My Experience At The NIPPO Grand National

Me showing Sawa No Benika in the Wakainu2 class at the NIPPO Grand National in 2016 in Chiba

Before I jump into this article I would like to thank Yumi Hagiwara and Shigeru Kato for their help by sharing their wealth of knowledge for this article.

This article, though it may be long, is informative about the technical side of NIPPO as well as my personal experience. In Japan.  I went to Hiroshima in 2015 and Chiba in 2016 for the NIPPO Grand National.  The Grand National is held on either the second or third weekend of November.  One day is reserved for the judging of Shibas and the other day the remaining breeds are judged. The second day after the breed judging, all the Saikosho (BOB) winners (Shiba, Kishu, Shikoku) from the Seiken (adult) class compete for the Souridaijinsho (Prime Minister award).

Nihonken Hozonkai , also known as NIPPO,  is an organization dedicated to the preservation of the native Japanese dogs – the Akita, Shiba, Shikoku, Kishu, Kai, and Hokkaido.  NIPPO organizes shows – the largest one being the Grand National. Hundreds of breeder/owners and their dogs flock there for their chance to be recognized for their quality. The dogs competing in the Grand National must have received at least one yuuryou (excellent) rating from a regional NIPPO show. Only the winners from the Seiken class are eligible to compete for Saikosho. In order for the Saikosho winner to be eligible to compete for the Souridaijinsho there must be enough dogs/placements handed out.  Usually the only breeds with enough entries for this honor are the Shiba, Kishu, and Shikoku.

NIPPO shows are held outside – the Grand National is no different. In Hiroshima it was held in a giant muddy field. The rain waits for no one and the show must go on literally.  It reminded me of Florida, except it was cold… Very cold… I got very muddy my first show – my shoes were caked in mud, my feet were soaked, and I kept wishing I had a pair of rain boots.  I wasn’t able to go shopping and I have quite big feet so I don’t think I would have had much luck in the woman’s department.  I’m sure I received a lot of disapproving stares on the train ride home. But it was worth it to see all the amazing dogs.  It was my first time seeing Shikoku, Kishu, and a Sesame Shiba in person – and they were gorgeous beyond belief!  The show in Chiba was very pleasant – we got rain the first day (yes there was more mud – I started having flashbacks) and it was cold. The second day was a vast improvement, the sun was shining and it was warm.  I was able to peel off layers of clothes.  This Florida girl does not tolerate the cold at all; therefore, I made sure I bundled up. But once again the show was held in a huge field. Several large rings dotted the landscape, large white tents created a border around the rings giving it a nice, safe feel. There’s a large red and white striped tent, where the announcers sat, hat sellers were stationed, and where the prizes where kept.  It was also where the judges ate lunch, much different from an AKC show.

The way dogs are handled at NIPPO shows is totally different from how dogs are handled in AKC.  There is no baiting or touching the dog. The dog must stand in front of the handler to show off its kan-i (the dog’s spirited boldness) with the leash at a 45 degree angle.  If the angle is any sharper it causes wrinkles, ruining the dog’s expression. For NIPPO judges a good expression is one of the most important things, followed by coat quality, body structure, and good character with a simple, general appearance. Judging starts at the dog’s front, side, and then rear end.

What judges look for when judging the dog from the front is the dog’s expression, ear pitch, and for a strong front assembly. When the judge moves to the side of the dog they get a better idea of the structure, and see the coat quality and color.  When judging from behind the judge is making sure the dog has the correct urajiro on the tail, and down the hock if red.  If the dog is black and tan they are looking to make sure the dog has black on its hocks in addition to the correct urajiro on the tail.

I knew I was given the amazing honor to handle my friend Yoshito Watanbe’s Shiba bitch Beni – but let’s just say I wasn’t quite sure how to execute the handling skill with a dog that didn’t know me or understand what I was saying.  I tend to talk a lot to dogs when I handle them – it makes me feel less nervous, and I was extremely nervous.  Watanbe-san yelled at me “Ms. Alexis – this isn’t an AKC show!” He made the motion of me baiting a dog in front of me and signaled me to stand behind her. Beni looked at me as if she knew I didn’t know what I was doing.  I will say I got her to stand decently – the judge evaluated her, Yoshito held her for the wicketing and teeth counting, but I did the rest.  I could not understand what they wanted me to do so they made hand motions; unfortunately I don’t speak Japanese, much to my dismay. I had to gait her in a triangle, the judge looked at her again, made notes on his clipboard and we were dismissed until afternoon judging.

The afternoon judging was less work than the morning judging but still pretty nerve wrecking. The class was way bigger than I imagined, honestly I can’t remember how many dogs there were but I have a feeling it was close to 20.  I was directed where to stand, my heart was beating a million miles a minute, I’m sure they could see it beating through my shirt. We all stood behind our dogs, our bodies forming a semi circle of sorts – Beni was a bit more cooperative, she still knew I didn’t know how to correctly make her stand (sorry Yoshito!). After walking around and staring down the dogs, the judge started to make pulls. He stared with the dogs to my right, I was staring straight ahead at my friend Jun and Yoshito – I could only imagine what the look of my face!  I watched the judge motion to handlers to move several steps out of the circle; I kind of forgot about Beni for a moment until the judge looked at me and motioned me to come forward.  I worked hard trying to get her to stand perfectly (remember this was my first time showing a dog NIPPO style). He intensely stared at the dogs once more and then motioned us back to our spot.  The judge and his assistant then split the group, unknowingly; I went to the left side thinking that’s where they wanted to split us.  They motioned me to come back; I could have died from embarrassment   I counted the other dogs realizing I was in 8th in place. The other handlers started ducking under the white ribbon that served as a ring barrier. The judge and assistant came around handing out beautiful metals. I was shaking with excitement when I received mine.  I bowed to them and said thank you in English, any and all Japanese I knew escaped by brain in that moment.  They handed me a slip which I presented both the medal and slip to my dear friend.  He told Jun and me to wait for a moment and we played with Beni as we waited for Yoshito to return.  Beni really liked Jun over me, it bruised my ego a bit but she was still sweet to me.  Yoshito came returned with what looked like a giant poster. It was like a score card for Beni’s placement in her class. We took a photo together,  Beni wasn’t really interested in stacking anymore while I tried to get her to stand beautifully.  Yoshito then so kindly presented me with the metal and the shoujou.  It’s a paper that has the dog and owner’s name, it also states the dog received a yuuryo.  I have the picture framed, with the medal, and the green handler ribbon that I wore at the show on my wall.  Above it is the shoujou, that I had to make sure would survive my long trip home from Japan.  I also regularly wear my NIPPO hat Yoshito gave me as a gift.  I’ll forever treasure those amazing gifts and memories of that show. My heart hurts knowing I won’t be back in Japan for at least another 4 years but I’m eagerly waiting for the day I’ll be reunited with my friends, the Grand National, the beautiful Nihon ken, and a country that holds a very special place in my heart.

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