Demise of Tosa Fighting Dogs in Katsurahama, Kochi
Katsurahama Beach is Kochi’s most famous tourist spot (upper photo). Not for swimming though, due to the strong currents. It’s a tourist area with a statue of famous local samurai Sakamoto Ryoma (lower right photo) and souvenir shops.
When I first visited, they still had the Tosa Fighting Dog Center (土佐闘犬センター) inside a large gift shop. At the time, the Tosa fighting dog was a major symbol of Kochi Prefecture since it was originally bred in Kochi. Always featured on postcards and Kochi’s tourist brochures. In 1994, Kochi Prefecture even designated the Tosa fighting dog as a Natural Monument.
The center had a Tosa dog-fighting ring where they put on Tosa dog fights for tourists several times a day. Out of curiosity, I went to see it. They first brought out this Tosa dog dressed in a yokozuna grand champion outfit (lower left photo). Tosa fighting dogs were ranked like sumo wrestlers.
The dog fights were for show, but even then it was pretty gruesome. I could tell the dogs knew that it was a show and they weren’t supposed to kill each other. Even when bitten, the dog’s wrinkly, elastic skin makes it less injurious. The first dog that yelps or runs away is the loser. It looked like something that animal rights activists and dog lovers would be strongly against.
In 2010, a Japanese government committee on animal welfare criticized it as cruel with the dogs drawing blood. In 2014, the Tosa Fighting Dog Center discontinued the dog fights and renamed the facility as “Tosa Dog Park” (とさいぬパーク) where visitors could pet Tosa puppy dogs instead. However, the company went bankrupt and the Tosa Dog Park closed for good in May 2017 after 53 years in business since 1964.
As a major victory for animal rights, Tosa dog fighting is no longer held for tourists in Kochi and there are no plans to revive it. The Tosa fighting dog is no longer being used as a symbol of Kochi. No mention of it on Kochi’s tourism website. However, dog fighting remains legal in most prefectures, and Tosa dog fighting is still held outside Kochi although I’ve never seen any of them billed as a tourist attraction. The Tosa fighting dog owners’ association is still active. (In Tokyo, dog fighting is illegal along with cockfighting and bullfighting.)
The Tosa Dog Park building has since been refurbished into a large gift shop named “Ryoma no Hama Chaya” (龍馬の浜茶屋). Revolutionary samurai Sakamoto Ryoma continues to be Kochi’s main symbol and hero. His statue at Katsurahama Beach remains.
1960s news video of Tosa dogs: https://youtu.be/EWNFSpJPC5I
Katsurahama is about a 30-min. or 60-min. bus ride from JR Kochi Station.