Shih Tzu in Japanese Art and Culture

As I delved into the rich history of Japanese art and culture, one animal kept appearing in multiple mediums: the Shih Tzu dog. This adorable breed, originally from China, has made their mark in Japanese society in various ways, from artwork to folklore to being a beloved pet of Japanese royalty. Join me on a journey to discover the captivating role and significance of the Shih Tzu in Japanese art and culture, and explore the stunning depictions that have arisen over the centuries. Get ready to be charmed by the cuteness of these small furry creatures and their captivating stories.

Origins of Shih Tzu in Japan

The history of the Shih Tzu breed in Japan is both fascinating and mysterious. While it is believed that the breed originated in ancient China, it is not entirely clear how it came to be so closely associated with Japanese culture. Some experts speculate that the breed may have been introduced to Japan through Tibetan Buddhism, while others point to its popularity among the royal and imperial families of Korea. Regardless of how the breed first arrived in Japan, it has since become an integral part of the country’s art and cultural traditions. Let’s explore the origins of the Shih Tzu in Japan and uncover the unique historical influences that have shaped its journey. To learn more about the ancient Chinese history of the Shih Tzu, check out our article on Shih Tzu in ancient China.

Shih Tzu in Japanese Art

Japanese art has always admired the beauty and elegance of Shih Tzu. These little dogs are known to symbolize good fortune and prosperity in Japanese culture, and it’s no wonder they appear so frequently in their art. Here are some fascinating ways in which Shih Tzu have influenced Japanese art throughout history:

1. Ukiyo-e Prints: Ukiyo-e, which translates to “pictures of the floating world,” is a genre of Japanese art that was popular during the Edo period. Many ukiyo-e prints featured Shih Tzu in various settings, such as playing with children or being pampered by their owners. The prints were highly sought after, especially by women who collected them as decorative items in their homes.

2. Kutani Ware Ceramic Figurines: Kutani Ware is a type of Japanese pottery that originated in Ishikawa Prefecture over 350 years ago. It’s often used to create small figurines of animals and other cute objects. Shih Tzu have been depicted in Kutani Ware as adorable and lively animals, often with intricate patterns and detailed painting.

3. Shinto Shrines and Temples: Shinto is a traditional Japanese religion that reveres natural objects such as mountains, trees, and rocks. It’s also customary to enshrine objects that people hold dear, and Shih Tzu have been among them. At various Shinto shrines throughout Japan, people can pray to the deities who protect the Shih Tzu for good fortune.

Whether through paintings, pottery, or religious items, Shih Tzu have found themselves woven into the fabric of Japanese art throughout history. These artistic depictions not only showcase the beauty of the breed but also demonstrate its cultural significance in Japan. It’s no surprise that their popularity has spread westward as well, making them sought after pets around the world.

The Cultural Significance of Shih Tzu in Japan

The Shih Tzu breed holds a significant place in Japan’s culture and history, and their popularity has only grown in modern times. Let’s take a closer look at their cultural significance in Japan through various aspects:

  • Religious Significance: The Shih Tzu is sacred to the Japanese people, and they are often considered spiritual animals. They can be found depicted in numerous Tibetan Buddhism and Shinto shrines and temples all over Japan. In fact, it is believed that they bring good luck, fortune, and prosperity to their owners.
  • Symbolic Significance: In Japanese art and literature, the Shih Tzu often symbolizes fidelity, loyalty, and love. Beyond their physical appearance, they represent a deeper connection between humans and their pets.
  • Aesthetic Significance: The unique features of the Shih Tzu have made them a popular subject in Japanese art, including Ukiyo-e Prints and Kutani Ware ceramic figurines. Their charming and endearing look, combined with their significance in Japanese culture, has made them a favorite of art collectors all over the world.
  • Historical Significance: Finally, the Shih Tzu has played an essential role in Japanese history, particularly in the royal imperial court of Korea. Members of the court were known for their love of these adorable pets and often gave them as presents to other royalty.

The Shih Tzu’s cultural significance in Japan is undeniable. Their unique features and importance in various aspects of Japanese culture have made them a beloved breed, both in Japan and across the world.

Exploring the Artistic Depictions of Shih Tzu in Japan

Exploring The Artistic Depictions Of Shih Tzu In Japan
As we delve deeper into the rich history of Shih Tzu in Japan, it becomes abundantly clear that this enchanting breed has left a lasting impression on Japanese art and culture. From its early days in Japan to the modern era, Shih Tzu has been a beloved subject of many artistic depictions. Let us now take a closer look at some of the remarkable visual representations of Shih Tzu in Japanese art and dig deeper into their cultural significance. So, sit back, relax and let’s explore the captivating world of Shih Tzu in Japanese art.

