National | CHUBU CONNECTION

Takayama mobilizes to protect voters from bear attacks

Chunichi Shimbun

Polling stations in one mountain city are bracing for an unusual kind of disruption on election day: bear attacks.

After several incidents in the area, the election administration committee of Takayama, Gifu Prefecture, drafted safety steps for polling stations.

Firecrackers are on hand, and local members of the hunting association will be patrolling nearby.

The committee says this is the first time the city has had to guard against bears. Moreover, it may the only city in Japan doing it for the Dec. 14 Lower House election.

“As far as we know, no other city has taken such precautions,” said an official with the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

Takayama has been plagued with bear incidents this year.

On Nov. 6, the body of a 74-year-old farmer was found in an apple orchard in the Nyukawa area at the foot of the mountains. His face was streaked with blood and his injuries suggested a bear attack.

Four other bear encounters resulting in injuries were reported nearby.

Bears usually eat acorns on the wooded hillsides, but amid the poor harvest this year they have been entering towns to forage before going into hibernation.

There were more than 400 bear sightings reported this year, the most since the city started logging them in 2006.

“Usually, the number drops in November, but this year it has gone up instead. There’s a high chance bears will appear near residential areas in December as well,” said Takayama’s farm chief Atsushi Hayashi, 50.

In terms of area, Takayama became Japan’s largest city in 2005 when it absorbed surrounding towns and villages. Its administrative area is roughly the same as Tokyo’s, but 92 percent of its 2,177 sq. km of land is forest.

Since it is hard to predict where bears will appear, the problem is hard to deal with. Of the 72 polling stations, the panel decided to bolster safety at about 30.

It will distribute 70 boxes of firecrackers to scare off bears when sighted and have also asked 100 members of the local hunting association for help. Some will be on patrol while others will be at home on standby.

A community bulletin will also be circulated to advise citizens not to walk to the polling stations if they can help it. It will also urge them to vote before dusk, when the risk rises.

The wording might be tricky.

“For example, we must keep in mind that there are people who have to work until evening and must not make them think they cannot vote,” said one staffer.

And by highlighting the fact that safety measures are in place, they might inadvertently be saying that voting is dangerous, which could lower voter turnout.

Nevertheless, the city has made safety its top priority.

“We hope that the voting will go smoothly without any injuries,” the staffer said.

This section, appearing Saturdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published on Nov. 28.

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