Japan’s diners rush to taste infamous ‘Oso18’ bear that killed at least 30 cows in Hokkaido
A predatory bear that terrorised farms in Japan and butchered free-range cattle has sparked a carnivorous chase after it was killed and its meat made available in restaurants across the country.
The brown bear, codenamed “Oso18” for its first sightings in Hokkaido’s Osotsubetsu district and the width of its paw print spanning 18cm, was killed by a hunter with a rifle in the northern prefecture at the end of July.
Its whereabouts had been scrutinised after the authorities linked it to the death of at least 32 dairy cows between July 2019 and June this year. Many local hunters had been seeking its scalp, while their pursuit was also the subject of a documentary by Japanese broadcaster NHK.
Weighing 304kg without its innards, the 2.1m-tall bear was subdued early in the morning on July 30 with three shots to its neck and head near a farmland in the town of Kushiro, its conqueror, a town office employee, told the Shukan Gendai magazine.
Not knowing his prey was the infamous Oso18, the unidentified hunter in his 40s took it to a meat processor. Experts have commented that a catch of this notoriety could have been stuffed at a taxidermist and put on display.
But that would have been a loss to Japanese game meat eaters, who are eager to savour the bear, also nicknamed “Ninja Kuma” for its knack for eluding hunters and traps.
The bear meat has since been sold to restaurants in cities including Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and the town of Kushiro where it was caught, without restaurateurs knowing it was the prized Oso18.
Extensive DNA analysis by a Hokkaido research institute led to confirmation on Aug 22 that the fallen beast was indeed Oso18.
The belated revelation led to a scurry of restaurant bookings to taste the meat, while less than three days later, all available parts of the meat were sold out on the Kushiro Tancho Shoten e-store retailing Hokkaido food produce.
Amakara Kumakara, a Tokyo restaurant specialising in game meat, was one eatery that had been unwittingly serving the bear’s momo, or thigh meat in Japanese, as a yakiniku offering since Aug 14.
“Everyone says it’s tender and delicious and has no gamey smell,” its owner told online news channel Fuji News Network, adding that it was safe for consumption as the bear had not attacked humans.
The restaurant will be selling it on Sept 8 as a bear meat hotpot at 7,800 yen (S$72) a portion, with reservations already being snapped up.
At least one man who had Oso18 as a miso stew at a Kushiro town eatery said he did so to commemorate the bovine martyrs butchered by the bear.
“This bear killed many cows, so we should eat it with relish in memory of those cows.”