Yezo brown bears See Yezo brown bears in their natural habitat

Yezo brown bear by the river
SHIRETOKO RAUSU LINCLE

Experts' Voice

"Never far away - even found near the big city of Sapporo."
Keizo Funatsu
Adventurer / General Manager of NIKI Hills Village
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"In places like mine, people coexist with bears."
Daisuke Sasaki
Mountain skier / International Mountain Guide
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"Experience how the forest, wildlife and humans coexist."
Ting Pui
Ting Pui
Managing Director of Travel Alliance Japan
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"You should be very lucky to see any wild bears. Please do not feed them otherwise you will be feeded."
Takayuki Shiraiwa
Takayuki Shiraiwa
Associate Professor, Dr. at the Institute of Low Temperature Science, Hokkaido University
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The Yezo brown bear is one of Hokkaido's most iconic wildlife. With a particularly large population in the Shiretoko area, these bears can be seen from April, when they come out of hibernation, until September or October. Yezo brown bears give birth during the winter, so when they first come out of hibernation, they're accompanied by cubs. Later on, you can watch the bears fishing during salmon and trout season in early autumn. Yezo brown bears are extremely important in the indigenous Ainu culture, where they are worshiped as gods. The Ainu people depended on the bears for their meat and fur, and considered them to be gifts from the gods.
Scientific name Ursus arctos yesoensis
Size Around 2m for males and 1.5m for females
Weight Around 150-400kg for males and 100-200kg for females
Diet Salmon, trout, nuts such as acorns, butterbur

Where Yezo brown bears live and why they hibernate

Yezo brown bears
In Shiretoko, brown bears often appear on national roads. Loving mother bears act closely with their cubs. It is dangerous to approach recklessly!
Katsunori Seki

The unique features of Hokkaido's ecosystems, such as volcanoes and drift ice, provide the perfect home for the Yezo brown bear because of their role in the food chain. Bears like these feed on young fish such as salmon, which eat plankton. Drift ice and volcanoes are both vital sources of plankton - drift ice brings plankton to Hokkaido, while volcanic lakes and marshes are rich in salts such as phosphates that provide nutrients for plankton.

Yezo brown bears are curious but cautious and solitary animals that like to keep to the same routines. They are extremely intelligent and astute, and can run as fast as 50km/h.

In addition to the salmon they eat in autumn, Yezo brown bears eat nuts such as acorns. They cope with the scarcity of food in winter by hibernating, lowering their body temperature and heart rate and even breathing less in order to use as little energy as possible. This is also the time when females give birth and begin taking care of their new cubs. The bears come out of hibernation and become active again around April. By June, the cubs are ready to leave their mothers, before breeding season begins again in June-July.

Gods in Ainu culture

Yomante festival (Ainu)
Iyomante festival with the spiritual world of Ainu traditions

Yezo brown bears were very important to the Ainu people, the indigenous people of Hokkaido, who worshipped them as mountain gods (kimun kamuy). They were also a source of life, and the Ainu people believed that their meat and fur was a gift from the gods (kamuy) to good people. When Ainu people found a mother with a new cub during their spring hunting, they believed that the kamuy had given them the honor of raising the cub, and they took good care of it. After raising the bear for a year or two, they held a grand ceremony called the Iyomante to send its soul back to the spirit world (kamuy mosir), providing the bear with many souvenirs from earth, such as cloth, sake and dumplings, as a request for a steady supply of food sources. This was one of the most important traditional ceremonies in Ainu culture. An Iyomante festival is still held at the Ainu kotan near Lake Akan every year. This festival will give you a keen understanding of the Ainu people's spirituality and how they coexisted with bears and nature.

Coexistence between people and bears

Fishermen and Yezo brown bear
Life of fishermen and Yezo brown bears in Shiretoko
Hideo Kishimoto

Shiretoko is bear country - depending on the source, around 500 are thought to live on this 20km-wide peninsula. There's a long history of coexistence between Shiretoko locals and bears - since the old days, the fishermen in the area have learned everything there is to know about the bears and their habits, enabling people and bears to live peacefully together in close quarters.

There has been an increasing focus on such coexistence in recent years, with measures being taken to protect the rapidly shrinking bear population and ensure people's safety. Previous methods such as bear traps have been eradicated and replaced with methods that focus on learning about the bears and taking non-harmful safety measures. Bear dogs are also being trained to scare the bears away. The initiatives are also laying the foundations for future generations' coexistence with the bears, educating citizens and taking measures to avoid problems so that there will continue to be a positive relationship between people and bears in future.

Stories

Things To Do

The Shiretoko peninsula has unusual rock formations and beautiful waterfalls that can only be seen by boat. Its beautiful, rugged cliffs have protected its ecosystems, and they remain just the way they were in ancient times. There are cruises allowing you to see these wonders for yourself and watch the bears that live here along with Yezo deer and birds such as the Japanese cormorant and the white-tailed eagle, a Natural Monument.

