The energetic bustle of Tokyo, the majesty of Mount Fuji, and the exquisite culture that blends music, fashion, and art are all things Japan is famous for. You may not know, however, that Japan is home to bears as well.
In Japan, there are just two kinds of bears. The Ussuri Brown Bear and the Japanese Black Bear are two examples. Throughout Japan’s history, the bear species has been the subject of mythology, fables, and some horrific Bear attacks.
We look at each of Japan’s bear species,interesting facts about them, the history of their management, and cultural myths and media surrounding them throughout this article. On your next visit to Japan, you’ll be well prepared with all of the information and knowledge you need about Japanese bears!
Bears in Japan: Species Description and Fun Facts
Bears used to control regions of Japan, such as Shikoku and Hokkaido. The variety of bears, however, has been drastically decreased over time as Japan developed. By the time the 1950s arrived, black bears had vanished from their original habitat of Kyushu.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these two species before we understand the importance of bears in Japanese culture and history.
The Two Bear Species Living in Japan
The Japanese Black Bear and the Ussuri Brown Bear are two of Japan’s oldest bear species, having lived in the country for thousands of years.
1. Japanese Black Bear (Ursus thibetanus japonicus)
One of the seven subspecies of Asian black bears is the Japanese Black Bear. They are only found on Japan’s two main islands. Honshu and Shikoku are two of them. Japan now has around 10,000 black bears. Nonetheless, with fewer than 30 people surviving, the population that presently lives in Shikoku is regarded endangered.
In addition, they are thought to be extinct on the Japanese islands of Kyushu and Hokkaido, where they formerly existed as a native species. Since 1987, the last bear sighting on the island has been reported, leading researchers to believe that they have been extinct since before the 21st century.
The Asian black bear subspecies is a little smaller than the others. Males range from 130 to 260 pounds (60 to 120 kgs) and females range from 88 to 220 pounds (40 to 100 kgs), on average. They measure about 47 to 55 inches (120 to 140 cm) tall, which is roughly the height of an ordinary human male.
Because of their black fur, round ears, and a creamy smear across the front of their chests, these bears are easily identifiable. Bears prefer to eat grass, flowers, berries, and nuts. They are mostly herbivorous creatures. In order to prepare for hibernation, they will sometimes eat animals.
In Japan, wherever grasses and berries are plentiful, the bears prefer to dwell in high snow places and southwestern low snow places. These species are relied upon for seed distribution in these regions’ forests. Plants are able to spread across their suitability range thanks to the bears’ ability to move shrub and tree seeds 40% farther than other creatures.
2. Ussuri Brown Bear (Ursus arctos lasiotus)
The other bear species present in Japan is the Ussuri Brown Bear. The Ezo brown bear and the black grizzly bear are two other names for these bears. These bears are still being researched; if they are a subspecies of brown bear or a remnant population from millennia ago, scientists are still unsure.
Don’t be deceived by their similar name. The grizzly bear isn’t a separate species from these bears. They’re brown bears from head to toe, and they’re one of the world’s largest brown bear species. In terms of size, the Ussuri brown bear may even compete with the Kodiak brown bear.
The Ussuri brown bear has a somewhat different skull formation than the Kamchatka brown bear, which makes it appear different in terms of appearance. Several individuals believe it to be totally black because of its darker color.
Both people and other bears are attacked by the male Ussuri brown bear. Females are expected to approach tiny human communities with their cubs because males prefer to avoid humans, according to hypotheses.
Females and cubs would approach fisherman without any aggression and stay near them throughout their working days and nights, which was first observed half a century ago.
omnivorous bears are common in the area. These are mostly vegetarian creatures, although if they need food, they will kill and devour anything available. When it comes to preparing for hibernation, they don’t typically start adding mammalian, fish, or bird food until autumn.
The Siberian tiger is one of their few predators. Younger bears will be targeted by the tigers, although adult females may be pursued as well. When bears are attempting to hibernate, this typically occurs throughout the winter.
Fun Facts About Bears in Japan
1. The oldest living Asiatic Black Bear died in captivity at the age of 44 years old.
The lifespan of black bears is often extended. Their typical lifespan in the wild is around 25 years old. Their typical life expectancy in captivity, however, is roughly 32 years. At the age of 44, the oldest black bear ever captured in captivity died.
