The last couple of weeks there have been news reports of bears. Appearing in all kinds of places they shouldn’t – the other day a lady came home to find one in her kitchen – and sometimes attacking people. These are big dangerous animals with sharp claws and teeth and people sometimes get killed. This would have been unheard of a few years ago when all the bears were in the north of the country, but wild animals are becoming a problem in the countryside.
Life with things lurking in the bushes has been a regular theme around here though. The first year we arrived there were some nice yams growing in the field, of which I dug up some and left the smaller ones to grow next year. No such luck – the wild boar got to find out about them, and dug all the rest up. We had regular visits from them – they are strong animals and dug big holes in the ground, throwing large rocks about the place. When all the yams were gone, over a couple of years, they tried bracken roots but I think they must have found everything that wild boar like because they don’t come round so much these days.
The big menace these days (apart from worrying about bears) is the deer. Their numbers are increasing apparently, and they eat any young shoots and leaves they can find. We never used to have any problem at all growing all kinds of things but these days I usually find fresh droppings around when we arrive on Sunday, and anything not inside the 3m net I put up to keep them out will get munched as soon as it appears. Other attackers in the past have been monkeys – they go for things you can pick like pumpkins or eggplants, so with the deer on the leaves and boar for roots they’ve got everything pretty well covered. Oh yes, there are crows who like tomatoes too. Other more harmless creatures that have shown up around the place are rabbits, fieldmice, weasels (or are they stoats?), tortoises, toads, snakes, pheasants, grouse (?), tanuki, and probably others I’ve forgotten…
What’s going on? Well, there are various reasons apparently – a big one must be the post-war boom in forestry when a lot of the natural forest was replaced with spruce and cedar plantations: dark dreary places where nothing grows, and nothing can live. This is made worse because there’s no longer any money in it, so everything’s neglected and tangled up with dead branches. Another is that as the rural population dwindles – all the young people moved out to the cities and those who are left are getting old – the villages are also half-abandoned and the area between vegetable fields and forest, the so-called satoyama, is reverting to wildness, so animals can get right up to the fields. Again, there are fewer hunters around now. Young kids aren’t attracted to all the blood and entrails that go with it.
Although the weather seems to have been getting warmer for a while now this summer in particular was very hot and the crop of acorns and other things that bears and their friends like was bad. Bears have to have a good feed before they hibernate, so have been forced to check out peoples kitchens.
There are hungry bears in the woods.