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History of the Breed 


The Origins Of The Japanese Chin Club

by Jean Wallhead


The Japanese Chin is an ancient breed that, as the name suggests, originated in the East, probably China. It is likely that the first specimens to arrive in Japan were presented as gifts by the Emperor of China to the royal court. For centuries these dogs were kept by the nobility and not seen outside the palace walls. They were bred to be as small as possible so that could be carried in the sleeves of the ladies kimonos or kept in cages, rather like birds. Each palace had its own dogs and they were inbred with one another, outcrosses were forbidden so as a result the dog's health suffered. It has also been suggested that Saki was used to help stunt their growth. In Northern Japan a larger type was bred

In the early days the breed had various names and was also known as the Japanese Spaniel and even the Japanese Pug. Certain breed characteristics where highly prized, the thumbprint on the top of the head, the chrysanthemum tail, falling naturally to either side of the body and the 'vulture feathered' feet which resemble the pens used in Japanese script. It was not unusual for the tongue to hang out of the side of the mouth in the early days, while the first three points mentioned are still highly desirable this trait has all but been bred out and would certainly not appear in the ring today.


In the latter part of the 19th century several more imports arrived. Mrs Addis acquired Nenek from Singapore. She was not only a significant winner but also produced some 30 puppies, outliving all but one when she died age 11. Mrs Addis also owned Dai Butzu II who became the first breed Champion and was awarded the Champion of Champions prize in 1895. He was imported from Japan by Mrs Loftus Allen and weighed 4 lbs. Mrs Addis urged breeders not to look solely at size, she had travelled extensively in Japan and had tried to buy dogs of around 8 lbs but very 'long' prices were asked for these larger specimens. She maintained that there was ample evidence of the breed existing in Japan for centuries, with dogs weighing from 3 to 12 lbs

Although there may have been some toy spaniels brought to Europe as gifts as early as the 17th century, it was in 1852 that American Commodore Matthew Perry headed an expedition to previously hostile Japan, taking a large amount of gifts for the Emperor. In return, among other things, he was given seven Japanese Chins. Five returned on Commodore Perry's ship, three died on route and two were transferred to a British vessel and later presented to Queen Victoria, although there is no record of their subsequent fate. The other two survivors reached the USA safely.

One of the earliest shows to feature Chins was held at Holborn in 1862 and had a class for Japanese. There were 9 entries and it was won by a Mr C Keller's b/w dog Caro. Around 1879 another dog, Ming Seng, who was reported to have imported with a cargo of tea, won the gold medal for 'Best Foreign Dog' at Crystal Palace, he is described as weighing either 9 or 12 pounds, probably depending on whether you were a friend or a rival!

Mrs Addis and Ch Dai Butzu 11

The breeds popularity took a downturn at the start of the 20th century, probably due in no small part to the delicacy of the tiny specimens in favour at that time. The stronger and hardier Pekingese became more popular. Four ladies, Mrs (later Lady) Samuelson, Miss Serena, Mrs Samuel Smith and Mrs Hugh Andrews did much to keep the breed viable.

An old postcard of the two breeds


Queen Alexander had a large number of Chins and was often photographed with them, there are many old postcards portraying her with her dogs, as well as this well known painting which hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.

She was devoted to her dogs and they often accompanied her on the Royal yacht. Sometimes duty dictated that she had to leave them behind and there is a story of one of her favourite dogs, Joss, who was seeing her off on a journey to Russia when he slipped his lead and chased after the royal train. Thankfully there is a telegram preserved in the Royal Archives confirming that he was safely recovered. Her family were also often pictured with the dogs

Queen Alexander with Prince George and one of her Chins

Queen Alexander and Princess Victoria with dogs


In those early days registrations peaked at 168 in 1911 and 127 in 1912, however during the First World War they hit an all time low with only 10 recorded during 1918, by 1917 there was only one set of certificates on offer. It was to be 1964 before they once again reached three figures

Some early pictures:

This card is postmarked 1904

Actress Julia Neilson with a Chin 1903


Until vaccinations were developed to combat distemper, this dreaded disease could wipe out entire kennels as Chins seemed to be particularly susceptible to it. It was not unusual to return from a two or three day Show and discover that you had brought the disease back with you

Monamie Nichette in a card sent by her owner Madame Oosterveen in 1921 - nothing is recorded of her after this win - she probably fell victim to distemper It must have been heartbreaking to see your beloved dogs that you had such high hopes for succumb. We owe much to those stalwarts who picked themselves up after such a disaster and started again to leave us the legacy of the breed as we know it today.

This picture shows the ladies at LKA Coronation Show held at the Botanic Gardens in London.  The date on the right looks like 1909. 

I think these pictures illustrate just how little our breed has altered over the last 100 years.

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