Japanese vending machines that sell whale meat, canned snails, and edible insects have a new item on their menu: wild bear meat.
Vending machines in Semboku sell a variety of local black bears, according to a Japanese daily newspaper. The Mainichi Shimbun reports that customers can buy fat or lean meat for about ¥2,200 ($17; £13) per 250g.
The Asian black bear is considered internationally endangered. Japan says it limits how many can be hunted. A vending machine at Soba Goro, a local restaurant in Semboku, northern Akita Prefecture, sells 10 to 15 packs of bear meat hunted by local hunters in the nearby mountains.
They sell out when the hunting season gets thin. Japan has the highest number of vending machines per capita in the world, and they are virtually everywhere, from small alleyways to remote villages.
Commonly known as jidou hanbaiki or jihanki, they became popular in Japan as early as the 1960s. They are such a big part of Japanese convenience store culture that the quantity and variety can be overwhelming. Controversy erupted in January when an unmanned store in the port city of Yokohama, near Tokyo, installed three vending machines selling various types of whale meat for just 1,000 yen.
Senboku vending machines selling Ursine options are located at the entrance to Tazawako Station, where Japan’s famous Shinkansen and other trains stop. And the meat is mainly purchased by tourists visiting Shinkansen.
In Japan, licensed hunters are allowed to shoot and kill bears, but meat is considered a delicacy here, so it doesn’t appear on the average restaurant table in Tokyo.
Since the bear meat vending machine was installed in November last year, inquiries have been coming from the Kanto region, mainly Tokyo. “[Bear meat] doesn’t harden even when it’s cold, and it has a refreshing taste. You can enjoy it in a variety of dishes, from stews to steaks,” the representative of Soba Goro told the Mainichi Shimbun.
Experts say more and more bears are leaving forests and encroaching on cities in recent years due to lack of food. They added that Japan’s declining population, especially in rural areas, is also a factor.The animals are drawn to less populated areas, posing a threat to locals.
From April 2022 to September 2022, he reported five bear attacks in northern Miyagi prefecture, in which seven people were injured. This is the highest number since 2001, when the prefecture began keeping records.
According to the Ministry of the Environment, between 3,000 and 7,000 bears have been killed in the last seven years due to increased human-animal encounters.
The government limits the number of black bears that can be captured to 12% of the estimated population. It is believed that there are about 15,000 in the country.