Japanese Chin – Oriental aristocrats

Breed facts: Toy Group

In association with the Kennel Club, Nick Mays provides all you need to know about the Japanese Chin. Find out if one of these small ‘Eastern spaniels’ could be your next best friend.

The Japanese Chin is a highly distinctive dog with its rounded head, upturned muzzle, bold eyes and curly tail; it has a proud, regal bearing, which is fitting for a breed that originated in the royal palaces of ancient Japan. Although not the numerically greatest of breeds, Japanese Chins are gaining popularity as a pet and show dog. In 2008, no fewer than 279 Japanese Chins were registered with the Kennel Club (KC), which is a good indication of how far the dog that was once the strict preserve of the nobility has come.

Japanese Chin
Japanese Chin

Breed history
The origins of the Japanese Chin are, like many such ancient breeds, lost in the mists of time. However, it is generally agreed by most breed historians that they originated in China many centuries ago, and were first presented to the Emperor or Empress of Japan as a gift from the Chinese rulers.
Only Japanese nobility were allowed to own Japanese Chins from then on, and each royal palace bred the dogs to their own standards and maintained their own bloodlines. No interbreeding or outcrossing was permitted, with the result that the breed’s health suffered. However, nobles no doubt intermarried at different times, and it is possible that their dogs may have done so too. There were wide variations in the types of Chins in different regions of Japan. Certain breed characteristics were highly prized, such as the distinctive ‘thumbprint’ on the top of the head, the chrysanthemum tail, falling naturally to either side of the body and the ‘vulture feathered’ feet, which resembled the pens used in Japanese script. Most of all, though, the dogs were bred to be as small as possible so that they could be carried in small, gilded cages or nestle in the nobles’ large kimono sleeves.

noble origins
When Japan began to open its borders, trading and interacting with the wider world, some Chins were given as gifts to foreign royalty or ambassadors. It is believed that Portuguese sailors acquired some Chins and introduced the breed to Europe in the 17th century by presenting some dogs to Catherine of Braganza, Queen Consort to King Charles II of England, and it is a possibility that Japanese Chins were interbred with the Queen’s toy spaniels.
In 1852 American Naval Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry headed a trade expedition to Japan, taking a large amount of gifts for the Emperor. In return, among other things, he was given seven Japanese Chins. Five returned on Commodore Perry’s ship, three of which died on route, and two were transferred to a British vessel and later presented to Queen Victoria, although there is no record of their subsequent fate. The other two survivors reached America safely, where they were presented to President Franklin Pierce. At this time, the breed was known as the Japanese Chin or Japanese Spaniel, but eventually ‘Chin’ stuck, to differentiate the breed clearly from existing spaniel breeds.

Show dogs
According to The Japanese Chin Club UK, the breed gained popularity in the UK and inevitably became sought after as show dogs. One of the earliest shows to feature Japanese Chins was held at Holborn, London, in 1862, which staged a class for ‘Japanese’. There were nine entries and it was won by a Mr C Keller’s black and white dog Caro. Around 1879 another dog, Ming Seng, who was reported to have been imported with a cargo of tea, won the gold medal for Best Foreign Dog at the Crystal Palace dog show. In the latter part of the 19th century, several more Chins were imported from Japan and their numbers grew. Around 1895-6, some enthusiasts in the Liverpool area founded The Japanese Spaniel Club, which covered several breeds including Japanese Chins and Pekingese.
Eventually, on 1 January 1905, The Japanese Chin Club was formed as an independent club, and was duly recognised by the KC. In those early days Chin registrations with the KC peaked at 168 in 1911 and 127 in 1912, however during World War One they hit an all time low with only 10 recorded during 1918. However, over the next two decades, the club rebuilt in strength and Chins again gained popularity, although perhaps not as great as they had been hitherto. On 6-7 August 2005, the club held a weekend of celebrations for its Centenary of Independence Show. There was a record entry of dogs, and the show attracted many overseas visitors, including members of the Japanese Kennel Club.

Expect to pay… Between £600 and £1,800 for KC registered dogs, although this will depend on the potential show quality of the dog. A show puppy can never be guaranteed until it has been in the ring and won prizes. A reputable breeder will not sell a show puppy but one with potential.


  • Small, friendly and loyal
  • Family-orientated
  • Never dull
  • Not very vocal
  • Town or country living
  • Easy to groom
  • Moderate exercise needs
  • Quite intelligent and a quick thinker

5 Japanese Chin facts

Height & weight
Height: between 8-11ins. Weight: varies from 4-20lbs, with 7-11lbs being the most common.

