Vending machine selling bear meat appears in Japanese town

A remote town in Japan sells bear meat from a vending machine, sourcing its supply to Asian black bears.
A vending machine menu offering Asian Black Bear meat, Akita Beef and dried mountain stream fish is seen in front of a Soba Noodle restaurant in Semboku, Akita prefecture, Japan April 6, 2023.
A vending machine menu offering Asian Black Bear meat, Akita Beef and dried mountain stream fish is seen in front of a Soba Noodle restaurant in Semboku, Akita prefecture, Japan April 6, 2023. REUTERS/Irene Wang

By Irene Wang

SEMBOKU, Japan (Reuters) - A remote Japanese town has taken to selling bear meat from a vending machine, sourcing its supply to Asian black bears, listed as a vulnerable species, caught in traps or in the mountains by hunters.

Bear attacks are an increasing problem in parts of rural Japan due to a shortage of food in the forests that brings the animals into inhabited areas to forage.

"The bears can be dangerous when they come into town, so hunters will set up traps or shoot them," said Daishi Sato, who placed the vending machine outside his "soba" noodle shop near the railway station in Semboku, 400 km (250 miles) north of Tokyo in Akita prefecture.

Asian black bears are listed as vulnerable, but not critically so, and it is legal to eat bear in Japan. Meat from trapped bears is tastier since the blood is drained immediately, according to Sato.

Vending machines throughout Japan offer everything from drinks, snacks and surgical masks to more exotic fare such as edible insects and whale meat.

"Bear meat isn't very common so we want tourists who come to visit the town to buy it," Sato said.

He sells seven to 10 packs of 250 grams costing 2,200 yen ($16.75) each in an average week.

Last year, 75 people were injured in Japan in encounters with bears and two were killed, according to government data. One of the deaths was in Akita.

($1 = 131.3300 yen)

(Reporting by Irene Wang, Writing by Elaine Lies; Editing by Chang-Ran Kim and Nick Macfie)

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