Tag Archives: bears

“…with my bear hands”

3 Sep

Hi blog.

News  is largely dominated by the wake of Typhoon number 11 and the destruction it wreaked in the Tohoku region and Hokkaido, leading to over a dozen fatalities and a massive loss of crops.  Between that and sports reports, the news is a bit depressing.

However, a rather interesting article that showed up on my news feed.  This one combines two of my favourite things: wildlife (when I can find it) and karate (if someone will ever let me go back to training)

From the Japan Times:


Gunma bear driven away by karate punches after picking fight with wrong person


 SEP 2, 2016

A black bear got the surprise of its life when it attacked a 63-year-old man who happened to be a high-ranking practitioner of karate, police in Gunma Prefecture said.

The man, from Naganohara, was fishing on the nearby Jizo River when what appeared to be an Asian black bear crossed paths with him at around 1:45 p.m. Thursday, police officials said.

The roughly 1.9-meter-tall bear reportedly sprang when they locked eyes.

But its human opponent, standing only 1.7 meters tall, happened to be a high-ranked karate man who fought back with a fierce determination, punching the predator repeatedly in the eyes until it gave up and ran away.

The man emerged from the ordeal with a scratched up face and bites on the head, forehead, right arm and right thigh, before calmly driving himself to the hospital, the police said, adding that he wished to remain anonymous.

Noting they had received witness reports of a bear in the area recently, Gunma police officials advised would-be adventure seekers not to imitate the fisherman’s martial arts exploits if they come upon a bear in the wild.

“If you witness a bear, don’t fight. Walk away quietly and report it to the police instead,” an official said.

Bear attacks are not unusual in Japan.

On Monday, two men in Fukushima Prefecture were attacked by a bear and received serious face and head injuries.

In June, four people were killed by bears while foraging for seasonal bamboo shoots in the mountains of Akita Prefecture. The deaths prompted the Akita Prefectural Government on Thursday to issue a public warning about Asian black bears, urging residents to stay away from the bamboo forests and mountains where they dwell.

According to the prefecture, there were 722 reported bear sightings as of Aug. 22.

Article ends.

My thoughts?

Kids, don’t try this at home!

The Bear Truth

28 Oct

Hi blog.

Just for a change of pace, something which didn’t make the English language news.

On October 17 and 18, a hiker in the mountains around the border of Fukuoka and Saga reported sighting a “bear-like animal”.

Bears have been extinct on Kyushu for over 50 years, so this caused some excitement.

Police were dispatched to examine the area.  Animal researchers confirmed from faeces samples collected by the police that the animal was… a Japanese badger!

A Japanese black bear. Photo taken from Tokyo Zoo Net.


A Japanese badger. It bears no resemblance to bears, do you not think? Photo also from Tokyo Zoo Net.

I hate to badger on, but how much can one bear?

The Big Bear

13 Oct

Hi blog.

I first saw this one shared on Facebook, and then something on the evening news.  The brown bear was something I heard a fair bit about when I was in Hokkaido.  I remember going to a BBQ, and hearing a siren blast – apparently to drive away any bears in the area.

I also remember my host family having a book about the bears and their relationships with humans.  One macabre photo showed the contents of a bear’s stomach (one that had been shot after it killed a person).  The contents included a near-intact human foot!

I still longed for the opportunity to spot a bear in the wild (from a distance, and before it spotted me), but that particular wish never came to fruition.

My take on the following news story?  Unfortunate, but probably necessary.  An aging agricultural population and bears taking risks is not a good combination.

From the Japan Times:


Metabolic’ bear shot in Hokkaido tips scales at 400 kg

A brown bear shot dead last month in Monbetsu, Hokkaido, was so big — about 400 kg — that residents are jokingly calling it the “metabolic” bear, it has been learned.

“Even a 300-kg bear would be considered big,” said a 71-year-old man who belongs to a hunting club. “I’ve been a hunter for more than 40 years, but I’ve never seen a bear like this.”

According to city officials in Monbetsu, the footprints of the giant male bear were found near fields and houses in the city, prompting the city and police to increase patrols.

Separately, a corn farmer whose crops had apparently been raided by bears, asked the local hunting club to hunt it down.

