Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Scare bears

One of the bi-products of there being many hairdressers in the area stares out like a young Marc Almond, with album cover weirdness, through the netting surrounding a pumpkin patch. Hairdressers are as numerous in Aizu villages as pubs in English ones, and one folically well-connected smallholder has enterprisingly blagged some mannequins in a spirit of surreal husbandry to scare away the many bears that are now causing anxiety by coming into the local villages in unprecedented numbers.

In the next-door village a particularly persistent black bear was unfortunately shot dead last week. It had taken to sleeping in a rice field rather than the usual tree platforms in the woods, and it was probably only a matter of time before it attacked someone - and there are several children in the village. Like a children's tale, 30km away a woman stepped out of her house in the early morning to tend her garden and was mauled by three bears, though happily she survived. This was probably by a mother with two cubs, which stay together for their first two years.

We have always taken them seriously (and taken suitable precautions), but bears are no longer a fairytale or theoretical construct for me now. Having waited eighteen months to see one, I recently saw two in the space of ten days, fortunately from the safety of the car. The first poked it's head out between someone's car and their house at 9.40pm in the biggest village - emphasising that you really can see them anywhere. The second dramatically ran across a mountain road at 8.45pm. Luckily I was able to stop in time, but the image of it filling the windscreen in the headlights as it lolloped along, big and muscular with thick fur rippling with the rhythm of it's gait will stay with us. It was a full moon, and the wildlife was waiting to throw itself in front of us that night - shortly after a Tanuki appeared, followed by a Japanese Marten, which ran on the road in front of us for 500m instead of heading for safety.

Laughing in the face of forensics: a bear takes the subtle approach to corn-related crime.

There are more bears appearing in the villages than in living memory. Is this because the winters are milder and more survive, because there has been a change in the food supply in the woods, or, as the locals postulate, because there are fewer mountain allotments to raid than there used to be? They are mad for corn, pumpkins, and water melons, and who can blame them - Aizu vegetables are wonderful and provide more nutrition than anything to be found in the woods.

Whatever the reason, various measures are being taken to try and discourage them. In addition to various home-made devices like the mannequins, the council are offering to pay half the cost of electric fences, and blank charges are being exploded in the early evening. The public address system details sightings and urges caution.  It is to be hoped they succeed, as it would be a shame to see the traditional and surprisingly accepting entente cordiale between human and ursine neighbours end in a cull. That would be really Grimm.


1 comment:

  1. I've heard some sightings during Obon in Mishima-machi. Please be careful when you need to go out at night. I think it because people don't maintain their mountain properties anymore because of their aging, and it caused devastation of Satoyama (forests and woods that maintained by human beings). I imagine while those mountain was healthy, there were lots of wild berry or some food for the wild life.