by Francois, staff writer of japan-guide.com
2009/01/19 - Bears in Hokkaido
While hiking in north-eastern Hokkaido's Shiretoko National Park I came across a couple of brown bears. I was quite surprised to run into them, as I had often been in areas inhabited with bears but had only ever run across a few. Luckily, my surprise upon seeing the bears was greater than their surprise upon seeing me. As I backpedaled with my feet and zoomed in with my camera, the bears only gave me a distracted look before continuing with their foraging.
Had I looked into it more closely before, I would have read that Shiretoko has quite a high bear population density. For every 100 square kilometres there are about 7 to 14 bears. When visiting the Shiretoko Goko, two of the five lakes had been closed due to bear sightings. Small bells were sold at all the tourist centers for the purpose of warding off bears. I had thought that perhaps it had all been a bit overly cautious, but now I realize that bear encounters are frequent enough to warrant considerable concern.
The bears were not the only plentiful wildlife on Shiretoko. The peninsula also has large numbers of Yezo deer and other wildlife. But without a doubt, the most impressive (and most dangerous) of the wildlife one may encounter is the bear. I was very happy to have had the chance to see them, but wish I had been a little more aware of just how likely a possibility it was.
An attentive reader may notice the discrepancy between the date of this blog entry and its contents. The bears are of course not hibernating, and the leaves hanging off the trees have no place in a harsh Hokkaido January. The photographs were taken in early October during one of the Hokkaido portions of the 2008 japan-guide Koyo Report Trips.