WHAT TO DO IF YOU ENCOUNTER BEAR IN JAPAN?
As a human, we are not scared of too many animals. But we are still aware of some animals which can be quite dangerous and we need to be careful with.
One of the last animals we want to meet in wild is a bear.
Bears are cute, some are being endangered and not dangerous to the human being normally. In a certain environment such as a mother bear wants to protect their cubs.
Are there bears in Japan?
Japan is known as a safe country. Yes, it is a safe place "relatively" comparing with many other countries. But as Japanese, Onegai Kaeru team is not fully sure if this is that safe. Low crime rate? Yes, but there are many crimes in Japan.
From the other perspective, Japan has many dangerous animals which can kill us. Esp. in mountains there are many animals you need to watch out for. We have poisonous snakes (in mountains in many areas of Japan and beside that, in the sea in Okinawa!), big wasps, wild hogs...
Some Onegai Kaeru users asked us if there are bears in Japan? The answer is YES!
And there are so many bear encounters in Japan
There are so many bear encounters in Japan. Many prefectures provide the information where bears have been found, encountered etc.
The issue is that you need to check each prefecture website to find the info. What makes it even harder to get the information is that these info is almost always in PDF file (need to click and download...sigh ) and in Japanese. But you can use google translate.
For example, you see the bear information (besides wild pig encounter) web from Niigata prefecture as below.
Type of bear you may see in Japan
So what type of bear do you possibly see in Japan?
There are two types of bear in Japan. Both have been reported that they attack people.
"Brown bear or Higuma" in Hokkaido can be big as 2.5-3m. 55% of the Hokkaido land is said to accommodate these bears. There are many cases where the bears attacked and killed people in Hokkaido. One of the most famous is this Sankebetsu bear attack incident in 1915 where a big bear as heavy as 340kg and as big as 2.7m killed 7 locals.
3m bear...wow. If you want to see a lot brown bears in cage, there is a bear park (Kuma bokujo) in Noboribetsu, Hokkaido.
"Asian Black bears or Tsukinowa-guma " live on the main island (Honshu) and Shikoku island which are usually as big as 1.2-1.8m. 45% of the Honshu island has bears. There are also cases of attacks. Even in Tokyo, if you go deep in mountains such as Okutama area, you may meet the bears.
More bears seen
Since 2000 we see more bears.
It is because due to the climate change the foods for bears is more scarce. Bears usually eat the nuts (and fishes in Hokkaido) not too much animals.
But bears can eat meats too when hungry and no other food. Bears know there are food near humans.
Before the hibernation, they need to eat a lot to prepare for the long sleep in winter.
Some people even feed the bears which is quite bad because these bears get curious about humans and then want to approach humans to get more food. This increases the chance of bear encounter in general.
It seems more and more normal that you encounter bears(as well as wild pigs which are also dangerous) in many parts of Japan.
What to do if you ENCOUNTER bear
What should you do when you meet a beer on your way. Old story: we were told to pretend dead. But this does not seem so right.
Or...we put a bear repellent bell (kumayoke no suzu). When hiking in Japan, you see many people with some bells. These are for bears. This is quite popular in Japan yet this may NOT work that well because we heard some cases the person with the repellent bell was attacked and killed by a bear. In one case in Akita, 2017 one woman who got into a mountain to get bamboo shoots was killed by a bear. She had SEVERAL bear repellent bells.
This may mean the bell sort of informs a bear about a "potential food" or the bear can get curious about the sound and may come to see what it is?? Some expert says the bears are not afraid of the bell sound any longer.
You can also have a bear repellent spray ( we wonder how close we have to be to give the shot to the bear in practice!).
What we heard from some local people who saw bears in mountains in Japan. Here are the rules when you see them ( NO guarantee though!! ).
1) do not make noise (do not try to scare the bear as it may attack when it is in panic)
2) do not turn your back to the bear (esp. when the bear notices you)
3) do not turn your eyes away from the bear
4) while looking into the bear eyes, you go backward slowly ( you do not run)
5) Be in a group of people (a bear attacks when you are alone/you look vulnerable) [we get into this in the below section]
6) [ before you meet the bear] while you walking you turn a radio or talk loud to inform the bear so that it does not come even near [we get into this in the below section], and
7) ( after you are clear of danger ) inform the local about the case and let others know about it
THIS IS JUST WHAT WE HEARD. NOTE that this tactic may NOT work!! Luckily we have not met any bear in wild and did not need to try to see if works yet!! We hope we will not need to ever...
When you are attacked by bear...
When you are attacked by the bear...which should not happen but could happen in the unlucky case, the Gifu prefecture (one of the prefectures with many bears where we hiked in the past) government recommend:
Cover your vulnerable and critical body parts such as face, neck, back of your head, abdomen area with your bag or something as much as possible.
CONTACT the local government or police
If you see one, you need to inform the local police or so. The emergency tel. no is " 110 " in Japan. (btw, the ambulance/fire engine is " 119 ". )
This way, the local government can inform other people in the area about the incident. When we walked from Tokyo to Kyoto, we were in mountains of Gifu/Nagano and we heard of the announcement made by the local municipality about bear encounter/witness. It briefs when and where bears are seen in the area.
So these above are the example of what you can do when you actually encounter the bear. The local governments in the "bear area" recommend you should try your best not to encounter bears.
- You bring something to make noise such as radio, bell, or smartphone to play music. (this is when you do not see them! When you encounter the bear, you do not make noise!)
- You do not go into the bear area alone. You go in with one or more partners.
- When you find a fresh/new bear poo, you must return the way
- Do not leave any food behind in mountains (so that the bears do not enjoy the taste of something human produces)
There are several ways to avoid bears but in the end bears are wild animals and we can not understand them fully. None of our countermeasures could work.
The safest way to avoid the bear is not to go into the mountains with the risk of bear encounter.
Before/during you go for hiking, you check with the local city office about the bear by tel. or mail. And also you always talk to some locals (personnel in a cafe, restaurant, gift shop, hotel or so) about the bear (or any other kind of) dangers in the mountains. This is what we do always.
When it is considered the bear is a threat to the community, it is not rare that the government hires the local hunter to kill the bear. Not only in Japan but also in many parts of the world. Esp. when the bear attacks human, the government will find the bear and shoot to kill.
Keep this in mind that when we try to avoid the encounter with bear, it means we also save the bears.
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Source: Wikipedia, WWF Japan
Disclaimer: Even though we try to make the info as updated and accurate but the accuracy of the information herein is not guaranteed by us. If you have any uncertainty, please contact the information source.