Japanese black bear (captive animal) (Kabacchi – CC BY 2.0)

Accepted scientific name: Ursus thibetanus japonicus (Schlegel, 1857)

Description:  Slightly smaller than mainland Asiatic black bears.  On average males weigh between 60 and 120 kg and females between 40 and 100 kg.  Body length is between 120 to 140 cm.  Bears commonly have an off-white to pale yellow crescent patch on their chests.

Range:  A few bears may remain on the island of Shikoku (see below) but the bears are mainly located on the eastern side of Honshu, Japan’s main island, with a few isolated populations on the western side.

The main islands of Japan (Free World Maps)

Habitat:  Mixed and deciduous mountain forests.

Status:  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.  It is believed that less than 10,000 bears now remain.

Life span:  Theoretically 25 to 30 years in the wild but the average is much lower due to significant numbers killed by humans.

Food:  Whilst omnivorous Japanese black bears are predominantly herbivorous.  They eat grasses, sedges, buds, acorns, beechnuts, sapwood, berries, ants and other insects.  They will also eat small reptiles (frogs and lizards), crabs and carrion.

Behaviour:  Japanese black bears are mainly nocturnal (most likely to avoid contact with humans) and build nests in trees and on the sides of steep slopes which they use for eating, resting and sleeping.  They hibernate in winter, building dens in hollow trees, under large rocks or by digging in the ground.  Females begin breeding when around three or four years old.  Mating takes place between late May and early August.  Birth occurs in the den around the middle of February.  There are usually two cubs and they will remain with the mother into their second year, during which time she will not become pregnant again.

Threats:  The continuing loss of habitat through deforestation of their habitat increasingly forces bears into conflict with humans on farms and in villages.  They are persecuted by the timber industry as they kill valuable trees by gnawing off the bark to get at the sapwood beneath.  “Nuisance” bears are hunted and killed and their body parts sold.  A number of bears are killed each year in road traffic collisions.


Japan’s black bears ‘face extinction’ (2007)

Impact of human activities on survival of the Japanese black bear (Ursus Vol. 4,  1980)

Page updated 15 February 2021