Honshu wolf

























Canis lupus hodophilax

honshuwolfHonshu Wolf

The Honshu Wolf (Japanese wolf) or Mountain Dog is one of two subspecies of Gray Wolf native to Japan. It lived in the Honshū, Shikoku, and Kyūshū districts of Japan. The Honshu Wolf was recognized as the smallest subspecies of Gray Wolf, standing a foot at the shoulders and measuring 35 inches from the nose to the tip of the tail. They had short wiry hair, short legs, and a tail that curled at the end. (Some argue that this is not a subspecies of the Gray Wolf and should be classified as a separate species.)

The Japanese Wolf was respected by the mountain people of Japan. They were revered as protectors. Stories about the sending wolf which kept travelers safe from harm are found in the tales of Okuri Ookami. The wolves keep wild boar, deer, and other crop damaging species in check. It is reported that the farmers also benefited from portions of kills left behind by the wolves. They were also said to bestow wealth on the worthy and cure illness. Parts of deceased wolves were used as protective talismans. The scientific name for the Honshu Wolf reflects its role in Japanese mountain society. Hodophilax can be translated as way of the guardian. The Japanese people build shrines and temples to honor the wolf, some of which exist today. It was considered bad luck to do them harm.

The rabies epidemic of the 1700s spelled the beginning of the end for the Honshu Wolf. Fear of the disease as well as the introduction of modern farming methods and the increase in the rearing of livestock changed people's attitude toward the wolf. They began to fear rather than revere the wolf and hunting increased. Large groups formed in an attempt to destroy the wolf population. In 1905 zoologist Malcolm Anderson purchased the remains of what is believed to be the last Honshu Wolf. It is displayed in the Museum of Natural History in London.

Mitochondrial DNA analysis of seven surviving specimens of the Honshu Wolf showed they all came from a single lineage and were related to the Gray Wolf.

There are people today who believe the Honshu Wolf still exists. This photo was taken by Hiroshi Yagi who has spent his life searching for the wolf.

Honshu Wolf Today




wolf eating


Canis Dirus

Male and Female wolves at the entrance to Miyamasu-Mitake Shrine


African Wolf


African Wolf Head











Engine Dog


Canis lupus hodophilax

Extinct canine

Subspecies of Gray Wolf

Native to Honshū, Shikoku, and Kyūshū, Japan

Smallest species of Gray Wolf

Believed to have gone extinct in 1905 or 1910

Known as the Yamainu or Mountain Dog

Known as a guardian of travelers

Identified with the Mountain Spirit