From YA-novel-category-author, D.C. McGannon’s website comes great information and detail about the folklore of the Japanese mountain dog yama-inu, a.k.a. The okami. Excerpted from C. Michael McGannon’s guest post Yokai (Japanese Monsters) Profile: Okami (The Legendary Japanese Wolf) “Okami
Unlike kitsune (foxes), tanuki (raccoon dogs), nekomata (two-tailed cats), kamaitachi (weasels), or other animal monsters, the wolf of Japan was not a mischievous or trickster creature. He was honest and no-nonsense. Much respect was given to the ōkami, and still is today, though as far as we know all species of wolves are extinct in Japan. (To great dismay.) (It is notable that wolves, particularly the Honshu wolf, have become cryptids. Although they were said to go extinct in 1906, there have been many sightings on the species after that date, some with substantially more evidence, but none of it has been proven just yet. *Insert suspenseful piano music here* Do wolves still roam Japan, or is it only haunted by their ghosts!?) There is one tasty wolf legend that I would like to share with you, particularly because it has a classic fairytale duality. Yama-inu The yama-inu (mountain dog) is a ghostly wolf that is said to haunt lonely mountain roads Photo credit, © Matthew Meyer. All rights reserved. Used by permission. (Again, what is with Japan’s abandoned roads? … Many people report that if you feel like you are being watched while going over one of these roads, it is because a yama-inu is stalking you. At this point, there is only one thing that can save you from the beast. Ready for it? DON’T TRIP. No, really. That’s it. Don’t trip! Legend says that if you trip or fall while being watched by the yama-inu, the wolf spirit will pounce on you and tear you to shreds. However, if you stand fast it will respect you and leave you alone, very much like an actual wolf. Here’s where the duality comes in: the yama-inu’s other name okuri-inu, which means “escorting dog.” If you pray to the yama-inu, or if you happen to be a lost person or a small child, the yama-inu will not stalk you but rather guide you out of the mountain road….” Read more at the D.C. McGannon website
Technically not all species of wolf are extinct in Japan. Dogs are wolves and they’re quite abundant in Japan, especially feral dogs.