2. Black bears can run up to 25 mph (40 km/h).
Bears are typically thought of as sluggish, lumbering animals by the general public. When needed, they can move quickly. They can reach a speed of 25 mph while running on all fours at full speed.
3. Bears’ claws are formed to help them climb trees quickly.
Even if their hind legs are crippled, black bears are exceptional climbers due to their superior upper body strength. Their claws also aid them in maintaining their grip on a tree. Compared to their permanently grounded brown bear cousins, this ability makes them safer against Siberian tigers.
4. Asiatic black bears are one of the most bipedal of all bear species.
These bears will usually walk on all fours for most of their lives. They, like many other bear species, will walk on all fours, however. If they stand up on their hind legs, this signifies that they are preparing to attack, so you may draw a conclusion from their actions.
These bears, on the other hand, are quite bipedal. They’ve been known to walk for up to a quarter-mile on their hind legs.
Bear Wildlife Management History in Japan
In Japan, bears are threatened by their monetary desirability. On the black market, many bear parts are quite valuable. As a result, both species have gone extinct on many of the islands where they were formerly found.
Because of the deadly assaults each year, bear management in Japan has proved to be exceedingly difficult. Although more study on preventative conflict techniques is being done, this has sparked a debate among popular ways to protect bears.
Even so, in the name of damage control operations, more than 1,000 bears are killed each year. Because bear populations have remained stable in the last several decades, the current system is functioning to some degree.
The Japanese government, on the other hand, is still searching for alternative methods that would not entail entirely exterminating the country’s bear populations. The damage control has not lowered the severity of injuries and death to a tolerable level, therefore this is the reason. Maulings occur every year, and millions of yen in property damage are added yearly.
Encouraging farmers to install electrical barriers is one of the proposed adjustments. Nonetheless, this is merely a Band-aid for a gaping wound in conservation. Research projects on preventive measures are just now getting funding. In order to rescue bear populations from the same destiny as extinct populations from Kyushu and Shikoku,
Threats from Habitat Loss and Climate Change
Habitat degradation, which decreases the carrying capacity of this bear species, is another significant threat to its population. Several efforts are underway to help safeguard some of the bear’s most important habitat, as well as prevent settlements from encroaching on forest borders.
The timber industry is another significant threat to Japan’s black bear population. In addition to killing the trees that the bears rely on for cover throughout the winter, they also kill the bears they come upon to keep their logging crews safe.
Deforestation affects Asian black bears more than Ussuri brown bears. Ussuri brown bears prefer to live in plains rather than forests, which is why they prefer such vast settings.
If they continue to decline at the current rate, the Japanese Black Bear subspecies will probably be extinct in 100 years.
Cultural Myths, Legends, and Media Coverage
These brown bears have a long history of mythology and cultural connotations. The Ainu people, an indigenous tribe that resided across several of the Japanese and Russian governments’ islands, are one of the first cultural connections with bears in Japan. They arrived in Japan during the 13th century, according to legend.
Arctolatry, or bear worship, was practiced by the Ainu. They thought that the bear had significance to their gods, and that it served as a designated delivery system for the people. During specific religious rites, they would consume the bear meat and consume the bear blood.
Bears attacking humans has been a big part of their recent news headlines. When it comes to the Ussuri brown bear, this is especially important. Bears attacked over 400 people between the years 1900 and 1907. Bear attacks killed 141 people and wounded another 300 others among these.
There were roughly 86 total attacks on bears in Hokkaido between 1962 and 2008, resulting in 33 deaths.
Several of them have featured a bear on the run through a settlement or section of Hokkaido, wreaking havoc. In December 1915, one of the worst incidents occurred in the Sankebetsu district on Hokkaido. In the history of Japan, it was the single worst bear attack. The bear killed seven individuals while injuring three more.
A massive brown bear attacked the settlement twice, once as a result of a bear attack. It returned at night and assaulted the funeral watch for the previous victims of its first assault, after assaulting it once. The Japanese regard bears to be evil man-eaters as a result of events like this.
In comparison to the Ussuri bears, Asian black bears pose less of a danger. Villagers go out to pick wild bamboo shoots in the spring, which the bears also like to eat, so they often only attack people then. Black bears are substantially less aggressive than the 86 assaults by the Ussuri bear. Just two black bear attacks took place between 1985 and 2004.