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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Sankebetsu Brown Bear Incident

Back in 1915 (101 years ago), seven people were killed, and three injured when an Ussuri Brown Bear awoke from hibernation in what is known as the Sankebetsu brown bear incident (三毛別羆事件, Sankebetsu Higuma jiken) in the northern climes of Japan in Hokkaido.

The bear was first spotted in mid-November of 1915, and again on the 20th… but on the 30th,  it was shot but not killed. Yeah… nothing more pissed off than a wounded animal.

On December 9, at the home of the Ōta family,  a woman (apparently Abe Mayu - who was the farmer’s wife but did not take the farmer’s Ōta family name) and a baby (Hasumi Mikio) she was looking after, were killed by the bear. Hasumi was bitten on the head, while Abe was dragged off.

On December 10, five men went into the forest to search for the remains of the woman. Only 150 meters into the forest, they met the bear, all taking a shot at it, but only one hit it. Still ticked off and now wounded twice, the bear retreated farther into the woods. The men continued to search for the missing Abe Mayu and found her head and parts of a leg buried in the snow by the bear.

The bear returned to the Ōta house on the night of the 10th… again... men there shot at it, but it is not known if any of their panicked shots hit the target.

A posting of 50 guardsmen was only 300 meters away at the home next to the Ōta household, and arrived too late except to twack him to his wair (sorry, I went all Elmer Fudd for a second).

In the morning of the 10th, Saitō Ishigorō and Miyoke Yasutarō had left the village on errands without realizing that there was a bear attack that previous night. We'll get back to them later.

Now… the Miyoke house is the one just a mere 300 meters from the Ōta house, and it was where the guardsmen were having dinner.. stationing themselves to prepare for a return of the bear.

Hearing a commotion at the nearby Ōta house, the guardsmen ran over to kill the bear not realizing that the wounded bear was heading around to the Miyoke house where they had just been. As luck would have it (the family of the two men who went off on errands earlier), Miyokue’s wife and kids  as well as Saitō’s wife and kids had gathered to be protected by the guardsmen… who, let me state again, had just run off to find the bear.

Now… as mentioned… Miyoke Yasutarō had previously gone out to do errands that morning. His wife Miyouke Yayo was home with the kids. After hearing  a loud noise at the front of the house, she went to investigate. She was carrying her son Umekichi on her back when the bear burst through the window… but as she turned to run, a slightly older son, Yūjirō, tripped her up because he had been holding on to her legs!

The bear mauled her, and bit Umekichi.

One man named Odo was still at the house - kept their for protection. He ran to the front to see what the heck was up… but... as soon as the bear spotted the man running towards him, the bear released the mother and child and ran at Odo. Miyouke Yayo and two of her children escaped.

Odo… he tried to hide behind some furniture and was clawed in the back.

Miyouke Yayo’s other child, Kinzō was mauled and killed by the bear,  as was Saitō’s fourth son, Haruyoshi. Saito's third son Iwao was bitten.

Saitō’s Ishigorō's pregnant wife Take was then attacked by the bear at the house - she was killed and partially eaten. Apparently witnesses later said that Saitō Take yelled at the bear to leave her belly and to eat her head. Motherhood. Wow.

The fetus was later found torn from the mother’s belly but alive… dying a short time afterwards. 

The guardsmen… they followed the bear tracks… then realized they had been lead astray by that bear, and high-tailed it back to the village….  running into Miyouke Yayo who told them what was going on at Miyouke family house.

The lights were off at the house, but the guardsmen could hear sounds of the bear - eating, I suppose, but could not hear people still alive inside,

The guardsmen wanted to set the house on fire to kill the bear, but Miyouke Yayo would not let them, hoping that there were still people alive inside.

Ten men stood at the Miyouke home’s front door, the remaining 40 going to the back to create a noisy disturbance to drive the bear to the front.

It worked. However in a comedy of errors, the men had got all in front of each other meaning that it was possible for those at the back to shoot the bear without shooting their compatriots. As for the main guardsman at the front of the pack... his rifle misfired.

The previously wounded and now not-so hungry bear saw an opening and took off back into the nearby forested area. The death toll over two days was at six people (not including the fetus).

Remember the two guys who had gone out on errands—Saitō and Miyouke? Saitō was okay.

As for Miyouke Yasutarō… he had left his home to try and find a skilled hunter to get rid of that bear that had attacked his (Mr. Ōta) neighbor’s wife and the baby she was looking after - not realizing that the bear had attacked his own home in the meantime.

He went to another village to find Yamamoto Heikichi who was supposed to be an expert bear hunter.

Yamamoto told Miyouke Yasutarō that the was certain the bear was one called Kesagake" (袈裟懸け - which translates to "the diagonal slash from the shoulder”)… the same bear that had killed three women previously…

Anyhow… Yamamoto would not help Miyouke-san… mostly because Yamamto had pawned his gun so he could buy some booze. 

Saitō and Miyouke returned home on December 11 at around the same time from their separate errands and learned of what had happened.

They were part of a posse that was formed, and waited at the Miyouke home that was probably still a red-stained pit of horror. The bear did not return on the 11th.

This bear attack was learned of by the Hokkaidō Government Office, who quickly helped organize a sniper team, with volunteers and guns from other towns.

On December 12, the plan was to again hang out at the Miyouke house... but the sniper team wanted to use one of the corpses as bait. 

The Ōta, Saitō, and Miyouke families were aghast, but since they knew that the needs of the many outweighed the needs of the few (or the one), they allowed it.I am not sure whose corpse they used.

The bear approached the Miyouke house that held a six-member sniper team including Yamamoto now - beats me where he got a gun from)… but the bear… it came to the house… peered in a few windows… and without coming in, went back to the forest.

Apparently he’s smarter than the average bear. 

On December 13, with 60 men now hunting the bear, a guard at a bridge thought he saw something across the shore… and when no man answered his summons, and ordered his snipers to shoot at the shape… but of course, the bear escaped back into the forest.

On December 14, it all came to a header.

When dawn came, a team investigated where they think they last saw the bear at the bridge… spotted a footprint and blood… meaning they had again (three times, now?) wounded him.

A snowstorm was approaching, so they set off after it… led by Yamamoto and Ikeda Kamejirō, a guide—figuring two people would be quieter than a cadre of soldiers.

They tracked Kesagake the bear to a Japanese oak tree where it was resting, digesting or recovering from all of its wound.…

Yamamoto moved to within 20 meters of the beast and put his first shot into the heart, and the second into the bear's head, killing it.

Kesagake the bear was 340 kg (749 lbs) and 2.7 m (8.85 ft) tall.

An autopsy on the bear found parts of the victims still in his stomach.

Andrew Joseph
PS: Sorry for the sloppiness of the initial posting... it's cleaned up now and reads a lot better.  


  1. Really digging your blog. Definitely helping me to prepare for my trip to Japan in November. Keep up the good work!

    1. Wow... thanks, Jacob! You going for business or pleasure? And... uh... don't mind the bear attack stuff. Just remember... if you journey into the woods, just make sure you are a faster runner than at least one other person.