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Country Gentleman: Year of the boar

Wild boar tracks are seen in the snow in the Afan Woodlands. (Photo courtesy of the C. W. Nicol Afan Woodland Trust)

I came to Japan for the first time in October of 1962. In January of 1963 I visited the Izu Peninsula with some German friends. We stayed at an old country inn. (I'm sorry, I can't remember the name, and at that time I knew pretty well no Japanese except for Judo terms.) When we reached the inn after a long bus journey, I was really surprised to see a wild boar with long, vicious-looking tusks, hanging in the entrance. It must have been well over a hundred kilos. It was hairy, brown in colour, with long white whiskers. Blood was dripping from its snout and there was a bullet hole in the chest, just behind the shoulder.

My German friends were delighted to see it, because they had a traditional appetite for wild boar meat, but I, a British Celt, was just surprised. Wild boar were hunted to extinction in Britain centuries ago. Knowing nothing about Japanese wildlife, I wondered if this one had escaped from a zoo.

When I was told that this one had been shot early in the morning on the forested mountain behind the inn, I was astounded. That was the first time I tasted "yama kujira" and I found it absolutely delicious, much better than pork.

I should point out that wild boar were reintroduced to Britain from Europe in the 1970s and are now quite common and popular in the British diet. I myself have eaten "boarburger" in a British country pub, and very good it was, too.

The human population of the British Isles at the time of the wild boar's extinction was around 6 million. But now, as of December 11, 2018, the British population is up to 66,746,858! Wild boar have escaped from farms, or been released by landowners who thought they had lots of land to spare, and are spreading all over Britain. They may have gained some popularity as food, but this comes with a lot of notoriety as a menace and a destructive nuisance. The European wild boar is bigger than our Japanese wild boar; they can easily reach 150 kilograms and more. And apart from the damage they do to fields, gardens, orchards, lawns, golf courses and so on, they can be very aggressive and will attack humans and dogs, especially if somebody encounters a sow with piglets.

When I first came to live here in Kurohime, northern Nagano in 1980, there were neither wild boar nor deer in our area. I joined the local hunting association, and none of the members had any recollection of either animal here. Indeed, some of our local hunters would get a special license to go and hunt deer in Hokkaido.

Now, for the last decade or so, both deer and wild boar have become quite common. I can get all the venison I need locally, as well as occasional treats of wild boar meat. Both deer and boar (as well as bear and other animals) are regularly captured by the automatic cameras we have installed in our Afan Trust woods, and the signs of wild boar rooting and snuffling around for acorns, chestnuts, earthworms, beetle grubs and such are very common. I assume that the increase in deer and wild boar in our locality is largely due to a decrease in snow cover, but it is probably also affected by a marked decrease in the number of hunters, coupled with the abandonment of "sato yama" woodland. This has turned to dense brush which becomes an easy hiding place for animals, right next to fields, paddies and orchards, as well as country houses with persimmon and other fruit trees abandoned by their human occupants and thus becoming attractive to all kinds of animals.

I have found that there is less of a prejudice against eating wild boar or "yama kujira" in Japan. Can this be because the flesh is more fatty than venison, or because wild boar was exempt from Emperor Tenmu's ban on meat eating back in 675?

Personally I love both, and in fact at our house tonight we are having venison stew, taken from a stag shot by my good neighbor Mr. Kazama. My belly rumbles as I think of it!

("Country Gentleman" is a regular column by author and conservationist C.W. Nicol)

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