After harvesting most of the corn and narrowing down the range of potential hiding places, hunters shot the bear after spotting it running from a field on Sept. 26.

“It is probably one of the biggest bears that has ever been taken down,” said Toshifumi Onishi, an official at the famed Asahiyama Zoo in Asahikawa. “Farming fields are a paradise for bears. They have a big appetite before they hibernate, which is probably why the bear was so fat.”

Earlier this month, Hokkaido authorities told residents to exercise caution this year because bears might wander into towns and cities or fields in search of food due to a shortage of their favored acorns and beech nuts.

Article ends.

The evening news added that this individual was raiding a corn field and causing major crop damage.  A hostile encounter was probably inevitable.

More Bad News Bears

24 Sep

Hi blog.

It must be tough being a bear.  They never make the news except when they attack people or cause damage.

Read on…


First from the Japan Times


Bear attack: Up close and way too personal

by Jeff Kingston

Special To The Japan Times

 Aug 23, 2014

On Aug. 14, I was attacked by a black bear. It all happened suddenly and in a blur of fur, paws and gnashing teeth as the tsukiwaguma charged out of the trees 10 meters from me in a forested, hilly area in Gunma Prefecture in the Kamimoku district of Minakami.

I sustained light injuries, a few gashes to the head and upper arm, but it probably would have been a lot worse if my dogs, Goro (10) and Rhubarb (14), had not chased it off. They are mostly shibainu, a dog bred for bear hunting. It’s a popular domestic house pet, but somewhere lurking in the DNA is an incredible ferocity and fearlessness when it comes to bears. Lucky me. Boars they are afraid of.

During the past two decades of hiking in Gunma I have encountered bears about a hundred times, but almost all have been unthreatening visual sightings. I’ll be writing, take a break by going for a walk in the woods using an old ski pole as a walking stick, and get lost in my thoughts. It’s good exercise, and the dogs and I enjoy the pleasant natural surroundings, passing abandoned charcoal kilns, irrigation ponds, scattered stone memorial tablets, bamboo groves, streams, a Shinto torii and on and up through abandoned rice fields to stretches of beech and oak forests that have the nuts bears like to eat.

There is nothing quite like a bear to waken one from thoughtful reveries and get the blood pumping. Over the years I probably got too complacent because nothing bad ever happened. Seeing bears just seemed to be a normal thing and only part of the rich wildlife one encounters less than two hours from Tokyo. I also see Japanese serow, deer, boars, raccoons, fox, iitachi (golden-tailed martens), pheasants, quails, hawks and snakes. The most dangerous animal where I grew up in Connecticut was the porcupine, and my Irish Setters never quite learned the part about not biting them.

Since the early 1990s, I have watched Kamimoku’s farming population age and its sericulture all but disappear. The mulberry groves are now mostly neglected and in summer the mulberries, used to make jam and wine in my native New England, are left for the birds and animals. One summer I wandered into a grove and suddenly realized there was a bear snacking up in the branches and quickly walked away.

But it is the blueberry that helped save me from bears. I went to a pick-your-own blueberry farm and at the cash register noticed a picture of the farmer on the wall with him standing over a dead bear, rifle in hand. I asked what he did if a bear charged and he didn’t have his rifle. He warned me not to run, because they are way faster than people, but in a jam he said to run downhill, because its awkward for bears. He also advised against climbing trees — they are better at it — or playing possum, because they can inflict serious wounds even if you curl up. He said the best bet is to stand your ground, wave your hands and yell as loudly as possible. Good advice until now.

Since then I have been charged about 10 times and I did exactly what he said almost every time, and the bear always veered off and ran away. The one time I didn’t it was near dusk and I lost my footing and fell backward in an irrigation ditch as the bear just ran by me.

I started wearing bear bells a few years ago after a way too close face-to-face encounter. Now I wear several bells, clanging and jangling on the paths, relying on the tintinnabulation to warn the bears off. But this has not always worked because some bears apparently didn’t get the memo and don’t run away. One came down a tree nearby, unimpressed by my bells. So I also carry bear spray. But this attack happened way too fast. And that ski pole I bring? Just as useless as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s “third arrow.”

