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Depopulation is unleashing a rewilding nightmare in Japan

Bears, wild boars and even deer herds are returning to the picturesque countryside, raising public safety concerns
This photo taken on July 4 shows a sign warning hikers about bears at Shiraito Falls, north of the resort town of Karuizawa, Nagano prefecture in Japan

This photo taken on July 4 shows a sign warning hikers about bears at Shiraito Falls, north of the resort town of Karuizawa, Nagano prefecture in Japan. (Photo: AFP)

Published: October 27, 2023 03:20 AM GMT
Updated: October 27, 2023 03:37 AM GMT

In the midst of Japan's enchanting blend of tradition and innovation, a pressing issue looms, challenging the balance between humans and nature in the nation.

The environment minister has responded to a significant increase in bear attacks this year by calling for extensive action to prevent bears from encroaching upon human communities.

According to the Ministry of Environment, 109 people have been subjected to bear attacks in 105 separate incidents up until the end of September. If this pattern continues, it may surpass the previous records of 145 attacks in 2010 and 158 in 2020.

The situation has been described as "remarkable" by the ministry. The attacks typically decrease around the start of November when bears enter hibernation.

But this year, a poor yield of Japanese beech tree seeds in the Tohoku region may drive them to continue wandering into communities after November in search of food.

The increasing number of bear attacks in Japan is a direct consequence of depopulation.  As rural villages gradually vanish from the map bears are moving into these abandoned areas. Their return to what was once their native habitat is a stark reminder of nature's power to reclaim abandoned spaces.

"Reports from across the country reveal a growing deer population that's pushing the boundaries of coexistence"

This isn't merely wildlife resurgence. It's a matter of public safety. As humans retreat and villages disappear, the bear population takes over, bringing these majestic but potentially dangerous creatures into closer proximity to people.

And it’s not only bears. Japan's forests and mountains have also become the new-found playground for deer.

Recent reports from across the country reveal a growing deer population that's pushing the boundaries of coexistence. From the verdant hills of Nara to the tranquil countryside of Miyajima, deer are increasingly making their presence felt.

Just like deer, the wild boar population in Japan continues to surge, so much so that a parallel issue has begun to surface — infrastructure damage caused by these robust creatures.

The picturesque country roads and winding lanes have become unexpected battlegrounds where these boars, in their quest for food and territory, often leave behind a trail of destruction.

Vehicles traversing these scenic routes are increasingly at risk of collisions with marauding boars posing dangers to both drivers and passengers.

While boar-induced infrastructure damage is a pressing concern, the more disconcerting facet is the escalation of boar assaults on humans.

Data provided by the Ministry of Environment paints a grim picture. Over a span of three years, from 2016 to 2018, Japan documented 141 injuries and one tragic fatality stemming from clashes with these creatures.

"Japan's depopulation is a silent threat, with consequences extending beyond economic decline"

Beyond the wildlife encounters, depopulation is also having a profound impact on Japan's critical infrastructure.

Japan boasts an intricate web of road networks, train tracks, bridges, and tunnels spanning thousands of kilometers. These lifelines have been meticulously maintained over the years, ensuring the safety of those who use them.

However, with the population diminishing and an aging demographic, the workforce needed to maintain these essential structures is dwindling. While robots and automation hold promise for various industries, the maintenance of Japan's extensive infrastructure remains a task that relies on human expertise.

Depopulation has led to a shortage of skilled workers, resulting in delayed infrastructure maintenance. This delay, in turn, poses a growing hazard to public safety.

As bridges weaken, train tracks degrade, and tunnels deteriorate, the risks associated with infrastructure failure loom large.

Japan's depopulation is a silent threat, with consequences extending beyond economic decline.

The return of bears to abandoned villages and the deterioration of critical infrastructure underscores the pressing need to address this multifaceted crisis. Efforts to mitigate depopulation should encompass not only economic incentives but also measures to ensure public safety.

Balancing economic revitalization with maintaining safety standards will be key to addressing the challenges posed by depopulation.

This serves as a wake-up call to recognize that depopulation's dangers go beyond economic concerns. Japan's landscapes and infrastructure are at stake, and our response must be comprehensive, ensuring the continued safety and prosperity of the nation.

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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