Observation 1 / Japan
Piggy in the middle
After footage of a boar attacking a man in Fukuoka emerged, the city felt compelled to respond. Monocle’s Kenji Hall joins a patrol.
Fukuoka in western Japan has declared war on the boar and Ryoji Mizusaki is leading the charge. As the city’s first inoshishi kacho (boar chief), Mizusaki’s job is to keep the city’s 1.5 million residents safe from an animal that’s inhabited woodland across the archipelago for thousands of years. “It’s a big job and a little nerve-racking for me,” he says.
City hall created the new post in 2019 after a wild boar in a residential area rammed a salaryman the previous year. A video of the incident, viewed more than four million times, shows the panicked animal knocking the 48-year-old off his feet and biting him repeatedly before running off. Only a few people a year are injured by boars; deaths are even rarer. But still, citizens want reassurance. “A lot of residents felt that the city should take action after they saw the attack footage,” says Mizusaki, who leads a team of two.
On a recent autumn afternoon Mizusaki, a mild-mannered veteran official, met MONOCLE at the edge of a wooded area behind an apartment complex. Fukuoka is a Y-shaped city hemmed in by the ocean to the north and mountains to the south. This proximity to nature is one of the features that residents love. But as the city’s population rises, and development in the suburbs accelerates, so too do the chances of close encounters with deer, macaques, raccoons and boars. It’s unclear how many boars live in Fukuoka but the city aims to kill 2,000 a year. “We let the hunters take home and eat the boars that they think look appetising,” says Mizusaki. “We bury the rest.”
The boar chief heads into the woods until he comes to a metal cage with an open door at one end. Rice bran covers the ground: bait to lure a hungry boar into the cage, where a tripwire will shut the door. “Residents here reported seeing a boar and were scared, especially for their children,” says Mizusaki. “A boar can grow to a metre long and weigh 50kg.”
Catching a boar requires patience. Crafty and skittish, they typically avoid human contact. They might be enticed by the smell of rice bran but will stay away until the scent of humans grows faint. Fukuoka has set a few dozen traps in six areas of the city. Mizusaki is spending part of his ¥37m (€300,000) annual budget on sensors and cameras and has also distributed leaflets instructing residents not to provoke or feed the animals.
Mizusaki prefers not to say where his team is responding to boar sightings. And that’s because his job is about more than battling boars: “It might have an effect on the value of real estate,” he says. Securing a foothold in the city, be you human or animal, is a wild race.
Japan’s urban threats
Wildlife in the city
Crows in Tokyo:
The huge crows that populate the capital were once revered in Japan as honourable creatures. Today they’re admired for their intelligence but despised for their pesky habits: they have a reputation for dispersing rubbish throughout otherwise immaculate streets and, when their young hatch, dive-bombing unsuspecting victims.
Japanese macaques in Omachi:
These monkeys roam the streets of Omachi, Nagano, like road gangs. They also creep through farms seeking vegetables. In response, the Omachi City Wildlife Damage Control Team employed a dog taskforce to combat the problem. It’s worked: local records show that the cost of damage to crops decreased from ¥18.8m to ¥3.6m between 2012 and 2013.
Brown bears in Asahikawa:
These beasts are the most unwelcome guests in Hokkaido’s snowy Asahikawa. The city’s council warns the town’s residents to be diligent with their rubbish: the hulking visitors consider smelly bags of waste to be an invitation. They often move on to a second course: corn grown in gardens. It’s not rare for these visits to end at the hands of trigger-happy farmers.
Civet cats in Niigata:
Watch out for these twitchy night-dwellers, which slip through housing vents and set up camp in attics, bringing with them diseases, fleas, mites and musky aromas. Residents often sprinkle vinegar around their homes to try to keep the squatters at bay.
Sika deer in Hyogo:
These east Asian natives are causing deforestation across Japan: recent figures suggest that, in 2017 alone, 6,000 hectares of forest damage was caused by wild animals, with deer responsible for three quarters of the destruction. They have a penchant for munching on roots, which kills trees in lumber forests and neighbouring cities before they have a chance to flourish.