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Animal welfare issues relating to bears

10.6 Media and public opinion

10.6.3 Animal welfare issues relating to bears

In Chapter Two, the non-interventionist approach of the Japanese religious and cosmological framework concerning animal welfare was discussed. Two examples illustrate the lack of a strong ethical dimension in the perception of animal welfare issues.

In May 2005, the author visited the Ani Bear Park in Akita. This is the only facility for bears in captivity in Tōhoku, and bear cubs orphaned by hunting in Iwate have also been taken to this facility in the past. While called a ‘park’ in English, there is little resembling a park about the facility. As described in Chapter Five, the complex is made up of three large concrete enclosures, devoid of trees, grass or vegetation of any kind. The complex’s one

hundred bears were housed in three enclosures, entirely of concrete, with no shade except for the concrete bunkers in which the bears sleep (see Figure 43). The floor of the enclosures was littered with bright yellow faeces, the colour owing to the corn content of the pellets that the bears are fed by visitors. Only one enclosure had a small pond of water in which the bears could play or bathe. Many of the bears displayed repetitive behaviours such as head weaving and bobbing, pacing, paw

‘clapping’ as well as extreme lethargy, or aggression. One bear had an amputated fore-leg as a result of injuries incurred in a fight with another bear. Several bears were observed eating each other’s faeces. Pop-music played continuously over the facility’s loud-speakers. Overall, the complex is designed and operated with little consideration for the welfare of the animals, and from the author’s point of view, it was difficult to conclude that the conditions in which the animals are kept were anything other than inhumane.

However, observing Japanese visitors at the complex, including the students from a major Tōhoku university, the author was unable to discern any obvious emotional reaction to seeing the bears in these conditions. Nevertheless, staff at the facility clearly held a strong sense of affection for the bears, knowing them all by names, and knowing each of their individual personalities and habits. The young male staff member who showed us the bear cub in the facility demonstrated unmistakable affection for the cub under his care (see Figure 44). When discussing the bear with the amputated leg, the same staff member stated that because the bear was in the facility, its life had been saved after the injury—had it been in the wild, it would not have survived. (The paradox that the injury was caused by the over-crowded and

unnatural conditions in the facility had apparently not occurred to him.) Thus, the absence of any obvious moral concern for the welfare of the bears should not be mistaken for a lack of fondness for the individual animals. However, this sense of affection did not translate into a sense of moral indignation about the condition in which the bears were kept, as it is more likely to in the West.

Another example of these notable ideological and moral juxtapositions in regard to welfare and perception became evident on the return trip from Akita to Morioka, through the Ōu mountains. Our group stopped at the Hachimantai Visitor’s Centre, a recently built facility not far from the peak of Hachimantai mountain, close to the prefectural border between Akita and Iwate. The visitor’s centre provides information and multi-media displays of the flora, fauna, and geology of Hachimantai, including several displays about the bear. One display (Figure 45) shows the bear in its forest habitat. Clearly a considerable amount of effort has been put into giving the visitor an accurate impression of the bear’s forest habitat, and information about the bear was comprehensive and scientifically accurate.

Figure 44: Staff member of park holding bear cub (Photo: C. Knight).

Figure 45: A display at Hachimantai, showing the bear in a forest environment (Photo: C.Knight)

After leaving the visitor’s centre our group crossed the road to the entrance of an

onsen (hot-spring) and

restaurant. At the road-front of the complex was a small cage, with a hand-made sign reading ‘Jun, the Asiatic black bear’

( ) (see

Figure 46). The iron cage in which the bear was kept was about a square metre in area, with an enclosed ‘annex’ for sleeping in. The cage was too small for the bear to walk or stand up

in. The author was told that the bear has been kept in the cage for as long as our guide remembered (i.e., several years at least).

The author was struck by the great contrast in the two situations, demonstrating two divergent aspects of the contemporary human-bear relationship: one is a perspective which places the bear firmly in its

forest ecosystem and attempts,

through the provision of information about its habitat, biology, diet, behaviour and so on, to inform, and reinstate a sense of respect (this time based on science, rather than folklore) for the creature. The other is a perspective which presents the animal isolated from its natural habitat, as an object to be ‘put on display’ for human amusement. This second perspective is devoid of both the traditional respect, rooted in folklore, which was accorded the bear, or the new ‘ecological’ respect, which sees the bear as a part of the forest ecosystem, with important ecological functions.

