Japanese Chin



As with most eastern breeds, the exact origin of the Japanese Chin (called the Japanese Spaniel in some countries) is obscure. Its ancestors may have come from either Korea or China, in either 520 AD or 732 AD. The breed obviously has some relationship with other small oriental breeds.

What is certain is that these dainty little dogs were valued sufficiently among the ruling dynasties of the east to be given as tributes to foreign visitors. In Japan the Chin, as it was known, was treated with much respect in the imperial court.

Specimens probably left Japan as early as the 16th century with the Portuguese traders. However, the breed’s well-documented arrival in the western world was with Commodore Perry of the USA, who had been on a mission to establish trade with Japan. Commodore Perry was given seven Chins, two of which were sent by British ship for presentation to Queen Victoria. Of the remaining five, three died on board Perry’s ship and two arrived safely in New York.

In 1860 the Mikado of Japan presented two Chins to the Empress of Germany, and just two years later the first Chins were exhibited in England, with nine entered at a show in Holbern, London.

In Paris in the 1870s, Edouard Manet painted a portrait of a dog, an unusual subject for an Impressionist painter of Manet’s renown. It was of a Japanese Chin named Tama (‘Jewel’ in Japanese) belonging to Henri Cernuschi, a collector of Asian arts and associate of the artist.

After the arrival of Commodore Perry’s pair of Japanese Chins in New York, there were a number of imports to the USA and in 1880 the breed appeared in the show ring. A club for the Japanese Spaniel (as the breed is called there) was formed in 1883, but failed, and the present Japanese Spaniel Club in the US was formed in 1912.

The Japanese Chin Club was formed in England in 1895, catering for increased interest in the breed. Queen Victoria had received two more Chins and Queen Alexandra, as Princess of Wales, also had Chins, including some which were gifts from the Japanese Imperial Court. Right up until World War 1 in 1914, Chins flowed into Britain, but two world wars decimated their numbers there.
Numbers have also declined in Japan since the early twentieth century. However, efforts were made to revive the breed and, compared to Britain and the USA where registrations are in the hundreds, there are thousands of Chins registered in Japan.

Chins in Australia

The first arrival of the breed in Australasia appears to have been in 1904, when Mrs G J Scale is reported to have owned one; in 1905 Mrs A Burton is recorded as exhibiting two Chin imports, and Mrs R O Duncan as also exhibited. 

In the 1950s two Chins arrived in New Zealand with their owner, the newly appointed Bishop of Wellington, who came from Britain. They, with a later import by Mrs E Connora, were the basis of Chins in Australia and New Zealand. The breed was established in New Zealand over the next two decades with the aid of further imports, the most active breeder being Mrs J Marbeck.

In the 1960s there were several Chins sent from New Zealand to Australia and, in the years since then, a number of Australian breeders have imported from New Zealand, the UK and Japan to provide a breeding base here in Australia.


Japanese Chins are dainty, lively, happy little dogs. They are smart and compact, with a profuse silky coat attractively patterned in black or red on white.

They are stylish in movement, with a profusely feathered tail carried plumed over the back. They have large, round heads, short, well-cushioned muzzles, large, dark eyes set wide apart, and a characteristic look of astonishment.

Personality is very important to the Chin. It is lively and playful, inquisitive, good natured and gentle, yet has a classy air that reflects its privileged past. Chins should never be dull, stolid, droopy or depressed, and never lacking in quality.


The long, silky coat of the Japanese Chin gives him the appearance of a high-maintenance breed, but he is surprisingly easy to maintain in top condition. He will require weekly brushing and a bath once a month or so, depending on his surroundings. The breed’s nails grow very fast and should be trimmed regularly to keep them short and neat. Their ears should be checked regularly to avoid a buildup of wax and debris that can cause ear infections, and teeth should be brushed regularly to avoid dental problems. 1.

The Japanese Chin is a fairly active little dog. He will enjoy going for slow walks with his humans, or exploring his fenced backyard. The breed is an excellent choice for apartment living. Because of their stubborn nature, it is never a good idea to allow them to outdoors off lead. If they see something they want to explore, they are likely to refuse to listen to any commands or pleas. They are a bit reserved around new people, pets, and situations, but with proper socialization will enjoy going for romps in a supervised dog park with other small dogs. 1.

Training a Chin can be simple for the trainer who can make them believe they are doing only the things they want to do. Bred strictly as companions for royalty, the Chin’s only job throughout the breed’s history has been to charm, amuse, and comfort their humans. They are often referred to as ‘catlike,’ and this trait can certainly be visible during training. They react well to positive training methods, but will shut down at the first hint of harshness. Training sessions must be interesting and fun to keep their attention. They love to learn tricks to perform for their adoring public. 1.


The head is a major breed characteristic. Of the brachycephalic type, it is large for the size of the dog but not overdone and coarse. The skull is round in all directions, but not domed.

The roundness of the skull between the ears is best seen when the dog is in repose. Because the ears are set wide apart and high, and carried slightly forward, the skull can appear flatter when the dog is alert. This is often seen in pups, before the ear feather has fully grown.

Although the muzzle is short and broad, the nose is not recessed and there is no wrinkle. The nose is best described as ‘snub’, and the best way to see this clearly is to look at the head in profile.

In the adult dog, viewed from the front, the nose is set midway between, and level with, the eyes. Puppies may not display this perfectly, as the head is still developing until at least 12 months of age.

As in all short-muzzled breeds, the nostrils should be large and open to facilitate breathing. The nose should be black in black and white Chins, and is usually a shade matching the coat markings in the red and whites.

The finish of the muzzle is important. It should be well cushioned and rounded on each side of the nostrils, with no weakness of the chin, although the chin should not be prominent.

The markings on the head add to the appearance, and should be evenly distributed on cheeks and ears. The cushioning is usually white, and there is a white blaze on the forehead, which can be narrow or wide, symmetry being the key.

References: 1. American Kennel Club

The information in this article has been compiled from lectures delivered to DOGS NSW trainee Toy judges.

Image by Cabal Canine Candids. 


In Conclusion

Now you know a little about the Japanese Chin, you may think that this is the dog for you. Before you make a decision, please make contact with the breed club or your State controlling body for purebred dogs. They will be able to give you information about available puppies and also suggest dog shows where you can see the breed and speak to breeders. In this way you will gain a better perspective of the Japanese Chin and its needs, and whether this breed would suit your lifestyle.



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