“Hunter girls” are taking up the sport of hunting to protect farmers’ crops as the demographic changes sweeping Japan erode its traditionally male participants.
Hunters help limit damage to crops caused by wild boars and deer in the mountains.
At its peak 30 years ago, Aichi Prefecture had 4,096 licensed hunters, but the rapid aging of the population and the jump in new types of entertainment in recent years has more than halved that number.
As more and more forests and fields are abandoned, mankind’s relationship with nature has been deteriorating. Drawn to hunting by their interest in food and the environment, these women may become the key to reviving the industry.
Akiko Senga from Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture, shot her first animal in January when four wild boars that had ruined some crops crashed against the mesh fence in front of her. She aimed her shotgun and fired, giving the animal a quick and merciful death.
“I did feel pity for the animals I shot, but now I have learned to appreciate the food and nature given to us,” she said.
Nothing went to waste. The boar’s meat was divided amongst 10 members of the hunting group and the remains were sent to stores to be processed into sausages.
Growing up in the center of a city, Senga did not have any contacts with people involved in hunting, but when she started working in the prefectural office, she was assigned to the bird and animal damage department.
“I grew more involved with nature and learned that hunting helps to stop damage to crops,” she said.
Most hunters typically hunt birds and beasts in designated places just as a hobby, but in recent years they have expanded their activities to include crop protection against wild animals.
Senga received her hunting permit for guns last year.
Hunting permits are issued in Japan according to the weapon used and can range from nets to air guns, rifles and shotguns. Hunters have to take written and practical exams set up by each prefecture to qualify.
To obtain a hunting license for guns, the individual must also apply for a gun license from the National Public Safety Commission.
Even though Senga has since been reassigned to a different department, she remains an active hunter.
Hunter girls are just the latest in a string of marketing terms coined to highlight the increase in female participation in hobbies predominantly viewed as the domaine of men.
The Japan Hunter Association wrote a series about hunter girls on their website last year, explaining how urban women are developing an interest in the outdoors after learning to cook deer and other wild game.
Two years ago, an all-female hunting group was established in Hokkaido that holds classes on animal biology and organizes events to make small ornaments out of deer antlers.
And in Aichi, the number of licensed female has climbed to 18 from two in the past five years.
“A fresh new change is taking place in the hunting industry,” said Hajime Takada, head of the hunting association in Aichi.
However, despite this new trend, however, the fact remains that hunting in general is on the decline. In addition, two of the three members of the association are 60 years or older.
“At the rate we’re going, I’m worried that there won’t be enough hunters to stop wild animals from causing damage to our crops in the future,” said Takada.
Wild boars and deer are breeding rapidly. In fiscal 2007, crop damage caused by wild animals came to ¥85 million. By fiscal 2012, that had tripled to ¥266 million.
Although the number of female hunters has edged up, they still represent a mere 1 percent of all hunters in Japan.
Aichi Prefecture has started holding a food event called the Gibier Gourmet Grand Prix three years ago to highlight dishes made with wild boar and venison. The idea is to spread the knowledge that meat from wild animals can indeed be used for consumption and to expand distribution channels for it.
But the cost of commercialization, along with hygiene issues, still remain hurdles.
“I hope the country and the government will make use of this opportunity with women entering the industry to set a long-term trend by providing subsidies for slaughtering and processing game,” said Akihiko Toyama, who is in charge of PR for women at the Japan Hunter Association.
This section, appearing Saturdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published May 26.