Quite a bit of controversy surrounds the history of the Japanese Akita and the American Akita. Depending which kennel club you ascribe to, they may be considered variations on one breed or members of two very different breeds. Breeders who hope to show their dogs internationally may discover unexpected problems because of this debate. Whichever side you agree with, there's little doubt the two lines have produced some distinct differences that not all fanciers find acceptable.
History of the Split
The splitting of the Akita breed began shortly after World War II with two different breeding lines of Akita in Japan, the Dewa line and the Ichinoseki line. The majority of Akitas sent to America were of the Dewa line, larger dogs with wrinkled foreheads and bigger ears. The Ichinoseki line, which the Japanese preferred, produced smaller dogs with well-curled tails and unwrinkled skin. The differences were smaller at first, and some of the Ichinoseki line dogs did make it to America, but in 1973 the American Kennel Club both recognized the Akita breed and closed registration off to any dogs that were not already in the United States. This move effectively separated the two populations, and with different ideas of where the breed should go, the Americans and the Japanese widened the gap between their Akita populations.
AKC vs. FCI
In 1992, the AKC allowed imported Akitas to be registered again, but by then the changes were significant. The AKC and the Japanese Kennel Club had different breed standards, and as the Akita originated in Japan, the Federation Cynologique Internationale, the international authority on breed standards, chose to accept the Japanese breed standards. These official standards prevented many American Akitas from participating in international competitions. In 1999 the FCI sought to solve this problem by classifying two distinct breeds, the Japanese Akita Inu and the Great Japanese Dog, formerly the American Akita. The AKC currently rejects this distinction and categorizes all Akitas in the same breed.
A number of physical differences separate the modern Akitas. American Akitas are larger and heavier, come in a number of different colors and frequently have a black mask on their faces. The Japanese Akitas, in contrast, are smaller, come in orange and white, brindle or pure white, and may not have a black mask. The American Akita has a broader head and may have a less tightly curled tail and slightly looser skin than is allowable in the Japanese breed.
The temperaments of the two lines are similar. The Japanese Akita is ideally independent, reserved, confident and loyal. The American Akita is ideally alert, friendly, courageous and dignified. Both types of Akita may be intolerant of other dogs and can be a handful for first-time dog owners. The dog's personality is measured somewhat more heavily for the American Akita, however, as aggressiveness or extreme shyness are disqualifying faults for this breed in shows and are only faults for the Japanese Akita.