If you’ve ever read about what to do when camping in bear country, you’d know there are a few rules one should try to follow. Hanging your food out of reach of Mr. Bear and avoiding cooking or keeping food in your tent are two such rules. Here in Hokkaido we have brown bears and, out east, Shiretoko National Park has one of the largest per capita populations of brown bears in the world.
My first time in Daisetsuzan National Park, in central Hokkaido, I found not all people know about—or follow—these rules. I was doing a four-day trek from Asahi-dake to Tomuraushi-yama and, being a Kiwi, this was my first time camping in bear country. I was going to stick to all the rules.
When I got to the first campsite I realized quickly, however, I was going to have to break one of the rules right away, as there wasn’t a tree in sight. Most of the treks and campsites in Daisetsuzan are above the tree line and what trees are around are no taller than me.
I got there early and found myself alone. I stuck by all the rules, cooking 100 yards away from my tent and burying my food under a pile of rocks away from the tent. I was feeling pretty good about myself when, about an hour or so before sunset, a group people turned up, set up and promptly started cooking and eating in their tents.
In the morning I noticed they all kept their food with them overnight as well. I wasn’t sure what was going on. I was thinking, “Is this bear country or not?” I soon found out on the way to the next campsite when I came across a fresh “sign” of a bear.
The truth is, and as some locals would say, it isn’t necessary to follow the rules or worry about Mr. Bear in Daisetsuzan while in camp. An old Japanese guy told me that just before the Japanese entered World War II, they used Daisetsuzan as a bombing range for the air force and bombed the daylights out of the place, so Mr. Bear just keeps well away from people.
Another reason could be most locals up here make so much noise with those bear bells they wear—old Mr. Bear just likes places that have some peace and quiet.
Now, with more than nine years of going into the park, I’ve never seen any locals practicing any of the rules, and I’ve never heard of any trouble with Mr. Bear at any of the campsites up there either.
Over the years I have changed my thinking about bears in Daisetsuzan, but I do have a couple of things I stick to if I’m at a campsite alone. I keep as best I can to the original rules except when other people are around, when, other than not cooking in my tent, I don’t bother. With everyone around me cooking and eating in their tents, what difference would it make to follow the rules? Well, that’s my thinking anyway. You can always come up here and see for yourself, couldn’t you?
The Hokkaido Bush Pig is a Kiwi who fell in love with Hokkaido and decided to stay. He is a freelance guide, specializing in Daisetsu-zan and Tokachi national parks, and has trekked all of the trails criss-crossing the north island. You can contact The Pig at Hokkaidobushpig@yahoo.co.jp or chat with him on the OJ Message Board at www.outdoorjapanforums.com.