Bears in Hokkaido

Posted on Aug 1, 2018
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Posted on Aug 1, 2018
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Reading time: 2 min
Hokkaido is home to the Ussuri brown bear, a slightly smaller cousin to the grizzly, but much larger than the Japanese black bear on the mainland of Japan. They are generally a very shy animal, and if you are lucky enough to encounter one, you'll more likely see its rear-end as it scampers off, deathly afraid of your presence. That said, they don't like unexpected encounters with humans in close quarters. It is up to us humans to reduce the likelihood of such an encounter, so here's a few tips on how to keep you and them on good terms.

Last updated Sep 1, 2021

I’ve lived in Hokkaido for almost 10 years now, and I’ve not yet seen a bear in the wild. A few of my friends and acquaintances have, however, and the encounter has always ended amicibly, mainly due to distance between said friend and bear. So, whether you’re on a bicycle in Hokkaido, taking in some quiet forestry road routes, or hiking anywhere on the island, it is best to take some basic bear precautions while traveling and camping.

  • Make some noise. If a bear can hear you, they’ll quite happily leave very quickly. Carry a bear bell either on your pack, or if cycling, on your panniers or handlebars. You might want to buy one that you can turn off when traveling through more open areas – that ringing (and that of every other hiker on the trail) can get annoying after a while.
  • Don’t feed the wildlife. Bears have a keen sense of smell, so don’t leave any food around, either at a campsite or on the trail.
  • Keep food separate from your tent. For the vast majority of campgrounds in Hokkaido (if not all), you won’t need to to bother with hanging food or cooking away from your tent. If you’re cycling a forestry road and find yourself wild-camping far from civilization, however, you’ll want to be more vigilant. Cook away from your tent, and put foodstuffs in a bag and hang it high in a tree.
  • Don’t approach a bear. Bears don’t like to feel threatened. If you see a bear, quietly and calmly return the way you came.
  • The likelihood of being attacked by a bear is laughably low. A much more real threat takes the form of the Japanese giant hornet, contracting lyme disease from ticks, or getting an echinococcus parasite from drinking untreated water from streams (see our advice here). If you do happen to encounter an aggressive bear in close quarters, follow the advice of the Internet.

Here are some photos of some happy-ish bears, and the closest most of us will ever get to a brown bear in Hokkaido, at the Sahoro Bear Mountain Research Center (the only decent, approaching-humane bear park in Hokkaido).

Furano-Biei Cycle Touring (Hokkaido, Japan)
Furano-Biei Cycle Touring (Hokkaido, Japan)
Furano-Biei Cycle Touring (Hokkaido, Japan)

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Bears in Hokkaido Difficulty Rating

Category

Grade

Points

Strenuousness

Vertical Gain

D

25

Time ascending

D

0

Technicality

Altitude

D

0

Hazards

D

Navigation

D

Totals

25/100

GRADES range from A (very difficult) to D (easy). Hazards include exposure to avalanche and fall risk. More details here. Rating rubric adapted from Hokkaido Yukiyama Guidebook 北海道雪山ガイド.