Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on August 2013

© Marutaro

With over 535,000 followers and 30,000 likes per photo on his Instagram page, Maru is one of Japan’s most popular pooches. He documents daily life and trips across Japan, but it’s more than fur-deep. Metropolis met the rising star at one typical hangout, the Yoyogi park dog run.

Tell us a little a bit about yourself.
I was born on October 20, 2007. I’m a Shiba-inu—a breed that is an official national monument of Japan. I’m a bit bigger than the standard Shiba, weighing in at 18 kilos rather than the usual 8-10 kilos. I was bought from a pet shop on Christmas Eve after my then would-be owners spent a week debating over whether to get a dog or not. I was the last one left of my litter and when they came back… well, the rest is history. When I’m not on the road, I live part-time in Shonan and part-time in Tokyo. My hobbies are digging on the beach, going for walks and playing with a toy daikon.

© Marutaro

Any dislikes?
The boom-boom of fireworks.

Why the name “Maru?”
I was named that because maru is “circle” in Japanese—and since circles have no corners, they represent smoothness, without interruption. It can also mean purity, happiness and also fat! My owners hoped I would grow up happy and with a cute, round face. I guess they got the last bit right!

What makes your Instagram so appealing?
I just live my life day-to-day, so I don’t really know. I smile a lot and I think people feed on that positive energy. It’s a simple, but profound connection that we all need.

Dogs are man’s best friend… Who’s yours?
Ha-ha, good question! I guess it would have to be my owners. I meet a lot of people, especially lately as I’ve started to get recognized on the street. But, it’s my family that feeds me, so I guess I’ll go with them.

You travel a lot. How does that work?
I’ve heard in Europe and America it’s quite easy for families to travel with their pets. But in Japan, there are not many hotel or public transport options for pets, so we always go by car and often stay at camping spots. It’s also why we travel in every season except for winter. I’ve flown once before, but I didn’t like it.

© Marutaro

Any travel suggestions?
Get out into the countryside more! There are so many undiscovered and interesting places there! Japan is not as urban as most people think. Also, travel in the summertime. Though it’s hot, it’s the best season as there are so many festivals going on—even in the tiniest of towns. People are a lot more open and friendly then, too. Who knows, you may be recruited into carrying a mikoshi around town!

What would you like to change about Japan?
I wish pet shop culture would end. I know that in several other countries the rules are stricter, so people buy their pets from breeders or families. Here, most people get their fluffy companions at pet stores, where once dogs pass the three-month-old mark, they are taken away and put down. Even those that find homes are often abandoned or given to shelters when they are not considered kawaii anymore. Almost two million dogs are killed annually, which is about 80% of those dumped. It’s sad that as wonderful as Japan can be, the pet-keeping culture is seriously lagging. I hope to educate people to take full responsibility once they commit to adopting a pet.

Any advice for anyone wanting to get a pet in Japan?
Check out the shelters first. There are so many loving dogs looking for a good home, especially after the Great Tohoku Earthquake.

What’s next on the cards?
Well, as you can see on my Instagram map, I’ve traveled down to Kagoshima, and most recently to Tohoku. My next trip will be to either Shikoku in Western Japan, or maybe even Hokkaido! I want to show Japan to the world!

Metropolis also threw a quick bone to Maru’s owner, whose photos bring out the best in him.

Do you have any advice for taking photos of pets or animals?

© Marutaro

My biggest piece of advice would be to get down to their level. Try to take your pictures at the animal’s height or at eye level. That way your shot will be more balanced and look more natural. Taking photos from above makes them look cute as they look up at you, but if you want a “real” shot, you’re going to have to crouch down in the dirt!

Follow Maru on Instagram (@marutaro), Facebook, or at www.marustagram.com.