücklichen Wochenstart Grüsse dich in Freundschaft Gislinde.

    1. Es klingt wunderbar in Köln Sie sehr glücklich, schöne saisonale Wetter 🙂
      Sonntag Abend ein Teil des Wohnzimmers Decke in mein Haus brach und durchschlug den Dielen!
      Es ist ein sehr großes Loch im Decke jetzt. – auf mein Zimmer führt. Das ist nicht gut! Ich kann sehen das Wohnzimmer unten!
      Ich habe über sie springen auf mein Zimmer zu erreichen!
      Ich hoffe, Sie haben eine bessere Woche als ich! Wolfie umarmen mein guter Freund Gislinde 🙂

  8. Merhaba
    Benim sevgili arkadaşım Buz 🙂
    Sizin güzel yorumlarınız için çok teşekkür ederim
    ben mutlu ve neşeli bir pazar diliyorum
    kendine iyi bak benim güzel arkadaşım Buz
    çok kucak dolusu sevgiler size 🙂

      1. Merhaba benim sevgili arkadaşım Buz 🙂
        güzel sözlerin için teşekkür ederim
        ben iyiyim teşekkürler
        size mutlu yeni bir hafta diliyorum
        kendine iyi bak güzel arkadaşım Buz
        kucak dolusu sevgiler size 🙂

      2. Merhaba benim harika arkadaşım Seçil 🙂
        Iyisin sevindim mutluyum
        ve her zaman çok büyük bir zevk
        sizden duymak…
        güzel bir hafta var
        Aşk ve sarılmak … Buz 🙂

  9. I hope that you have had a fun weekend Icywolfy
    knowing you it was probably a few nights on the town
    with all of your Wolfy girlfriends, on the hunt for the
    Wolfman of your dreams perhaps? 😉 Well I only said 🙂

    Androgoth xxx

  10. Just checking up on you Icywolfy, after all you are
    usually very naughty on Wednesdays for some reason 😉 🙂 lol

    Androgoth xxx

  11. Thanks for all this sensible advice re alien invasion. We need you in the vaguard when it comes to communicating with them.

    Meanwhile – You’ve just been nominated for two blog awards. far more exciting than an alien invasion.

    To accept them you have to follow some rules – slip me that bribe you promised me (oops – I wasn’t supposed to mention that), list seven things, recommend some other bloggers, yadda yadda – details are here http://tinyurl.com/9yls7nc

    The awards are – the Versatile Blogger Award and the One Lovely Blog Award.

    Feel free to howl with happiness.


      Thank you! You are too kind 😉 …. now… about that bribe you mentioned… 😀

  12. Your posts nearly blow me away with all the research alone, then with getting all the images loaded on here – Idk how, where do you find so much infor on these subjects… must have very decent library facilities. I was not even familiar with the Japenese wolf let all that history of their demise!?! Interesting, if not kind of seems so terribly sad what as human we’re doing to species when it’s not like they’re just a disease to be eradicated, but a part of our eco-system… hmm… (sigh).

    1. The natural Wolfie hunting instinct comes in useful when researching chicken…I mean information appropriate to the posts lol 😉 There is a sad note to this I would agree…sad that they got rabies and sad that the authorities got so carried away with controlling the situation. I don’t think they entirely intended to wipe out the whole spieces but we can be so heavy handed in these matters can’t we? x

    1. Perfectly understandable 🙂 A GSD is so close to the wolf…!

      I didn’t publish your other comment that started “What a howl…” as it showed your personal email address. I got the impression this one was probably the intended comment anyway 🙂 Lovely to see you here – thank you for popping over! Wolfie hugs 🙂

      1. Yes, yes that is it exactly, guess there is still a bit to learn here at WP! I do enjoy the super interesting reads my Wolfie friend comes up with however she does it. Cheers to more fine blogging, and a happy weekend, to ya(“-“)

  13. Oh I hope they are still alive. There is a German biologist blogger who lives in Switzerland studies Swiss foxes and the one mated pair of wolves still living in Switzerland……I am not certain, but if memory serves me it was one pair.

    1. It would be lovely to find they were still alive and not simply become the stuff of myth and legend. I would like to be that German biologist you mention, what an interesting study 😉

  14. Excellent blog post! I had to reblog it 🙂 I stumbled across your blog as I was searching for Japanese folktales pertaining to wolves (couldn’t find any).

    1. Thank you for the re blog! I’m so glad you enjoyed this post ☺ It’s great to hear from people who have chanced upon such posts and maybe have found something of interest especially when info is not so easy to come by. I always live in the hope that one or two posts may be of benefit to others outside of my immediate blogging community simply because it feels good to know you’ve offered something useful to others in the same way as others do to me. It’s not necessary to know who but it’s nice. to know! It may have been a bit difficult to read as I’ve changed the background since I posted that one but I hope it wasn’t too problematic for you 🙂

  15. “The wolf can hide even where there is only a single reed”
    I can imagine wayfarers getting the shock of their lives, when the wolf springs out of (apparently) no where!
    Another useful article and well researched too.

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