Asians who crossed land bridges into today's Ryukyu Islands more than 30,000 years ago encountered plenty of game. In addition to deer and boar, they hunted elephant and steppe bison until the larger mammals were hunted to extinction in Japan about 17,000 years ago.

Meanwhile, Siberians migrated via land bridges in the north. The Ainu of Hokkaido and northern Honshu hunted with poison-tipped arrows and spears. The other predator of the north was the Ezo wolf. This ancient species was more like the gray wolf than its better-known cousin, the Honshu wolf, and the Ainu considered it to be a god.

With settlers building ranches in Hokkaido, the Ezo wolf bowed to Japan's bounty system and chemical extermination campaign during the Meiji Restoration (1868-1912), and went extinct in the late 1800s.