Answerman
Is Hunting Allowed In Japan?

by Justin Sevakis,

Sarah asked:

A few months ago I was watching Flying Witch and it had a gag where the uncle sees a pheasant and tries to catch it with his bare hands. Originally I thought getting a gun would be a lot quicker, but then I remembered Japanese gun laws are much stricter. I was wondering if there is a decent amount of people that hunt in Japan. What tools do they use to hunt?

Hunting is a thing in Japan, even with guns. But as you can imagine, it's much more tightly controlled than it is in the US.

First, prospective hunters over 18 must apply for a license (administered by each prefecture) before they are allowed to hunt. There are three types of hunting licenses: nets, traps and firearms, the latter of which covers both air guns and projectiles (rifles and shotguns), although hunters younger than 20 may only use air-powered guns like BB guns. Applicants must supply a medical professional's statement that they don't suffer from mental illness or substance addiction. Vision, hearing, and general fitness is tested. Criminal background checks are also conducted. Finally, a written test is conducted covering hunting laws, different types of game, and various hunting equipment. If you pass the test, you get a hunting license that's good for three years.

However, if you want to hunt with a gun, there's even more to it than that. You would need a separate gun permit, which is issued by the National Police Agency. Getting a gun permit is very difficult -- you need to attend a lecture, pass a written test, and practice gun use under police supervision. Background checks are conducted, and are considerable: not only are you interviewed, but your employers, family, neighbors, and others in your neighborhood.

You then have to apply to purchase a specific kind of gun, buy it from a licensed dealer, and then take the gun back to the police to show you bought the right one. Shotguns are the "entry level" gun -- anyone asking for a rifle would have needed to have a shotgun in good standing for a decade before they'd be considered for a rifle (and they'd have to apply and take more tests and such). Pistols and anything else not obviously used for hunting are completely banned for civilians.

As you can imagine, all of the mandatory training, applications, tests and safety gear (you are required to buy a gun locker) do not come cheap. This Japan Times article estimates starting costs to be around ¥115,000, plus local fees for actually hunting in that area. Including taxes, that could run you another ¥20,000 or more. To say nothing of how much time and effort it takes to pass all of these tests and get through the red tape. Annual maintenance and supplies can add up to another ¥40,000.

As younger Japanese tend to be more urbanized than their parents, hunting as a sport is in steep decline in Japan. In 2010 it was estimated that 190,000 people with valid hunting licenses were in Japan (a drop of 2/3 in the last 35 years), and the vast majority of them were issued to senior citizens. As a result, deer and boar populations have been exploding, and causing major damage to agriculture and forest land. The deer are a bigger problem (a smaller local breed known as the sika deer), now numbering over 2.6 million. They have no natural predators left in the wild, with both species of indigenous wolf having gone extinct well over 100 years ago.

Facing such challenges, local governments have been trying to get more young people interested in hunting, holding sponsored events and such. Some social media campaigns have specifically been targeting female prospective hunters. Kentarō Okamoto's Sanzoku Diary manga has also been popular enough to cause some interest in hunting. However, with such a high barrier to entry, these efforts are facing an uphill battle.

For the hunters that do exist, the government has extended the hunting season, and offers bounties to local hunter's associations for help in controlling the sika deer population. Unfortunately, a lot of the meat goes to waste. Game meat is not common, but is available for sale in specialty restaurants, shops and online, and has started to draw some fans. Bear stew is also a traditional dish in Gifu Prefecture. (Tanuki are also hunted, but give off a skunk-like smell, so nobody wants to eat them.)

Hunting is a complicated topic -- none of this would be necessary had humans not destroyed a lot of natural habitats and predators. But most people do eat meat, and hunting is seen as an important remedy to this immediate problem.


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    Justin Sevakis has worked in the anime business for over 20 years. He's the original founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.


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