Another great place to see Yezo brown bears is Bear Mountain, a reserve set up on Mt. Sahoro-dake to protect the area's dwindling bear population. The rangers have put 50 years of knowledge to use to create a space where you can see Yezo brown bears in an environment similar to their natural habitat.

Cruises around the World Heritage Site of Shiretoko

The rocky coast of Shiretoko is a place where brown bears and their cubs can often be found. This exciting cruise allows you to see the bears frolicking in their natural environment from the safety of the boat. You can also see a wide range of other fauna, such as wild birds and whales.

Recommended Tours

Bear-watching cruise
Bear-watching cruise
Shiretoko Shari-cho Tourist Association

Bear-Watching Cruise

Gojiraiwa Sightseeing
JA EN

This exciting cruise gives you an up-close view of the Shiretoko Peninsula's wildlife, such as brown bears and whales. The company also offers drift ice cruises in winter.

Webpage
Bear-watching cruise
Bear-watching cruise
Shiretoko Shari-cho Tourist Association

Cruise around the World Heritage Site of Shiretoko on the Fox

Fox Ltd.
JA EN

The Fox allows you to observe the natural behavior of brown bears. See them on cliffs and in the sea during spring and summer, and watch them hunting trout and salmon in autumn.

Webpage

Bear Mountain (Sahoro Resort)

Take a bus or walking tour on Bear Mountain, where you can see brown bears in an environment similar to their natural habitat. The bears are housed in a fenced area of Sahoro Forest, with a 5m-high walking track providing a vantage point for watching the bears. You can also get a bear's-eye view of the area on a bear-watching bus with protective steel mesh. Want an even closer view? Go to Bear Point at the center of the reserve where you can come face to face with the bears through a glass wall. Watch the bears frolicking and chasing trout in a pond, resting in a cave or taking a leisurely stroll thorough the forest.

Recommended Tours

Brown bear and bus
Watch brown bears from inside a bus
SAHORO RESORT Bear Mt.

Bear Mountain

Sahoro Resort
JA EN

With a bear-watching bus and walking track, this reserve has all kinds of safe and exciting ways to see bears among Hokkaido nature that closely resembles their natural habitat.

Webpage

Discovering Yezo brown bears

April-June: Mother bears and cubs just out of hibernation
SHIRETOKO RAUSU LINCLE
June-August: The bears' most active time of year
Hideo Kishimoto
August-September: Fishing season
SHIRETOKO RAUSU LINCLE
December-March: Hibernation

From April to September, you can choose from multiple bear-watching cruises in areas of Shiretoko such as Utoro, Shari and Rausu. Your guide will point out areas along the Shiretoko coast where you can see mother bears taking care of their cubs or bears catching salmon and trout in the sea. You'll need to book these cruises in advance.

Or if you want to see the bears up closer, you can visit Bear Mountain at Sahoro Resort, where you're guaranteed to see Yezo brown bears under safe conditions. There are even tour packages with lunch.

Best Season To See

Yezo brown bears come out of hibernation in April, along with their new cubs. From April to June, you can watch the mother bears taking care of their cubs in various areas of the World Heritage Site of Shiretoko, such as Utoro, Shari and Rausu. August and September are salmon and trout season, so you might see the bears catching fish to eat!

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Bear-watching cruises
: Best : Good : Possible

Getting Here

  • Shiretoko - A World Heritage Site with an extremely diverse ecosystem.
  • Tokachi - A mountainous area full of unspoiled natural landscapes.

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Dock for Bear-Watching Cruise,Gojiraiwa Sightseeing
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Dock for Cruise around the World Heritage Site of Shiretoko on the Fox
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Bear Mountain, Sahoro Resort

Dos & Don'ts

  • Please do not walk alone in areas such as gorges and wetlands where you are highly likely to encounter bears. Many of Hokkaido's mountains, gorges and wetlands are the home of bears. In gorges and wetlands, sound can travel slowly, which may cause people and bears to encounter each other without warning. Never walk alone in these areas, and make sure to find out as much as possible and take proper preparations before you set off.
  • Make loud noises, such as whistling or ringing a bell, to let the bears know you are approaching. Bears usually avoid people if they know you there. Shout or make other loud noises so that they know you are approaching.
  • Please do not leave trash or food in areas with wildlife. If you leave food on a trail or near your campsite, it might attract bears.
  • Please do not feed the bears. If the bears get used to contact with people, they may come into areas where people live, which may result in attacks on people and/or the bears being killed.
  • Never approach a deer carcass. When bears can't eat all of a deer or other prey animal at once, they hide the rest of the carcass for later. If you see a carcass, there are likely to be bears nearby.