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Bear meat vending machine proves popular in north Japan city

The bear meat vending machine bearing the phrase "local souvenir from Akita" is seen near JR Tazawako Station in Semboku, Akita Prefecture, on March 17, 2023. (Mainichi/Akira Kudo)

SEMBOKU, Akita -- From kimchi to insects, Japan's love affair with vending machines continues, and at a shinkansen station here, one machine is gaining popularity for another unusual offering -- bear meat.

    The vending machine is installed near the entrance to the Tazawako Ichi local product shop near JR Tazawako Station, where the Akita Shinkansen and other trains stop. The meat of locally captured wild bears is mainly purchased by bullet train passengers, and there have apparently also been inquiries from people in the Kanto region around Tokyo who want to buy it by mail order.

    The machine displays pictures of lean and fatty meat, with a sign saying, "open 24 hours," "black bear," "bear meat" and "2,200 yen (about $17) for 250 grams."

    The bears are captured in the mountains of the city by members of a local hunting club and processed at a slaughterhouse. The vending machine was installed in November 2022 by people associated with the restaurant Soba Goro, located in the Tazawako Ichi shop, in a bid to make locally produced bear meat a souvenir from Akita Prefecture.

    The front panel of the vending machine is seen in Semboku, Akita Prefecture, on March 17, 2023. The top row is for local beef, and the bottom row is for local bear meat. (Mainichi/Akira Kudo)

    On average, the machine apparently sells 10 to 15 packs a week, but supplies sometimes run out because the bear hunting season is limited. A Soba Goro representative said, "(Bear meat) tastes clean, and it doesn't get tough, even when cold. It can be enjoyed in a wide range of dishes, from stew to steaks." For inquiries, contact Soba Goro by phone at 0187-43-3511 (in Japanese).

    (Japanese original by Akira Kudo, Akita Bureau)

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