After finishing class, I received a “Public Announcement” letter from the local Board of Education. Using my limited kanji ability, I was able to decipher that I definitely needed to improved my kanji ability, and that there was a bear wondering around the local area.
Being from the UK, the only animals that “terrify” the British public are either the rogue foxes attacking babies or false widow spiders, both making “appropriate headline news” for the tabloid press. Here in Japan, mother nature seems a bit more hostile and sinister. From giant huntsman spiders to hissing centipedes, or the abundance of mosquitoes and the occasional venomous viper, Japan isn’t all kimonos, cherry blossom and cutesy characters. In fact recently, Japan’s population of bears has made the headlines, and not for doing something adorable.
There are believed to be around 10,000 “Japanese Black Bears” currently living in the country. Known as herbivores, they have shown increasing omnivore behaviour as they roam into towns and campsites searching for food. Over the last couple of years there has been a rise in the number of bear sightings and attacks. The latest being an elderly woman who was killed in Akita back in May. Akita Prefecture saw four bear-related deaths in a three-week period last year. Prior to that, the region had only seen eight lethal encounters since 1979. Officials have linked the increase in bear incidents to climate change and deforestation, which is understandable. Throughout the countryside, improvements to Japanese infrastructure have taken priority meaning forests being cleared for houses, solar farms and expressways.
When I asked my teacher about what you should do when confronted by a bear, she worryingly didn’t really know. As a precaution, schools in the local area have been lending bells to students. The effectiveness of a ringing bell when faced with a 1.5 m tall bear is somewhat questionable. Though supplying each student with bear spray would be a slight over-reaction. I always get confused with what the experts say. Is it play dead? Make yourself look big? Is that for black bears or grizzlies? In any case, I’ll just have to stay on my guard.