Chins need a well-balanced diet which gives them sufficient nutrition and satisfaction. Breeders will be happy to advise prospective purchasers as to the best diet for their dogs. Mostly plain food suits their digestion, such as a good medium-protein content complete meal and raw beef tripe or chicken. Mixers should, of course, be those made for smaller-sized breeds. It is recommended that adult Chins are fed two small meals a day.

Grooming & care
The Chin’s coat, although long, only requires brushing or combing once every other day to maintain its appearance. Special attention needs to be given to the area under the ears and legs. Their eyes need to be kept clean and this can be achieved with careful bathing, wiping any debris away with a piece of damp cotton wool.

The Japanese Chin’s flattened face contributes to some individuals suffering from breathing and heart problems, a common trait with some brachycephalic (‘squashednose’) breeds. For this reason, temperature extremes should be avoided. The breed can also suffer from heart conditions and luxating patellas, while entropion and eye ulceration can sometimes occur due to the breed’s prominent eyes.

The average lifespan is 12 years, although some individuals can reach 15 years of age.

Noble dogs – noble owners!
Nobility were big fans of Japanese Chins. King Edward VIII’s consort Queen Alexander owned lots of Chins. These little dogs appear on many photographs and postcards from the late 19th and early 20th century, as well as one depicted with Queen Alexandra in a painting which hangs in the National Portrait Gallery. There is a story of one of her favourite dogs, Joss, who was seeing her off on a journey to Russia when he slipped his lead and chased after the royal train. Thankfully, there is a telegram preserved in the Royal Archives confirming that Joss was recovered. The Queen’s family were also often pictured with Japanese Chins

KENNEL CLUB BREED STANDARD Thinking of getting a Japanese Chin? Here’s what to look out for:

A breed standard is the guideline which describes the ideal characteristics, temperament and appearance of a breed and ensures that the breed is fit for function. Absolute soundness is essential. Breeders and judges should at all times be careful to avoid obvious conditions or exaggerations which would be detrimental in any way to the health, welfare or soundness of this breed. From time to time certain conditions or exaggerations may be considered to have the potential to affect dogs in some breeds adversely, and judges and breeders are requested to refer to the Kennel Club website (www. thekennelclub.org.uk) for details of any such current issues. If a feature or quality is desirable it should only be present in the right measure. This breed standard was last updated in October 2009.

Elegant and aristocratic, smart, compact with profuse coat.

Intelligent, happy, lively little dog who has a look of astonishment peculiar to this breed.

Gay, happy, gentle and good natured.

Head & skull
Fairly large in proportion to size of dog, moderately broad skull, rounded in front, and between ears, but never domed. Nose large with open nostrils, black, except in red and whites where the colour can be appropriate to markings. Muzzle short, wide, well cushioned (upper lips rounded on each side of nostrils), jaws level. Eyes Moderately large, dark, set far apart. Size should be in proportion to size of skull. Small amount of white shows in the inner corners, giving characteristic look of astonishment.

should be forward facing, not set on side of head.

Small, set wide apart, high on head, carried slightly forward, V-shaped, well feathered.

Bite preferably level or slightly undershot; wry mouth or tongue showing highly undesirable.

Moderate length, carried proudly.

Legs straight with strong fine bone, giving slender appearance, well feathered down to the feet.

Square and compactly built, wide in chest, ‘cobby’. Length of body equal to height at withers. Male animals should have two apparently normal testicles fully descended into the scrotum.

Straight, viewed from behind, good turn of stifle, profusely feathered from the back of the thighs.

Slender, hare-footed, feathered at tips, pointing neither in nor out.

Set high on level back, profusely feathered, closely curved or plumed over back.

Gait & movement
Stylish, straight in movement, with good reach and elevation when in motion, no plaiting, and showing no weakness in hind movement.

Profuse, long, soft, straight, of silky texture. Absolutely free from curl or wave, not too flat, having a tendency to stand out especially at frill of neck.

Black and white or red and white. Never tricolour. Red includes all shades of sable, lemon or orange. The brighter and clearer the red the better. Colour evenly distributed on cheeks and ears and as patches on body. White should be clear, not flecked.

Any departure from the foregoing points should be considered a fault and the seriousness with which the fault should be regarded should be in exact proportion to its degree and its effect upon the health and welfare of the dog.

Thanks! With many thanks to the Japanese Chin Club UK and Chris Reeves-Sargant for their help and advice.