Photo/Illutration People pet Shiba Inu dogs that were greeting arriving passengers at Hagi-Iwami Airport in Masuda, Shimane Prefecture, on Sept. 3. (Takashi Konishi)

MASUDA, Shimane Prefecture--Shiba Inu dogs greeted passengers arriving from Haneda Airport as they walked through the arrival gate of Hagi-Iwami Airport here in the morning of Sept. 3.

The canines were accompanied by their owners.

Surprised, the passengers stopped and petted the dogs, saying how cute they were and posed for pictures with them.

“I was surprised, but it was comforting and my fatigue went away, a passenger said.

The hope is to attract more passengers to the airport and raise the profile of the city, home of the ancestor to all living Shiba Inu.

A Masuda-based civic group set up to foster Shiba Inu takes care of the dogs. The group comprises about 30 Shiba Inu owners living in the city and its neighboring municipalities.

The dogs remained docile as they greeted the passengers.

Masuda is the birthplace of Ishi, a dog believed to be the ancestor of the breed.

The male of the Sekishuken line, an indigenous breed from western Shimane Prefecture, was born in 1930 in the village of Futakawa (present-day Masuda’s Mitocho district) in the Chugoku Mountain Range about 20 kilometers east of the airport.

A Tokyo dentist originally from present-day Hamada in the prefecture adopted Ishi, who helped produce offspring.

It is said that all Shiba Inu around the world can trace their bloodlines back to Ishi.

In 2019, a stone statue of Ishi was erected beside the house where he was born, with a small memorial hall introducing the dog's history.

Motoi Nishimatsu, 62, head of the business planning division at Iwami Airport Terminal Building Inc., the airport operator, took note of Ishi's story.

He sought help from Atsuo Yanao, 84, head of the Masuda-based Shiba Inu fostering group--who also served as chief of the Shimane branch of the Japan Dog Preservation Society, a Tokyo-based public interest organization, at that time--to organize the greeting event, which started in June.

The welcoming event is held in the morning of the first and third Saturdays of each month when an incoming flight from Haneda Airport arrives, bringing together 10 to 15 Shiba Inu each time.

The event has also become popular among Shiba Inu enthusiasts.

“Shiba Inu are cool-looking, mentally strong and loyal to their owners. I hope their charms become widely known,” Yanao said.

The airport only handles two daily round-trip flights linking with Haneda Airport.

The operator has been trying various ways to attract more passengers, including hosting a marathon on the runway, keeping bees on the airport premises to produce honey and welcoming arriving passengers with a presentation of the traditional performing art of Iwami “kagura” (sacred Shinto music and dancing).

“Shiba Inu are also popular outside Japan,” Nishimatsu said. We hope people actually visit (the city) not only to enjoy sightseeing, but also to turn their attention to Masuda as a ‘holy site’ for Shiba Inu and make a pilgrimage.”

Elsewhere in Japan, Akita Inu dogs greet arriving passengers at Odate-Noshiro Airport in Kita-Akita, Akita Prefecture, on dates ending with the number eight (“hachi”) every month in tribute to Hachiko, an Akita Inu dog known for its loyalty to its master.