The sight of a bear in extremely cramped, unnatural, and from a western perspective, inhumane conditions such as the two instances highlighted above will tend to elicit a comment like ‘kawaisoo’ or ‘nasakenai’ (poor thing!) from Japanese visitors, but not the moral indignation that is likely to be a Figure 46: A bear in a cage outside a restaurant in Hachimantai. (Photo: C.Knight)

common reaction in the West. While the Japanese observer is very likely to feel sorry for the bear, they are also likely to accept without question the inevitability of the situation, and not attempt to intervene. In this response, Buddhist fatalism and inevitability of suffering (for both humans and animals) is perhaps evident. In these contexts, this reaction is limited in its repercussions to the welfare of individual animals. However this attitude may also have the potential to underpin the public response to the bear’s ecological plight, leading to some extent to a sense of inevitability in the discourse on the decline of the species.

10.7 Summary and conclusions

This chapter has surveyed the various aspects of human-bear interaction in Iwate from pre-history to the present day. Significance has been assigned to the bear at least since Jōmon times in Iwate, as evidenced by bear effigies and bear bones used for magico-religious purposes, teeth for accessories, and a number of items decorated with bear motifs found in the region. Some scholars have suggested that some of these artefacts point to rituals similar to the Ainu sending ceremony (which was to develop in the Historical Ainu Period from approximately A.D. 1200), though there is no conclusive evidence of this. Overt cultural significance of the bear resurfaces many centuries later within the context of matagi hunting culture. The bear was central to both the material and spiritual lives of the

matagi. The traditional respect accorded the bear is reflected in the Miyazawa Kenji tale, The Bears of Nametoko.

The population of bears in Iwate is estimated to be approximately 1,000, and relatively stable, though monitoring is not conducted at adequate levels to be conclusive. There are two distinct populations in Iwate, one in the Ōu Mountains in the west, and the other in the lower Kitakami Mountains in the east. According to studies, it appears that the area in which breeding activities takes place is decreasing, probably at least partially as a result of a loss of suitable places for denning. At the same time, the area of overall activity is increasing, and encroaching into areas of human settlement, also as a consequence of the reduction of natural bear habitat. This is leading in turn to increased human-bear conflict. During the period from 1990 to 2005, an average of 140 bears were harvested annually, both through culling and hunting. In recent years, the numbers harvested by culling has consistently outnumbered those harvested through hunting. In 1999, a maximum annual harvest rate was set, with the aim of ensuring that the population does not fluctuate by more than three per cent, though in reality, this is not always adhered to, as was seen in 2006.

There are two main sources of environmental pressure on bears in Iwate. Firstly, the cutting of natural forest and afforestation with coniferous species, which cannot support the nutritional or breeding requirements of bears. Secondly, the building of roads and other infrastructure, leisure and tourist

facilities in mountainous areas, which acts both to destroy or fragment bear habitat, and leads to more human activity in mountainous areas.

Though no figures are available for Iwate itself, judging from national figures, agricultural damage caused by bears is likely to be a fraction of that caused by other wildlife such as deer and crows. However, as is the case nationally, perhaps the greatest ‘damage’ caused by bears is psychological rather than physical: the psychological trauma causes by appearances or attacks—an experience which may contribute to a farmer’s decision to give up farming altogether. Human-bear encounters causing injury have increased steadily since records were first kept in 1979. Most of these incidents occur in forested area when the victims are engaged in activities such as collecting wild foods or forestry work. In about 80 per cent of such incidents the victims are 50 years old or older. A recent study has linked the frequency of such incidents with the mast of beech and oak species: where mast is poor, human encounters with bears increase. Based on this information, in March 2006 Iwate Prefecture issued its first ‘high bear-incidence warning’ in an attempt to make the public aware of the risk of bear encounters and take precautions to avoid incidents.

In the course of field-work conducted in Iwate, particularly in Tōno, it became clear that there is a marked delineation in the way in which people respond to bear pestilence, depending on factors such as family and occupational background and geographical factors. People who live in forest-edge upland areas, and whose families have traditionally farmed in this geographical setting, tend not to report bear damage, being accustomed to the occasional visits of bears. On the other hand, people closer to the towns, who have not experienced bear encounters, tend to most frequently report bear incidents or sightings.

Apart from a one-off series published by Iwate Nippō in 1993, and consistent with the pattern evident nationwide, newspaper reportage on the bear is predominantly negative; reporting mainly on bear attacks or pestilence, and only rarely on conservation initiatives or the bear in ecological context. Surveys of the public in Iwate have found that knowledge about the bear is poor. A study in 1999 produced the unsurprising result that the attitudes of people tend to harden following bear pestilence and especially attacks.

