Deer Village – Learn from a Hunter in Hokkaido about the Value of Life
by Yuki Homma
Recently, Yuki went to eastern Hokkaido and had one of her most memorable experiences of her life, witnessing a deer hunt including the dressing and processing of the deer. Everything of the deer was used from the meat to the skin. A true local experience here in Hokkaido.
(Photo: A yezo shika deer on a clearing in a forest)
Hokkaido’s yezo sika deer have explosively increased in eastern Hokkaido, which has become a major social problem affecting the ecosystem and causing billions of yen damage to the agriculture and forest industry. There have also been hundreds of traffic accidents per year since the 1990s, meaning personal tragedies.
No effective solution to keep the deer population in check has been found to this day, but ecotourism might be one way to improve the situation and, on the meantime make whole use of the deer hunted, so that they would not go to waste.
(Photo: Nishi-Okoppe town, a small town in eastern Hokkaido)
The town I visited is attempting to actively manage the deer population and to turn the current situation into local natural resources by arranging guided hunting tours. Personally, seeing hunting and especially the killed deer was a little challenging experience for me, but I learned also how we live with the nature and what the responsibility of taking a life of an animal means. After the most challenging part was over, I got to enjoy a fantastic and authentic gastronomic experience.
(Photo: The hunter explaining the overpopulation of deer)
I am sure that this is something new and something that will always be one of my most memorial experiences in my travel life. From this experience, I realized that having an “Adventure” is not just to do activities or to immerse oneself in the vast of nature, but I believe this could definitely be one of the great Hokkaido Adventure Experiences.
(Photo: Me at the deer park where you get to see deer up close)
For the hunting experience, it was very valuable to be able to witness such a tense moment.
We got on a pickup truck with the hunting guide and headed out to look for deer. It wasn’t easy to find them and even when we found them, they quickly run away. Finally, the hunter guide got out of the car and shoot at a deer. He fired the fatal shot to the lie down deer. The deer was surprisingly heavy so we tried to pull them to the car. The dressing wasn’t as hard to see as I had expected because the hunter was very professional and his knife skills were excellent. Very quick. He also explained what he was doing so I could learn a lot, for example about the different parts of the meat that are used for different purposes.
The hunter guide was also a good chef that I was impressed. I got to taste a variety of dishes such as roasted deer, deer soup, deer sausage, deer hamburger steak and even deer tacos!
(Photo: Loading the deer on the pickup truck)
(Photo: Dressing of the deer)
(Photo: One of the great ways the hunter served us the deer)
May also happened to be the best season for wild vegetables, so we enjoyed wild vegetable picking and tasted a variety of seasonal vegetables together with the deer meat. (By the way, I was told that wild vegetable picking is one of the locals’ favorite activities for this season!)
We even managed to pick Japanese angelica-tree shoots (tara-no-me) that one usually gets to eat only at super expensive the restaurants! I was so excited about this! This bitter wild vegetable has been eaten in Hokkaido after long winters, so it is strongly part of the local history and culture as well.
(Photo: Wild vegetables including Tara-no-me, on the far right)
As if the hunting and eating experience was not enough, the hunter’s wife was good at tanning leather too! This way not only the meat, but also other parts of the deer were used. We tried craft making using the deer skin, and I made a strap and a baggage tag. Both look so cool that I have already put them on my backpack and suitcase!
(Photo: The baggage tag and strap I made myself)
The experience really made me stop to think about life and the need to respect the animals we eat. This town is taking part in the necessary hunting to keep the deer population in check, and on the meantime educating people and letting the death of the deer turn into something meaningful. It might be that ecotourism can also encourage using all parts of the animals, that would otherwise go to waste.
Of course, we do not want your important vacation to turn into anything too pedagogical. After experiencing something this meaningful you can let your hair down a little and enjoy the eastern Hokkaido to the fullest!
(Photo: A sperm whale’s tail)
My recommendation is to combine the experience with some soft trekking at Mt. Asahidake Daisetsuzan National Park or Shiretoko National Park. The nature here is stunning, and many come here with some hiking or nature watching in mind. Mt. Asahidake Daisetsuzan National Park is famous for its bright-colored blue pond and at the park it is possible to admire the scenery – At spring there are sakura cherry blossoms and in autumn you get to appreciate the colorful leaves – from up the air at the Asahidake ropeway. Shiretoko National Park is known for the Shiretoko Five Lakes (Shiretoko Goko).
If you wish to take part on a cruise at the Sea of Okhotsk, at there are numerous wild animals to be seen. Around Rausu and Utoro of Shiretoko Peninsula there is a good chance to see seals or sea eagles and actually, you could get to see (safely from the cruise boat’s deck) a massive wild brown bear on the shore. If you are lucky, you might even get to see pacific white-sided dolphins, sperm whales or the magnificent orca (“killer whale”)! During winter season the area is known for drift ice.
The deer ecotourism program is available from April to September only. If you have the feeling, that this is something that you must experience yourself, we can arrange you a tailor-made tour! It might sound a bit challenging, but I would also recommend this program for a family who has kids, since it could be quite educational.
Please let us know if you are interested in it!