Japanese black bears (Ursus thibetanus japonicus) is a subspecies of the Asian black bear that lives on three main islands of Japan: Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu.
Most of Japan’s black bear population can be found in Eastern Honshu. The black bear population on Shikoku and Kyushu may be endangered or extinct. They prefer to live in areas where there is an abundance of grasses and trees with berries to support their diet.
This particular species of Asian black bear are typically smaller than the others. Males can weigh between 130–260 lbs and females are about 88–220 lbs. The Japanese black bear’s total body length is about 47–55 in long.
Other than that the Japanese black bear is similar to the other types of Asiatic black bears and has the symbolic crescent-shaped white patch of fur on its chest.
Japanese black bears are omnivorous mammals but they feed mainly on plant material year-round. They are known to climb trees in search of acorns, beechnuts, oak nuts, green shoots, and cherries. However, they can and will eat other animals including small animals such as frogs, lizards, crabs as well as livestock and insects when needed.
The Japanese black bear is able to reproduce by the age of 4. Their gestation period is about 6 to 7 months and they usually give birth while still in hibernation. The cubs weigh between 7 and 14 ounces at birth and there are usually two.
The mother and cubs live together for about two years often hibernating together the next winter before separating the next summer.
The Japanese black bear is extinct on the island of Kyushu and less than 20 individuals remain on Shikoku. The eastern Honshu population is reasonably stable but suffers from increasing human encroachment and disturbance. In 2006 4,251 bears were killed (see “more information” below); a staggering 30 to 50 percent of the total population.
Interesting Facts About Japanese Black Bears
- There are said to be 10,000 black bears in Japan.
- The number of Japanese black bears in western Honshu has been dramatically reduced by the prevalence of introduced cedars and cypresses, which produce no acorns for the bears to eat.
- The Japanese black bear has excellent hearing and sense of smell but has relatively poor eyesight.
- Japanese black bears hibernate for around four months generally beginning in late November.
- Black bears in Japan are excellent climbers.
- In Japan, black bears sometimes make a treetop bear’s nest known as enza in Japanese.
- They use the nests for either eating, resting or sleeping in.
- These types of bears also den in hollow trees, under large rocks, or in the ground.
- The typical lifespan of the Japanese black bear is 25 to 30 years in the wild however this number could be lower due to human intervention.
- Bears and bear attacks in Japan
- Japan’s black bears ‘face extinction’
- Impact of human activities on the survival of the Japanese black bear (Ursus Vol. 4, 1980)
- Status of Japanese Black Bear
- Population viability analysis of a Japanese black bear population