Japan Today

Akita bear attack warning poster may be too cute for its own good

By Casey Baseel, SoraNews24

Akita, located in Japan’s northeastern Tohoku region, is one of the country’s more rural prefectures. While its human population might not be very big, though, Akita has one of Japan’s larger bear populations.

So among the public awareness posters the prefectural government has recently designed is one about bears, which contains some useful and important pieces of advice. There’s a potential problem, though, with the artwork the posters use to illustrate their points: the bears are adorable.

“Be careful of bears” reads the large-font text at the top of the poster, but bear in the drawing doesn’t look intimidating in the slightest. With its head tilted, ears standing up, and lack of a visible mouth as he peeks out from behind some shrubbery, you could argue that he looks more like a cute creature with his own line of merchandise than an omnivorous apex predator.

The issue, though, is that Akita has been having a spike in bear attacks lately. Bear sightings in the prefecture are up more than 25 percent compared to this time of year in 2023, in which Akita had its largest-ever reported number of bear attacks on humans. With six attacks so far this year, 2024 is on pace to equal last year’s number.

The whole point of the posters is to remind people that bears can be very dangerous, but that danger isn’t really being communicated by the cute illustrations. At the poster’s lower left corner, it cautions people not to leave litter in the woods, as food scraps and unconsumed beverage liquid can attract bears, accompanied with another illustrated bear with a cute bit of “I’m so hungry” drool on his chin.

On the right side is a warning for residents to take countermeasures to keep bears out of their farms and gardens that have edible plants, with a bear sitting like a forlorn puppy with a manga-style “I’m so confused” swirl above his head (the other illustrations advise talking, playing a radio, or putting a bell on your bag when walking in the woods and keeping vegetation trimmed around your home to maintain open lines of sight so that you don’t inadvertently startle a bear into attacking).

▼ “It’s so cute,” says a 70-something Akita resident when asked for her impression of the artwork.

Now, you’d be right to assume that, in Japan, “cute” is generally the default style of graphic design, even when it’s the government producing the artwork, and not everyone sees anything wrong with the poster’s design. However, many have also said the poster’s illustrations defeat the purpose of trying to instill a greater sense of caution regarding bears, and the Akita Prefectural Assembly discussed the matter in a recent session. “We didn’t set out to make the bear look cute,” said Masato Ito, head of Akita’s environmental department, “but it’s true that, as has been pointed out, it doesn’t do a good job of conveying the serious injuries that can result if a person is attacked by a bear.”

“I’m sorry,” Akita Governor Norihisa Satake agreed. “I should have looked this over.” Satake went on to indicate that the poster will be redesigned, saying “I will make it look scarier, like a devil. This is different than designing an animal welfare poster, so I believe the visual elements need to be frightening.”

One could make the argument that since real-life bears also often appear cute when in a non-aggressive state, cute illustrations aren’t a complete mismatch for a beware-of-bears poster, and that it’s in the public’s best interest to be reminded that the aura of disarming cuddly silliness the animals sometimes radiate can be dangerously misleading. Still, artwork that’s uniformly nonthreatening probably isn’t the most effective way to promote caution, so while the posters that have already been distributed don’t appear to be being recalled, a redesign probably isn’t a bad idea.

Sources: Akita Prefecture, FNN Prime Online, Yomiuri Shimbun

Read more stories from SoraNews24.

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-- Japan has too many adorable Akita dog license plate designs, needs help picking just one

© SoraNews24

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

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Not sure why so much personification in this land, especially in dangerous situations.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

I suspect that the infantilization of the Japanese public is a deliberate policy to stop people thinking for themselves. This is the only country in the world where you get puppets and mascots on news programs.

-10 ( +5 / -15 )

A slasher video with a bear like the one in "Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey" would be a lot more effective IMO. I am sure an underemployed English teacher would be grateful for the chance to put on a bear costume for a few thousand yen.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

To Roger's point: When my mom came to visit me in Japan, she came down to breakfast from her hotel room and said that she had wanted to see what the Japanese news looked like but she'd only been able to find channels with children's shows. She said on one channel there were adults talking, but there were stuffed kitties and bunnies around the set. I quickly realized that what she'd seen WAS "the news".

1 ( +8 / -7 )

Hiw about handing out pepper spray to residents where bears are sighted?

Wasting money on posters stating the obvious is unnecessary!

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

It looks like Winnie the Pooh!

Which is better, make people calm with this kind of poster, or scare the bejesus out of everybody with a vicious looking bear bearing its fangs?

Maybe they don't want to frighten people, especially children.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Bush walking in Shikoku I came across a "beware of snakes " notice board

Snake image had a bow tie and top hat {seriously }

And my response was to laugh and discredit the danger.

10 minutes later, on the path, was the meanest looking snake ever , with a triangle shaped head, almost all black occupying it's space like he owned it.

Yes...posters should be appropriate.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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