Akita dog Wasao, who has earned nationwide popularity for his unique looks, died at age 13, believed to be early 90s in human years, a support group said Tuesday.
The big white furry canine with a squinty-eyed face died Monday. He has been widely referred to as "busa kawaii," a nickname combining two Japanese words -- "busaiku," meaning ugly and "kawaii," cute.
The once-abandoned dog in the town of Ajigasawa in the northeastern prefecture of Aomori was picked up by a local in 2007 before becoming an online sensation through blog articles and eventually rising to TV stardom. A movie titled after him was also released in 2011.
Wasao's activities included visits to areas devastated by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami and serving as "tourism stationmaster" at his local JR Ajigasawa Station.
The support group, Wasao Project, said Wasao's debilitation became visible in April after he was not able to stand on his own, and his health condition rapidly deteriorated Sunday.
"Thank you for everything. I feel proud to have been a family with Wasao," his owner and town assembly member Tadamitsu Kikuya, 55, said.
Wasao Project plans to host a farewell event.
The Akita, a large breed deriving from Akita Prefecture adjacent to Aomori, has garnered international attention over the years.
Russian President Vladimir Putin received an Akita dog as a gift from the Akita governor in 2012, following his country's support for the 2011 disaster. Olympic figure skating champion Alina Zagitova in 2017 received an Akita puppy from a group preserving the breed at a ceremony in Moscow attended by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
U.S. author and political activist Helen Keller (1880-1968) treasured the companionship of dogs throughout her life, including two Akita dogs that in the 1930s became the first of their kind known to have entered the United States.
The statue near Shibuya Station in Tokyo of Hachiko, an Akita dog from the 1920s famed for loyally waiting for his deceased master for years, is now a popular meeting spot in the district.