In warm weather, the rolling hills of Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido burst with flowers. In cold weather, they glisten with snow. But come rain or shine, a sentinel stands guard in the island’s major city, Sapporo. Loyal, friendly, and steadfast, this is Ken-kun, the proprietor of the Inu no Yakiimoyasan sweet potato stand. This friendly salesman greets visitors and welcomes them to sample his signature roasted sweet potatoes. But a sign outside the stand reminds visitors that he can’t give you change—because he’s a dog.
The Dog’s Roasted Sweet Potato stand has been around for several years, reliably offering locals in a Sapporo residential district the common street snack. Ken-kun, a Shiba Inu, rocketed to global fame following a viral tweet early in 2019, and the internet was delighted at what a good boy he was. While Ken-kun can’t actually roast the sweet potatoes or handle the money—that lack of opposable thumbs can really hold an entrepreneur back—he does man the stand solo for most of the day. His owner roasts the potatoes and leaves them in a plastic container, then comes around several times a day to count the cash in an honor-system money box and walk Ken-kun. But for the most part, the dog is an independent go-getter.
Ken-kun enjoys the enviable status of the only known dog currently manning a Japanese food stand, but he’s not the only Shiba Inu who’s been in on the hustle. That honor also goes to the businesslike assistant shopkeeper at Tokyo’s Suzuki tobacco stand, who retired after three years on the job. Ken-kun, however, gets the award for selling a decidedly more nutritious product, and for inspiring honesty in the hearts of visitors to the honor-system stand through his wholesome presence alone.
Update as of June 2021: Ken-kun has sadly passed away.
Know Before You Go
Ken-kun's stand can be difficult to find. While public transport is an option, the most straightforward way may be by car. Come early: The shop closes at 3:00 p.m. and potatoes have been known to sell out by early afternoon. The foil-wrapped potatoes are kept in a plastic container. Simply grab one and leave 200 yen (about $2) in the cash box.