1. Shinto Shrines and Temples

Shih Tzu has been a beloved companion in Japanese culture for centuries, and its presence can often be seen in various art forms. One such form is in the intricate designs of Shinto shrines and temples found throughout Japan.

1. Architecture
Shih Tzu is often seen in the architectural designs of Shinto shrines and temples. The intricate carvings and sculptures of the adorable canine are a common sight, symbolizing the loyalty and faithfulness of these beloved companion animals.

2. Traditional Attire
In addition to architecture, Shih Tzu is also featured in the traditional attire of Shinto priests and priestesses. It is not uncommon to see depictions of these holy men and women dressed in elaborate robes with images of Shih Tzu embroidered into the fabric.

3. Religious Ceremonies
Shih Tzu’s popularity is not just limited to artistic depictions, but also extends to religious ceremonies. It is not uncommon for worshippers to bring their beloved canine companions to participate in these ceremonies, signifying the important role that these animals play in the lives of the Japanese people.

The presence of Shih Tzu in Shinto shrines and temples highlights the significant role that these animals play not only in Japanese art but also in the daily lives and spiritual practices of Japanese people. From architecture to attire and religious ceremonies, the love and reverence for these loyal and faithful companions are evident in every aspect of Japanese culture.

2. Ukiyo-e Prints

In the Edo period of Japan, Ukiyo-e prints became a popular art form. These were the times when Shih Tzu started to appear in Japanese art. Ukiyo-e prints were mass-produced using woodblock printing techniques, and were often used as advertisements, making them accessible to the general public.

In many Ukiyo-e prints, Shih Tzu are often portrayed as loyal companions, playful pets, or symbols of status and wealth. They were often depicted alongside influential figures, such as courtesans or samurai, further reinforcing their association with luxury and high social status.

One notable example of this is the Ukiyo-e artist Utagawa Toyokuni III’s print “Court Lady Playing with a Shih Tzu” (1852). This print depicts a beautiful court lady holding a Shih Tzu while she plays a game with her attendants. The Shih Tzu is portrayed as a delicate, fluffy and fashionable dog, sitting in the lap of the lady with its tongue sticking out while it is being petted.

Another famous Ukiyo-e print is “Shih Tzu and Peonies” (1854) by Utagawa Kuniyoshi. This print depicts two alert-looking Shih Tzus and two beautiful peonies, which symbolize good fortune and prosperity. The dogs in this print appear lively and cheerful, reflecting their role as cherished companions in Japanese culture.

The popularity of Shih Tzu in Ukiyo-e prints indicates their significance as a status symbol and companion animal in Japanese culture during the Edo period. Today, these prints continue to be admired as beautiful pieces of art and as a record of the rich history of the Shih Tzu breed in Japan.

Here is a table with more examples of Shih Tzu in Ukiyo-e prints:

Ukiyo-e Print TitleArtistDescription
Shih Tzu and LanternsUtagawa HiroshigeA Shih Tzu is depicted playing with two lanterns, symbolizing happiness and luck.
Night View of MatsuchiyamaUtagawa HiroshigeA Shih Tzu is walking alongside a woman on a bridge as they both take in the night view of Matsuchiyama.
Shih Tzu with FansUtagawa Toyokuni IIIA Shih Tzu is sitting next to a beautiful woman holding a fan, suggesting elegance and luxury.

3. Kutani Ware Ceramic Figurines

Kutani ware ceramic figurines are another example of the artistic representation of Shih Tzu in Japanese culture. These figurines were created in the Kutani region during the Edo period, and are known for their intricate designs and bold colors.

1. Historical Context
During the Edo period in Japan, the Kutani region became known for its production of high-quality porcelain. The production of these porcelain pieces was led by a group of skilled artisans who had migrated to the region. Eventually, these artisans became known as the Kutani 5 Colors. The production of Kutani ware continued until the end of the Edo period, and experienced a revival in the Meiji period.

2. Design and Symbolism
Kutani ware ceramic figurines depicting Shih Tzu are often designed with bright, vibrant colors such as red, blue, and gold. The figurines typically feature a single Shih Tzu or a pair of Shih Tzus, often shown sitting or lying down with their paws tucked underneath them.