Twelve years ago a Danish couple, just weeks from their wedding, asked to come along for a hike and thought I was trying to scare them off when I said I had seen fresh bear scat. So along with my wife and two dogs — Ochan (10) and his daughter Rhubarb (then only 2) — we headed up into the hills. About an hour later Rhubarb tore off barking and treed a bear. But the bear changed its mind and came back down and Rhubarb was not giving an inch, barking furiously. We were about 20 meters away and watched in horror as the bear moved in. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Ochan ran in between bear and daughter, lunging at the bear and chasing it up the hill, nipping at its heels as it ran away.

Lars and Henriette were in shock — way too close for comfort with their wedding approaching — and disbelief that a 14-kg dog took on a 100-kg bear. Ochan’s story circulated around Tokyo, getting better and more improbable with the telling in the way that urban legends are made. A couple of years later at an embassy party a diplomat regaled me with the embellished saga of this heroic dog, by then a shoo-in for the Hachiko Hall of Fame.

That brings me to Ochan’s biological son, Goro, who came running from behind me to chase off the bear after it landed a haymaker to my head, putting a few bear-claw etchings into my scalp with aging Rhubarb barking up a storm in support. They got steak that night — and the next.

I posted a selfie of my bandaged visage and bloodstained T-shirt on social media and got some interesting responses, including a disconcerting 73 likes! Referencing my column, someone said it must be a pro-Abe bear. Others noted that five years ago in Minakami a jogger had his nipple torn off, among other gruesome injuries. That guy actually had a brawl with the bear and insists he ended up tossing it over the railing into a ravine. In my dreams!

I actually met the hunter who killed that bear and he joked about the earlier incident, telling me he presented the jogger with a replacement from the bear. To be honest, I hope he doesn’t kill my bear. I have seen way too may dead bears around here, one time six carcasses piled up, but the farmers I’ve spoken to see them as a pest to be eradicated.

Many people tell me I am dumb to continue hiking after so many bear encounters, and I plead guilty.

It’s one of those fun things that’s just too hard to give up, somewhere on that list with off-piste powder skiing and untracked lift-lines.

Jeff Kingston is the director of Asian Studies, Temple University Japan.

And from the Asahi Shimbun


Bear sightings on record pace across Japan, raising danger of encounters

September 22, 2014


A spike in bear sightings across Japan including western Tokyo has some experts raising the alarm, following a recent attack on elderly field workers in Iwate Prefecture.

The increase has been particularly high in the mountainous Tohoku region and in some parts of western Tokyo.

On Sept. 12, three men and women in their 60s and 70s who were working in fields near their homes in Hanamaki, Iwate Prefecture, were assaulted by an Asiatic black bear.

The encounter left them with injuries including scratches on their faces and backs.

Prior to the incident, the prefectural government issued bear warnings for the first time in eight years. According to the prefecture’s nature preservation division, bears were spotted in 12 cases as of Sept. 19 this fiscal year, which ends in March 2015.

The Environment Ministry said preliminary data show that bears were spotted on 2,080 occasions across Japan from April through May, nearly 40 percent higher than the same period last year, and among the highest figures in the past five years.

In the Tohoku region’s six prefectures, bear sightings rose 80 percent to 941 for the April-May period. Seventy-one sightings were reported in Gunma Prefecture and 21 in Tokyo in those months.

With just four or fewer sightings during the same period in Tokyo in the past five years, it is unclear what is behind the spike.

Iwate Prefecture officials and the government-affiliated Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute said the situation can probably be explained by the birth of more cubs than usual, thanks to last year’s bumper beechnut harvest.

They also said a shortage of leaves due to outbreaks of gypsy moths may have driven more bears toward human habitats. Bears eat leaves during the spring and summer.

Experts say more bears are likely to appear near human settlements toward winter, as the creature searches wider areas for food to store nutrients in preparation for hibernation.

An anticipated poor harvest of acorns and nuts, a main food source for bears in autumn, is expected to exacerbate the situation.

“A poor beechnut harvest, especially in the Tohoku and Hokuriku regions, is likely to lead to an increase in bear sightings,” said Toru Oi, a researcher who heads the Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute’s Department of Wildlife Biology.

“All conditions that drive bears into human habitats are being met this year,” the bear ecology expert warned.

