Linda Poon is a staff writer at CityLab covering science and urban technology, including smart cities and climate change. She previously covered global health and development for NPR’s Goats and Soda blog.
Three Akita dogs guide you through their home city of Odate on Google Street View.
First, the sheep of the Faroe Islands took the world on a virtual gallop of their picturesque archipelago. Then felines gave us a cat’s eye view of the Japanese city of Onomichi. But perhaps no creature is more constitutionally fit for the job of tour-group leader than the domestic dog: Man’s (actual) best friend possesses a curious nature, impeccable wayfinding skills, and an innate determination to never leave you behind.
Which brings us to Asuka, Ako, and Puuko. The three furry Akitas have been tapped to bolster tourism in the northern Japanese city of Odate, said to be the original birthplace of one of Japan’s most popular canine breeds. With 360-degree cameras strapped to their backs, the trio have created a Google “Pup-View” tour of local attractions in their home prefecture, giving each location a dose of cuteness.
On Google Street View, peer beyond the pups’ bushy tails to take in the vastness of Odate’s snowy mountains. Or join them as they admire the various shrines and statues erected in their honor. You can also virtually enjoy their companionship at an outdoor hot-spring foot bath or inside the Akita dog museum.
The city’s four-legged ambassadors have some work to do, as the Akita prefecture trails behind the six other prefectures in the Tohoku region when it comes to attracting foreign visitors. According to the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, the Miyagi and Aomori prefectures attracted more than 100,000 visitors in 2016, while Akita only managed to bring in a little under 57,000 tourists. That’s when city officials began promoting its best-known local heroes, including a famed dog named Hachiko.
Hachiko was an Odate-born Akita who eventually moved to Tokyo with its owner. As the story goes, Hachiko became a symbol of loyalty in the early 1900s after waiting patiently every day at a rail station in the Shibuya neighborhood for his owner’s return, a vigil the animal maintained for almost ten years after his owner’s death. In fact, the bronze Akita dog statue that you can visit via Google Pup-View pays homage to Hachiko.
Today, new homegrown stars have emerged. Siblings Asuka and Ako were appointed last year as “tourism promotion stationmasters,” whose job was to greet visitors outside the Odate rail station. They took on 30-minute shifts on the weekends, beginning at 9:45 a.m. sharp. “I have heard that they (Akitas) are better known than Mount Fuji outside Japan,” Takanori Nara—the human stationmaster—told Asahi Shimbun last year.
Now they can tack “virtual tour guide” on their resumes, and don’t worry about them being overworked. Based on the accompanying introductory video, it looks like they very much enjoyed frolicking and burrowing their snouts in the snow.