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Japanese scientists have finally solved a decades-old mystery about Japan’s most famous dog. The death of Hachiko has finally been determined.
The legendary dog, an Akita, was adopted by a professor at the University of Tokyo in 1924. Hachiko used to wait at a train station for his master every day. In 1925, the professor died suddenly and never returned to the train station. Every day for the next nine years, Hachiko would wait at the station for his lost owner. He was given away after the professor’s death but would routinely escape—going back to his old home he shared with his owner. Hachiko eventually figured out that his owner no longer lived at the home, so the dog would wait at the train station.
The story of Hachiko moved Tokyo residents to build a statue immortalizing the faithful companion. Hollywood made a movie about the dog in 2009 with Richard Gere, a remake of a Japanese film that was released in 1987. The dog was such a model of loyalty that his organs were preserved when he died in 1935.
Japanese scientists were able to use these preserved organs to settle the mystery of Hachiko’s death. They discovered that he died of cancer and worms and not because he swallowed a chicken skewer. Legend in Japan has maintained that Hachiko died after consuming a skewer of grilled chicken – Japanese barbecue called yakitori – that ruptured his stomach. University of Tokyo veterinarians, by examining Hachiko’s innards, found that the dog had terminal cancer and also a filaria infection – worms. Four yakitori sticks remained in Hachiko’s stomach, but they did not damage his stomach or cause death, said Kazuyuki Uchida, one of veterinarians. “Hachiko certainly had yakitori given by a street vendor at Shibuya,” he said. “But the sticks were unrelated to his death, and the rumor is groundless.”