B Is for Bear

Japan is home to two main types of wild bear, the Asiatic black bear (Ursus thibetanus) and the Ezo brown bear (Ursus arctos lasiotus).

The Asiatic black bear lives in isolated pockets of the main islands of Honshu and Shikoku, but habitat loss, hunting — as the bears encroach on human populations — and road accidents have drastically reduced their numbers over the years. As the World Wildlife Fund notes, the black bear is one of Japan’s key indigenous species and its survival depends on the restoration of indigenous ecosystems.


An Ezo brown bear with a pink salmon in the Iwaobetsugawa river on the Shiretoko Peninsula of Hokkaido


The Ezo brown bear, a close relative of the Siberian Ussuri brown bear, lives exclusively in Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s four main islands. The brown bear population has been rising since its Shiretoko Peninsula habitat was protected in 1964 as a national park. In 2015, the Biodiversity Division of the Hokkaido government estimated the Ezo brown bear population to be 10,600. The bears, which feed on mammals, birds, insects and fish, can grow to a weight of 550 kg in some cases.


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