The bear as barometer: the Japanese response to human-bear conflict
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
The Asiatic black bear, or 'moon bear', has inhabited Japan since pre-historic times, and is the largest animal to have roamed Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu since mega-fauna became extinct on the Japanese archipelago after the last glacial period. Despite this, the bear features only rarely in the folklore, literature and arts of Japan's mainstream culture. This relative cultural invisibility in the lowland agrarian-based culture of Japan contrasts markedly with its cultural significance in many upland regions where subsistence lifestyles based on hunting, gathering and beliefs centred on the mountain deity (yama no kami) have persisted until recently. However, in recent decades the bear has been propelled from its position of relative cultural obscurity into the forefront of mainstream society's attention. As more and more of the bear's habitat is destroyed or degraded through forestry and development, the bear is increasingly encroaching onto human territory in its search for food, leading to pestilence and bear attacks. This thesis examines the nature of the contemporary human-bear relationship in Japan, dominated by human-bear conflict, or the so-called 'bear problem'. To better understand the contemporary response to the bear, the thesis explores the historical relationship of the Japanese with both the bear and its habitat, the forested uplands. The thesis further seeks to understand how cultural, historical, social and geographic factors influence a society's response to wildlife conflict and what can be learnt from the Japanese example which can be applied to the understanding of human society's response to wildlife conflict elsewhere.