NAGANO - Japan is seeing an increase in the number of deaths related to mushroom picking, after extreme summer heat and heavy rain produced a rich crop of the seasonal delicacy this year.
Many mushroom hunters, mainly elderly people, tend to go into remote areas deep in mountains with steep slopes to look for mushrooms, but they face a high risk of falling as they focus on a limited area around them as they search.
Police have called on mushroom pickers to avoid steep slopes and make sure that their relatives are informed in advance of areas where they plan to go and look for mushrooms.
According to the Nagano Prefectural Police Department, between the beginning of August and Monday a total of 20 people became lost in mountains in the prefecture while searching for mushrooms. The number has already topped last year’s 12. Of the 20, 13 died after falling in the mountainous terrain or for other reasons, up from three last year.
In Yamanashi Prefecture, four people have died so far this year, up from one last year. Three people died in Iwate Prefecture. Most of the victims were in their 60s or older.
“The number of deaths is increasing faster than usual,” said an official from the Iwate Prefectural Police Department.
With the fungus-picking season continuing through the end of October, police are concerned about a further rise in the number of fatal accidents as the environments conducive to mushroom growth involve particular risks. Police in Nagano and other sources have pointed out that mushrooms generally grow well in moist soil, where hunters can easily slip.
An increasing number of hunters venture deep into the mountains as mushrooms in flat areas at the foot of the mountains have already been picked.
Many of them tend to keep locations where there are plentiful supplies of mushrooms secret, even from family members. Some wander off alone after entering a mountain with a group and end up losing contact with other members, sources familiar with the situation said.
An official at the Nagano Prefectural Police Department’s mountain rescue unit is calling on mushroom collectors to take a mobile phone and warm clothing with them when entering mountainous areas.
The official is also asking hunters to give detailed explanations of planned activities to family members before they leave, and to say exactly where they will go to pick mushrooms so that rescue operations can begin quickly if they get lost.