Iwate is often held up as one of the pioneers in bear management. Indeed, it was one of the first prefectures to establish a bear management plan, and there are a number of research initiatives in the prefecture including habitat and population studies and studies on the effect of mast levels (many of which are conducted by researchers independent of prefectural government). However, like most other prefectures, Iwate is dogged by the problems of under-resourcing, understaffing and lack of expertise for the wildlife management function. Thus, most prefectural initiatives are reactive rather

than preventative in their approach to bear management—responding to periods of high human-bear conflict with memos and communications to municipal governments, rather than engaging in measures to prevent human-bear conflict. Public education initiatives by the prefectural government are limited mainly to information on their website.

The objectives set out in the bear management plan (to maintain a stable population of bears, to reduce pestilence and to prevent attacks on humans) are important from a conservation and management perspective. However, like most other prefectures, Iwate Prefecture lacks the budget, staff, expertise and resources to take the actions necessary to achieve these goals. What initiatives actually do take place towards these goals rely heavily on research organisations and volunteers. Another major issue is that the prefectural system for managing wildlife means that there is no integrated regional approach to managing populations. The northern Ōu mountain population, for example, extends over Iwate, Akita and Aomori, yet of these, only Iwate has a formal plan for the bear’s management.

The relative progressiveness of the prefecture in bear management can be attributed first and foremost to the fact that it has a relatively large bear population and is still a largely rural prefecture (in area— not necessarily in population distribution), therefore human-bear conflict is an aspect which affects more people than in more urbanised prefectures. Secondly, it can be linked primarily to the fact that there happens to be a number of highly motivated individuals who are active and interested in bear management (many of whom, incidentally, were not originally residents of Iwate). It is the author’s opinion that, however tempting it may be to do so, the comparatively progressive approach in Iwate cannot be attributed to any deep-rooted cultural affinity with the bear in the region. While there are undoubtedly historical factors at work in the way in which upland people interact with, and perceive, the bear, the perceptions of the urbanised low-land-dwelling majority in Iwate (who also tend to be responsible for administrative functions) are largely indistinguishable from perceptions of the urbanised majority elsewhere in Japan.


Iwate Prefecture, 2003: 1. 2

Aono, Birukawa & Nihon Chishi Kenkyūsho (eds), 1975: 18–23. 3

Aono et al (eds), 1975: 35–52. 4

Aono et al (eds), 1975: 52–55. 5

Iwate Prefecture, 2004(a). 6 Friday, 1997: 4. 7 Hanihara, 1990: 37. 8 Friday, 1997: 5; Howell, 1994: 77. 9 Aston, 1972: 200. 10 Aston, 1972: 203. 11

Examples of place names in Iwate which appear to be of Ainu origin are Shidanai (meaning in Ainu, ‘river from which water is drunk’); Ezuriko (‘place where the gods play’); Orashibe (‘the river where there is a big rocky place’) (Kuji, 2002: 12). (It should be noted that the Chinese characters used here do not

correspond with the original meaning of the words, but are used for their sounds only.) In addition, the ‘tō’ in the place name Tōno is said to be derived from the Ainu word for lake (Yanagita, 1975: 12).

12 Friday, 1997: 4. 13 Friday, 1997: 4. 14 Friday, 1997: 4. 15

Kuji, 2002: 204. It should be noted however, that there is no indication in the Tales of Tōno itself that these beings are descended from the Emishi, though the commentary by Yanagita does make it clear that yamabito, goblins, and so on are regarded as ‘strangers’ or ‘others’. In some of the tales, this is made explicit by the use of the term ijin

(meaning ‘other’, ‘stranger’ or ‘inhuman’) to refer to them (Yanagita, 1975: 30). 16

Iwate Prefecture, 2004(a). 17

Kodansha, 1993: vol. 1, 643. 18

Kodansha, 1993: vol. 1, 643. 19

Iwate Prefecture, 2004(a). 20

Statistics Bureau of Japan, 2006: 37. 21

Statistics Bureau of Japan, 2006: 19. 22

Statistics Bureau of Japan, 2006: 49. 23

Iwate Prefecture, 2005: 99. 24

Statistics Bureau of Japan, 2006: 105. 25

Japan Statistical Yearbook, 2006: 254. 26 Iwate Prefecture, 2004(b). 27 Iwate Prefecture, 2005: 100–1. 28 Iwate Prefecture, 2005: 27. 29 Iwate Prefecture, 2004(b). 30

It should be noted that the wild boar historically inhabited the Iwate area, but this is no longer the case. 31