The Shih Tzu figurines are often decorated with intricate designs and patterns, such as flowers or clouds. These designs not only add to the aesthetic appeal of the figurines, but also hold symbolic meaning. For example, flowers are often associated with purity and innocence, while clouds are associated with the heavens and the divine.

3. Collectibility
Due to their intricate designs and historical significance, Kutani ware ceramic figurines are highly collectible. They are often sought after by collectors of Japanese art and porcelain, and can fetch high prices at auctions and antique shops.

Kutani ware ceramic figurines are a beautiful example of the artistic representation of Shih Tzu in Japanese culture. Their intricate designs and bold colors serve as a testament to the skill and creativity of the Kutani 5 Colors, and their historical significance makes them a valuable addition to any collection of Japanese art.

Shih Tzu’s role in Japanese Culture

When we think about the cultural impact of dogs, we often think of the loyalty, affection, and companionship they offer to humans. In Japan, this is no different. For centuries, dogs have played an important role in Japanese art, folklore, and daily life. Among these dogs, the Shih Tzu stands out for its unique appearance and personality. In this segment of our exploration of Shih Tzu in Japanese art and culture, we will delve into the rich history of the breed, and its role in Japanese society. From folklore to royalty, the Shih Tzu has left an indelible mark on Japanese culture, one that still resonates to this day. Let’s take a closer look at what makes this breed so special in Japan.

1. Shih Tzu in Japanese Folklore

The Shih Tzu has a rich history in Japanese folklore and mythology that dates back centuries. In Japan, these dogs are known as “Chrysanthemum Dogs” due to their resemblance to the flower, which is a symbol of the Japanese imperial family. Below are some interesting tales from Japanese folklore that feature the Shih Tzu:

  • The Myth of the Shih Tzu’s Origin: Japanese legend has it that the Shih Tzu was created by the goddess Amaterasu. The goddess was said to have been filled with so much love for her people that she plucked a small dog from her sleeve and sent it down to Earth to bring joy and happiness to the people.
  • The Shih Tzu as a Talisman: In Japan, it is believed that having a Shih Tzu in your home will bring good luck and fortune to your household. It is also thought that the dogs have the ability to ward off evil spirits and protect their owners from danger.
  • The Shih Tzu and the Samurai: According to legend, samurai warriors in Japan often kept Shih Tzus as companions and protectors. It was believed that the dogs could sense danger and would alert their owners to potential threats.
  • The Shih Tzu and the Ghost: There is a famous tale in Japan about a Shih Tzu that is said to have protected its owner from a vengeful spirit. The spirit had been haunting a young woman, and the dog bravely stood guard over her throughout the night, preventing the ghost from harming her.

These stories are just a few examples of how deeply ingrained the Shih Tzu is in Japanese folklore and culture. Their presence in these tales reinforces the belief that these dogs are special and possess unique qualities that set them apart from other breeds. Even today, the Shih Tzu continues to be a beloved and cherished companion in Japan, and their place in the country’s history and culture is secure.

2. Shih Tzu in Japanese Royalty

Shih Tzu were widely loved by Japanese royalty for centuries, and were often kept as pets by emperors and members of the imperial court.

The Imperial Family:
The Shih Tzu breed’s popularity among Japanese royalty began during the Edo Period (1603-1868), when it was known as the “lion dog” due to its lion-like appearance. It was favored by the Imperial Family, including Emperor Meiji and Empress Dowager Cixi of China, who presented a pair of Shih Tzu to the Japanese court. The breed became a symbol of wealth and status, and it was not uncommon for members of the Japanese nobility to commission portraits featuring themselves and their beloved Shih Tzu.

Other Aristocrats:
Shih Tzu were also beloved pets of other aristocrats in Japan. In fact, many feudal lords of the time commissioned Kutani Ware ceramic figurines featuring their Shih Tzu, which served as both decorative items and symbols of their high social status.

AristocratShih TzuDescription
Princess KazuShih TzuPrincess Kazu was known to have a Shih Tzu named “Kunimitsu.” The princess was a patron of the arts and was said to often be depicted in portraits with her beloved dog.
Daimyo Matsudaira KatamoriShih TzuDaimyo Matsudaira Katamori, who ruled the Aizu domaine during the Edo Period, was known for his love of Shih Tzu. He had various portraits of himself holding his beloved dogs commissioned during his lifetime.
Emperor HirohitoShih TzuEmperor Hirohito, who ruled Japan from 1926 to 1989, owned several Shih Tzu during his lifetime. He was known to be deeply fond of the breed and even commissioned a portrait of himself with his beloved dog, whom he named “Laro.”

