TOKYO — Scientists have settled a decades-old mystery by naming a cause of death for Japan's most famous dog, Hachiko, whose legendary loyalty was immortalized in a Hollywood movie starring Richard Gere.
They say Hachiko died of cancer and worms, not because he swallowed a chicken skewer that ruptured his stomach – as legend had had it.
For years, Hachiko used to wait at Shibuya train station for its master, a professor at the University of Tokyo. Even after the professor died, the dog went to the station to wait for his master every afternoon for a decade until he finally died.
Tokyo residents were so moved that they built a statue of Hachiko at the station, which remains a popular rendezvous spot for Japanese today. He was also the hero of Japanese children's books.
The dog's story turned into a 2009 Hollywood film, "Hachi: A Dog's Story," starring Richard Gere – a remake of a 1987 Japanese movie.
Hachiko was considered such a model of devotion that his organs were preserved when he died in 1935.
Rumor had it that Hachiko died after wolfing down a skewer of grilled chicken – Japanese barbecue called yakitori – that ruptured his stomach.
But University of Tokyo veterinarians examining his innards said Wednesday that they found Hachiko had terminal cancer and also a filaria infection – worms.
Four yakitori sticks remained in Hachiko's stomach, but they did not damage his stomach or cause death, said Kazuyuki Uchida, one of veterinarians.
"Hachiko certainly had yakitori given by a street vendor at Shibuya," he said. "But the sticks were unrelated to his death, and the rumor is groundless."