A remote town in Japan is selling Asian bear meat in vending machines to promote tourism. Daishi Sato, who installed the vending machine outside his noodle restaurant in Semboku, says the machine serves locally killed wild bear meat alongside local beef and dried mountain stream fish.
“We set up a vending machine because it isn’t very common to see bear meat outside of this town, so we want visitors to buy it from this town,” Sato said. Japan is known for its numerous vending machines, offering anything from everyday items like drinks and snacks to more unconventional products such as whale meat.
Each pack of bear meat, supplied by a local hunting association, costs 2,200 yen ($16.75) for 250 grams (0.55 pounds). Sato sells approximately seven to ten packets weekly, though supply may dwindle due to hunting restrictions.
Sato said hunting bears is a form of animal control for the local community. Bear-human conflicts have increased in rural Japan due to food shortages in the mountains, forcing the animals to forage in inhabited areas. Hunters are allowed to kill a number of bears each year.
“When the bears come out into town, they could be dangerous, so hunters will set up traps to catch them and kill them for meat,” the 49-year-old business owner explained. Bear meat, in his opinion, tastes better when trapped instead of shot, as hunters can drain the blood immediately after the bear is caught.
“Bear meat has some flavour that’s indescribable, and its texture is a bit hard, like the tough part of beef. It is hard to describe the flavour. How should I put it? There is a kind of wild taste from the mountains,” Sato said.
Animal welfare groups have condemned the vending machine business that opened in November 2022, calling it “another low blow for wildlife”.