Japan is seeing the number of people attacked by bears in fiscal 2023 increase at an unprecedented pace, recent government data showed, with people warned of more encounters as the wild animals forage ahead of hibernation in a lean year for nuts.
A total of 109 people were hurt, two fatally, between April and September, mostly in the northern part of Japan's main island Honshu, according to the Environment Ministry's data. The figure is the highest for the same period since fiscal 2007 when the government started such monthly statistics.
The current record for the highest number of people wounded by the animals, which include Asian black bears and Ussuri brown bears, is 158 in fiscal 2020.
Fifteen prefectures saw victims during the six-month period from April, with around 70 percent of cases in northeastern Japan, according to the ministry's preliminary data released in early October.
By prefecture, Akita had the most victims, with 28 people, followed by Iwate and Fukushima with 27 and 13 people, respectively, according to the data.
One person died in August in Iwate, the first death by a wild bear in the prefecture since 2009. Another fatality occurred in the northernmost main island of Hokkaido, where brown bears roam.
Additional cases in October continue to boost the number of victims, renewing the record for Akita and Iwate prefectures, which now have at least 30 victims each.
On Oct. 18, a woman was found dead in a suspected bear attack in the city of Toyama, central Japan, prompting schoolchildren to be on guard.
Local governments say a possible reason for the unusually high number of encounters in Japan this year could be that the bear cub population grew as their diet of beech nuts and acorns were plentiful last year.
At the same time, this year is seeing a poor nut season, forcing bears to venture to greater areas, including near human habitats, to seek food as they prepare for hibernation.
Among recent wild bear incidents in October, two people in their 60s were attacked in Akita Prefecture. A woman was injured as she got out of her car at a road in Kazuno, while a man was hurt in a mountain forest in Odate near his residence.
Meanwhile, four people had been attacked in a residential part of the city of Akita. The area, which was surrounded by rivers, was an unusual place for a bear to appear, according to an expert.
More than half of victims in Iwate Prefecture were attacked in or near human dwellings, with around half suffering severe injuries.
The Iwate prefectural government's nature conservation division says around 20 percent of victims had taken protective measures against bears, such as wearing bear bells.
It said bear encounters can occur "anywhere" and called for people to take proper precautions and be vigilant.