Maru (one-year-old female), a brindle Akita dog, lives at the kodomo shokudo (children’s cafeteria) “Maru-chan” in Odate City, Akita Prefecture. She is now struggling to become a signature dog to entertain visitors to the cafeteria.
The children’s cafeteria is opened about twice a month by a citizens’ group called “Volunteer Circle Familia,” headed by Maru’s owner, Mari Suzuki.
On the evening of a business day late last month, Maru appeared in front of the cafeteria accompanied by Mari’s husband, Seizo. After being petted by a staff member, she relaxed and lay comfortably on the ground.
Due to measures to prevent coronavirus transmission, customers were asked to take their prepared dishes home instead of eating in the cafeteria.
The first children to visit the cafeteria shouted, “There’s a big dog!” They boldly approached the Akita dog, bigger than they are, and gave her treats and took pictures with her side by side. Maru seemed calm from start to finish and stood ideally as she looked at the camera.
Another child was overwhelmed by the size of Maru and clung to his parents.
The visiting parents and children seemed to enjoy their interaction with Maru.
According to Mari, Maru usually becomes restless when she gets bored. Mari laughed, saying, “I was surprised that Maru was there happily greeting customers until the end of the day. Maybe she knew she was being interviewed.”
The volunteer circle started the children’s cafeteria in 2019. After about two years, Mari, who is from Fukuoka Prefecture, recognized that Odate is known for Akita dogs and decided to keep an Akita dog expecting the dog would greet children and give them a sense of comfort.
In the winter of 2021, Mari and Seizo visited a house that the Akita Dog Preservation Society introduced. She saw three sibling dogs there, two or three months old, running around and playing in the snow. The phrase from the Japanese children’s song “Yuki” (“Snow”) came to her mind, “Dogs run around in the garden with joy.” Seizo especially liked Maru, whose brindle, tiger-looking fur stood out, and decided to take her home.
Whenever Mari walks with Maru, her fur color attracts a lot of attention. People passing by often call out to Maru, and she has even been mistaken for a tiger or lion cub.
For Mari, Maru is the first dog she has ever owned, but she said, “Even though Maru was my first, I didn’t worry so much. I mean, I didn’t know any difficulties about raising dogs.” She said she gets advice from staff at the Akita Inu no Sato, a visitor center she visits twice a month to exhibit Maru, and people from Maru’s birthplace.
When Maru overdid the treats and gained weight, Mari started feeding her low-fat dog food. She said, “I’m tempted to give her treats because she’s so cute, but… I’m determined to ensure she lives a long life with me.”
Once Maru started a habit of barking at bicycles during walks, Mari repeatedly practiced getting her used to bikes in her yard. Since Maru began to go out in public, Mari has thoroughly trained her not to bite or bark at people.
Mari said, “Welcoming Maru has expanded my circle of friends and helped me as a person outside of the prefecture to harmoniously blend in with the community. I want to continue working with Maru in the children’s cafeteria activities.”
Winter is coming soon. If you visit the children’s cafeteria, “Maru-chan,” you may be welcomed by Maru, who will be playing in the snow.