Kusaka, 1998: 203. 32

Toyama Prefecture Tateyama Hakubutukan, 1994: 28. 33

Toyama Prefecture Tateyama Hakubutukan, 1994: 32, figures IV–2, IV–3; Kusaka, 1998: 203. 34

Iwate Nippō, 15 September, 2001. 35

Kusaka, 1998: 205; Toyama Prefecture Tateyama Hakubutukan, 1994: 33, figure IV–8. 36Ō ta, 1998, 12. 37 Tōno Municipal Museum, 1998: 33, 35. 38 Tōno Municipal Museum, 1998: 1, 35. 39 Tōno Municipal Museum, 1998: 43, 45. 40

Maekawa Saori (Tōno Municipal Museum), , May 23, 2005, personal communication (Tōno, Iwate). 41

Kikuchi T., May 23, 2005, personal communication (Tōno, Iwate). 42

Kodansha, 1993, vol. 2, 990–1. 43

It has been suggested by one of the foremost scholars in matagi culture, Taguchi Hiromi, that Kojūrō was based on an actual hunter, named Matsuhashi Wasaburō , a contemporary of Miyazawa’s who was active around Hanamaki at the time Miyazawa wrote the story (Taguchi (2001), as cited in Nakaji, 2002).


Translation adapted from Winds from Afar, translated by John Bester (1972). 45

This story is frequently referred to by those writing on the subject of bears, particularly in respect to the human role in the destruction of bear habitat. For example, in one newspaper article, the writer laments that he has visited Mt. Nametoko (near Hanamaki City in Iwate) and found that most of the forest had been cut and only a little of the original beech forest remains. He wonders, ‘where have the bears of Nametoko mountains gone?’ (Fujihara, 2004). 46

Oka, 2003: 51–2. 47

Iwate Prefecture, 2003: 1. 48

Amano, Oi, & Hayano, 2004. 49

Iwate Prefecture, 2003: 4. 50

As noted previously, hunters are self-regulated through the hunters’ association which operates in each region. There are obvious issues with members of an association policing and, where necessary, sanctioning, the activities of their fellow members, many of whom they are likely to have a close personal or working relationship with.

51 Azumane, 1993: 73–4. 52 Iwate Prefecture, 2003: 1. 53 Iwate Prefecture, 2003: 3. 54

Ministry of the Environment, 2006. 55

Statistics Bureau of Japan, 2006: 254. 56 Iwate Prefecture, 2003: 2–3. 57 Iwate Prefecture, 2005: 101. 58 Iwate Prefecture, 2003: 2–3. 59 Azumane, 1993: 120.

60 Azumane, 1993: 112–3 61 Azumane, 1993: 4, 30; 93; 109. 62

Sakamoto Yoshihiro , personal communication, May 30, 2005 (Morioka, Iwate). 63

Azumane, 1993: 97. 64

Fujimura M., personal communication, May 28, 2005 (Morioka, Iwate). 65

Citzen group to consider the Yanagawa dam and nature, n.d. 66

Fujihara, 2000: 13; Oka, 2003: 53. According to Oka, this area has long been subject to development: forest was cut as fuel for iron smelting; land was cleared for grazing of horses (for which the Tōno region is well-known); and further forest was cleared and afforested with coniferous species (predominantly larches) subsequent to the 1951 revision of the Forestry Act. Since the 1970s, the area has been developed for stock-raising, and the lower hills and mountains have largely been converted to larch plantation forest or pasture. ‘Climax forest’ (forest dominated by trees representing the culminating stage of natural succession for that specific locality and environment) remains only in fragments (Oka, 2003: 53).


Saitō Hiromi (Tōno City Office), personal communication, May 24, 2005 (Tōno, Iwate). 68

Iwate prefecture, 2003: 6. 69

Uchida, 1984: 736. 70

Iwate Prefecture, (n.d.a). 71 Fujihara, 2000: 15. 72 Iwate Prefecture, 2003: 6. 73 Iwate Prefecture, 2003: 6. 74

Iwate Nippō, June 14, 2005. 75

Iwate Prefecture, 2003: 1. 76

Azumane, 1993: 49–52. 77

Fujimura M., personal communication (email to author), March 21, 2006. 78

Iwate Nippō, September 6, 2002. 79 Iwate Prefecture, 2003: 1. 80 Iwate Prefecture, 2003: 1. 81 Iwate Prefecture, 2003: 4–5 82

Iwate Prefecture, 2003: 3, 12; Iwate Nippō, March 11, 2002.