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Japan’s ‘hunter girls’

Abandoning regular jobs, women are taking up arms to take down wild deer — whose rising populations are threatening fields and mountains

Image Credit: The Yomiuri Shimbun
The Yomiuri ShimbunA matter of survival Chiharu Hatakeyama took to hunting after the 2011 Tohoko earthquake and tsunami. “I wanted the ability to live on my own,” she said
Gulf News

Modern people have largely lost their connection to “the hunt,” but with fewer people wanting to become hunters and damage to fields and mountains increasing due to booming deer populations, could “hunter girls” be the next generation to face the beasts of the wild?

One young woman left her office job to hunt and another serves fresh game in her guesthouse. Why did they seek out the hunter’s life?

It was mid-March and there was not much time left in the hunting season. In the mountains of Itoshima, Fukuoka Prefecture, a woman took on a beat that weighed 40-kilograms.

The animal’s foreleg was caught in a snare she had set, and it was angry and menacing.

“If you hesitate, it’ll get you,” she said later.

Carefully approaching her prey, she brought it down — her fourth, and biggest, kill since becoming a hunter last autumn — with a special spear.

The hunter is Chiharu Hatakeyama, a 28-year-old who used to work for a movie distributor in Yokohama, and whose life was changed by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.

With store shelves emptied of food and water after the quake, and aftershocks hitting almost daily, she wondered what would happen if money could no longer be used to buy things.

“I wanted the ability to live on my own,” she said.

She killed her first chicken that autumn. Eating the bird, the fear of taking another life mixed with gratitude brought tears to her eyes.

She wanted others to have that experience, so she began holding workshops where people could butcher a chicken.

Next, she turned her sights to hunting. After obtaining a hunting license, she quit her job in the summer of 2013 and began a life of hunting and ploughing the fields.

Hatakeyama made her first kill in December. She quickly drained the blood and washed the carcass in a cold mountain stream.

“A life disappears, and I live on by partaking of it,” she said, remarking that such serious thoughts have led her to stop eating commercially sold meat.

It is difficult to chase prey through the mountains, but nature is beautiful, and there are wild vegetables to pick.

As the next hunting season approaches, “I want to know more about the mountains and the wild animals so I can hunt in a way that I can accept,” she said.

Satoko Umeno opened Ba-bar, a “hunter guesthouse”, in an old house in Tottori in December 2012.

Umeno, 29, originally studied livestock breeding at Kagoshima University and dreamed of working to protect wild animals.

However, the difficulties experienced by farmers when wild animals damaged their fields and crops made an impression on her when conducting field surveys.

She began to realise, “A line needs to be drawn between humans and animals so both nature and our way of life can be protected.”

She got her hunting license and found a job with a nonprofit group that promoted eco-tourism in farming villages. She moved to a rural mountainous area and began her life as a hunter.

Umeno is the only woman in the hunters association in the area she moved to. She mainly hunts with traps, and she will use a hunting rifle in the future.

She has networked with more senior hunters, and prepares meals using the meat from their hunts with the guests at Ba-bar.

As she masters the art of preparing wild game dishes, she talks about how great hunting is.

There were about 520,000 people with hunting licenses in fiscal 1975, according to the Environment Ministry. By fiscal 2010, the number was down to about 190,000.

Meanwhile, deer populations have soared, and agricultural damage has become a serious issue, amounting to an estimated $226 million (Dh830 million) in losses in fiscal 2012.

The shrinking hunter population has caused Dainihon Ryoyukai, a national hunters association, to turn its eyes to women.

Last July, the association created a special page on its website called “Go for it! Hunter girls.”

To attract urban women to hunting, the website uses the experiences of actual women to describe how hunting an animal feels and the joy of eating game.

Miyagi Prefecture last fiscal year began a “new hunter training course”. Yumiko Toyama of Kesennuma in the prefecture was the only woman to enrol and has since obtained her license.

“I was inspired by the hunting culture of only taking enough to eat. I want to keep studying to prepare for the winter hunting season,” said Toyama, 31.

Hyogo Prefecture is holding its fourth “young hunter training class” aimed at young people and women on May 25. One can expect to see more such attempts to increase the number of hunters.

“It feels like women are more tolerant than men of things like hunting and butchering,” said Eiji Ishizaki, a spokesperson for Dainihon Ryoyukai. “There are a lot of difficult things — having to master the skills and obeying local customs — but we’re very excited about the role women can play amid the shrinking hunter population.”

–Washington Post