To avoid attracting the creature, Oi advised people not to leave leftover food or other garbage outside for long periods.

“When in mountainous areas, wear accessories that produce a sound, or clap your hands, to make bears aware of your presence,” Oi said.

According to an estimate by the Forestry Agency’s Tohoku Regional Forest Office, beech trees will bear few nuts this season in Iwate, Akita and Yamagata prefectures, with poor harvests anticipated in Aomori and Miyagi prefectures.

A Tohoku Regional Forest Office official said the dearth is likely to be the most severe since fiscal 2006, when a record 5,185 bears were captured nationwide and 150 people were assaulted by the animals.

After a couple more attacks on the Equinox holiday making the Japaneses language news, we can reasonably expect more in English over the next day or two.

Most popular chicks in town, and the bad news bears

2 May

It has been a busy month, so I apologise for my lack of action on the blogging front.

Actually, the Japanese have invented a word, gogatsubyo (五月病), which literally means “May sickness”.  Because the academic and fiscal years begin in April, many students and new employees find themselves tired and stressed out in May.


In the last couple of weeks two wildlife-related incidents have made the national news, so I’ll share these briefly.



The first is a bit of good news for avian aficionados.

Observers have confirmed the hatching of three crested ibis chicks in the wild, the first time in 36 years of a successful hatching outside of captivity.


The crested ibis (Nipponia nippon), known locally as the toki (朱鷺, , or ), is at risk of extinction.

The bird was originally widespread over Japan from southern Hokkaido, and its range extended into far eastern Russia, the Koreas, far eastern China and Taiwan.  Unfortunately, from the late 19th century their range and population decreased for the usual reasons – hunting and habitat loss.

The last of the Japanese birds died in captivity in 2003, and all the crested ibises in Japan now are descendants of Chinese birds brought over for breeding programs.


How our children might be able to see crested ibises… “Kin”, the last native Japanese crested ibis died in 2003 and is mounted on display.  Photo taken from Wikipedia.

Attempts to get the birds to breed in the wild have been abortive up till now, and even captive breeding programs have suffered setbacks – a notable example was in 2009 when some Japanese martens entered the cage in a breeding facility and killed nine birds.


Government officials are keeping a close watch on the fledgling crested ibises via remote camera – there is still a real risk of predation by crows and kites, not to mention the problems caused by nosey humans.


Good luck to the crested ibises.


How I would like to see crested ibises. Thanks to Wikipedia.


On the ursine front, the news was not so good.

Six bears were killed after they escaped their enclosure and mauled two elderly keepers to death.

The bears were Hokkaido brown bears – also known as Ezo brown bear or Ussuri brown bear, (Ursus arctos yesoensis or Ursus arctos lasiotus).  In Japanese they are known as Ezo higuma (蝦夷羆) or often just higuma to distinguish them from the other species of bear found in Japan, the Asian black bear or Moon bear (Ursus thibetanus japonicus) – tsukinowaguma (月輪熊).

Brown bears at the Hachimantai bear farm. Photo orginally published by the Akita Prefecture Tourism Federation.

Whereas black bears are found over Honshu and Shikoku (and possibly Kyushu, where they are not considered indigenous), the brown bear is found only in Hokkaido (although it was found on some of the surrounding islands during the middle ages, and fossil records suggest a former range as far as Kyushu.)

The bears were just a few of 38 kept on a bear farm in Kazuno, Akita Prefecture.  Their escape was due to the usual reasons – human stupidity and underestimating the animals’ intelligence.

In this case, the manager assumed that the 4.5 metre-high concrete wall would be enough to confine the bears in an exercise yard, but ignored the three metre snow drift that had built up in one corner.  The bears clearly didn’t.


“How do you think it got out?” Police investigators and the snow drift the bears used in their escape. Photo taken from the Daily Yomiuri, April 22, 2012.

The stock footage in the papers and TV suggest overcrowding of the bears, and other reports suggest neglect and mismanagement.


My own impression of the facility is some kind of POW camp.

Another picture of the Hachimantai bear farm published by the Akita Prefecture Tourism Federation. I don’t know about you, but to me the facility seems rather cramped and …. bare.

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