Royal Status Symbols:
As the Shih Tzu’s popularity grew in Japan, many aristocrats began to select the breed as a status symbol. These aristocrats would often dress their Shih Tzu in clothing and accessories fit for a royal, and some even went as far as to carry their dogs around in stylish carriers, a tradition that is still practiced today among Shih Tzu owners worldwide.

3. Shih Tzu Today in Japan

Nowadays, Shih Tzu dogs are still loved and cherished in Japan. They are one of the top 10 popular breeds in the country, according to the Japan Kennel Club. Let’s take a closer look at how these furry friends are viewed in modern-day Japanese society.

One interesting aspect is that Shih Tzu often feature in Japanese advertising campaigns. They are frequently used as models for pet food, toys, and grooming products. This is not surprising, given their adorable looks and friendly personalities.

In addition, Shih Tzu are often featured in Japanese television shows and movies. They have become somewhat of a cultural icon in Japan, representing loyalty, love, and companionship. Even though the breed has been in Japan for centuries, their popularity remains strong.

Below is a table summarizing the modern-day love for Shih Tzu in Japan:

PopularityOne of the top 10 popular breeds in Japan
AdvertisingFrequently used as models for pet products
Television and MoviesOften featured in Japanese media as a cultural icon

It’s clear that Shih Tzu have a special place in Japanese society, both historically and in modern times. They continue to occupy a unique role in Japanese art and culture.


In conclusion, the role of Shih Tzu in Japanese art and culture cannot be overstated. This breed has been an important part of Japanese culture for centuries, with its origins tracing back to ancient Chinese imperial dynasties. The Shih Tzu has been depicted in various forms of art, including kutani ware ceramic figurines, ukiyo-e prints, and the walls of Shinto shrines and temples.

The symbolic significance of the Shih Tzu in Japanese culture is also immense. This breed has appeared in Japanese folklore, often as a companion or protector. In Japanese royalty, they were kept as prized possessions and symbolized wealth and good luck. Even in modern-day Japan, the Shih Tzu continues to hold a special place in the hearts of Japanese people.

The Shih Tzu’s role in Japanese culture is a testament to the breed’s charm, loyalty, and resilience. It has taken on various meanings and purposes throughout Japanese history, evolving with the changing cultural landscapes of Japan.

Japanese art featuring the Shih Tzu is not only beautiful but also provides a glimpse into Japan’s rich history and cultural significance. This breed continues to inspire and captivate artists, dog lovers, and cultural enthusiasts today.

In summary, the Shih Tzu’s story in Japanese art and culture is a testament to the breed’s enduring impact on Japanese society. Its history and symbolism will continue to fascinate and inspire generations to come.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the history of the Shih Tzu breed in Japan?

The Shih Tzu breed was introduced to Japan during the Tang Dynasty in China, around the 7th century.

2. Why are Shih Tzu popular in Japanese art?

Shih Tzu became popular in Japanese art due to their association with Chinese royalty and Buddhist mythology, which were both influential in Japan.

3. Are there any special meanings or symbolism associated with Shih Tzu in Japan?

Yes, Shih Tzu are often seen as symbols of good luck, wealth, and prosperity in Japan.

4. What types of Japanese art depict Shih Tzu?

Shih Tzu are depicted in a variety of Japanese art forms, including paintings, sculptures, and ceramics.

5. What is the significance of Shih Tzu in Japanese culture?

Shih Tzu are regarded as valued members of Japanese households, and are often seen as symbols of good fortune and loyalty.

6. Can Shih Tzu be trained for specific activities or roles?

Yes, Shih Tzu can be trained for a variety of activities such as agility, obedience, and therapy work, but they are primarily bred for companionship.

7. What is the average lifespan of a Shih Tzu?

The average lifespan of a Shih Tzu is 10-16 years.

8. Do Shih Tzu require a lot of grooming and maintenance?

Yes, Shih Tzu require regular grooming as their long, silky coat is prone to matting and tangling. They also require frequent eye cleaning and dental care.

9. Are Shih Tzu affected by any health issues?

Shih Tzu can be prone to health issues such as respiratory problems, eye problems, and skin allergies.

10. Are there any cultural events or festivals in Japan that celebrate Shih Tzu?

While there are no specific festivals or events that celebrate Shih Tzu, they are often included in pet-themed events such as dog shows and animal charity events.


Britta Thygesen

Britta Thygesen

A passionate dog owner and a full-time certified dog trainer. Aspires to make DogCareHacks a go-to place for all the doggo info. Shares personal experience and professional knowledge.

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