On the afternoon of June 21, Hisao Ueno was at his home in the hills of Otsuchi, a rural town on the coast of Iwate Prefecture. At around 1:50 in the afternoon the 47-year-old Ueno, who shares the home with his mother and their cat, heard their pet screeching loudly from a room on the first floor.
Wondering what the commotion was, Otsuchi went to check on the cat, which was in the room with the family’s butsudan, or Buddhist altar. When he got there, he saw that there was another animal in the room as well: a bear.
The bear, however, apparently hadn’t noticed Ueno yet. Instead, its attention was focused on the altar. In addition to photos of deceased relatives and holders for burning incense, butsudan also have space for leaving offerings of food for ancestors. Fruit is a common offering, and on that day the Ueno family had set out some bananas, and the bear was giving them a sniff, seemingly attracted by their aroma. This also meant that the bear’s backside was exposed, and Ueno, worried for the safety of his car and mother, decided to capitalize on this by kicking the bear in the butt over and over.
▼ Ueno recounts the butt-kicking incident,
“I thought ‘I have to protect [them],’” Ueno says. “I never imagined a bear would come into my house. For the sake of my mom and cat, all I could do was kick.”
After repeated blows to its backside, the bear decided it didn’t want the bananas that badly. Crashing through a window, the animal (which is estimated to have been about 90 centimeters in length) fled the scene, scampering off into the surrounding woodlands.
Not being ourselves experts in the areas of bears, kicking, or bear kicking, we’re not sure whether or not going on the offensive is the safest idea if a bear wanders into your house, though Ueno suffered no injuries in the encounter. One thing we would recommend, though, for those living in rural areas, is to be careful about how long fruit is left on the butsudan. Looking at the video, some of those bananas were pretty ripe, and with the heat and humidity of a Japanese summer, odds are they were especially pungent. As we learned a few years ago when bears were destroying Shinto shrines and graves because of their sweet aromas, bears have a surprisingly advanced sense of smell, so rotating home altar offerings before they develop a bouquet is probably a smart idea.
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