Sweet Potato Salesdog

A popular Japanese street-food stand is “manned” by a dog.
By Susan Tasaki, May 2020
Sweet Potato Salesdog - Shiba Inu

Photo: Siraprapha Hengpathom | Used with permission

Sapporo, on the Japanese island of Hokkaido, is best known for beer, skiing and its annual snow festival. Thanks to the Twitterverse, Ken, a perky, four-year-old red Shiba Inu, is now also on its list of attractions. On weekends and holidays, the dog can be found behind the counter of Inu no Yakiimo-ya-san—Dog’s Roasted Sweet Potato Stand—in one of the city’s residential areas.

In Japan, roasted sweet potatoes (yaki imo) are a popular go-to street food and, like vendors selling hot dogs or pretzels in the US, stands offering them can be found everywhere. But, as far as we know, the stand overseen by Ken is the only one with a dog on counter duty.

It’s a simple transaction: deposit 200 yen (a little less than $2) in the coin slot and take a foil-wrapped sweet potato from the warming box. No change is available (for obvious reasons) and Sonoto Murayama, Ken’s owner, donates part of the store’s profits to humane organizations. The stand relies on the honor system … and really, how could anyone steal while being watched closely by such an appealing staffer?


Photo: Siraprapha Hengpathom | Used with permission

According to an article in The Mainichi, Murayama is president of Yotsuba no kai, an organization that provides services to people with disabilities. Murayama supplied his staff with baked sweet potatoes and also offered them for free at a nearby facility for the elderly, building up a good reputation locally. He set up the stand on the organization’s premises in 2018 as a way to help support the group’s work.

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Shibas, an ancient Japanese breed, are thick-coated little dogs, right at home in Sapporo’s mountainous northern climate. But Ken doesn’t have to rely on his fur coat; in winter, his space is warmed, and in summer, he has a fan to keep him comfortable. Plus, Murayama checks in regularly during Ken’s four-hour shift. When the Shiba goes off-duty, he and his human take a walk around the city.


Photo: Siraprapha Hengpathom | Used with permission

The stand has a new Japanese-language website, which we hope becomes available in English as well. If you don’t read Japanese, you’ll still enjoy the photos of Ken!

PS: Ken isn’t the first (or only) Shiba salesdog, although he’s probably the only one with as much autonomy. At the Shimada Cigarette Shop in Tokyo, another red Shiba regularly responded to the shop bell by opening the store’s window and summoning human assistance with a bark. (The dog and his owner have since retired.) And at Ogawa Matabe Shoten, a liquor store offering an array of locally brewed sake in Nara, western Japan, Fuku welcomes customers at the counter.

Dogs like sweet potatoes too. Get a recipe for home-made sweet potato dog chews.

Susan Tasaki is a The Bark contributing editor.

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