Bear-watching attracts hikers to Hokkaido national park
Japan Times -- Sep 10
The opportunity to see wild brown bears in their natural environment has made a national park in Hokkaido a popular hiking destination.

The hiking route in Daisetsuzan National Park is open for about a three-month period from late June to early October. It is closed when the park's information center judges conditions too dangerous.

Hikers are allowed to walk along the trail without a guide, but only after attending a lecture about brown bears, including prohibited behaviors such as cooking in the forest, eating at certain locations and leaving waste behind.

The 7-km-long route takes visitors through a mountainous area dotted with ponds in Kamikawa, affording them a good chance of spotting bears from a distance. Since the opening of a supervisory office in 1994, there have been no reported incidents between people and bears.

"If we keep an adequate distance, we can coexist," the center says.

The writers of Lonely Planet included the hiking route, called Daisetsu Kogen Onsen Spa Numameguri, in one of its travel guidebooks, and through this more foreign tourists have visited the national park in recent years.

One early morning in August a couple from Germany were excited to see an adult brown bear with a cub grazing on grass about 200 meters away. Using telescopes, the couple took a closer look at them, which stood at about 1 to 1.5 meters tall.

"Many of the bears here are gentle in nature and quickly run away when approached," said Hitoshi Yanagisawa, 43, an official at the brown bear information center.

Because of the area's lush, rich vegetation, close to 30 bears are spotted at the popular feeding spot every summer.

Hikers can access the route from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. during the open period. Information center officials patrol the route every day and post information on a notice board in the center on locations of recent bear sightings or where footprints have been found.

According to the Hokkaido Prefectural Government, 14 incidents involving brown bears were reported throughout the prefecture in the five years to March 2016. In some cases, people were attacked when they entered the forest to gather wild plants to eat.

News source: Japan Times
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