Kesagake the Man Eater

A statue of Kesagake, the brown bear responsible for the worst bear attacks in Japanese history.
A statue of Kesagake, the brown bear responsible for the worst bear attacks in Japanese history.

Sometimes humans get a bit cocky. After all, our big brains and ability to produce advanced technology put us head and shoulders above other animals, especially when it comes to killing power. Nobody can contest the fact that humans are the apex predator on planet Earth, but now and then nature reminds us that, when you strip away all our technology, we are nothing more than week, naked apes.

One such event occurred in Sankebetsu, Japan, between December 9 and 14, 1915, when a brown bear awoke early from hibernation and proceeded to terrorize the local population for five days.

The incident began when Kesagake, a huge Ussuri brown bear, appeared near the Ikeda homestead, in mid November, and spooked the family horse. When the bear reappeared, the Ikeda men went after it and managed to wound it with gunfire. Thinking the bear would now fear humans, they decided not to track it further.

However, as it turned out they were terribly mistaken. Kesagake returned to the area on December 9, where he entered the Ota family home. The woman of the house, Abe Mayu, was caring for a neighbor’s child, Hasumi Mikio, when the bear attacked. Kesagake first bit Mikio in the head, killing him, and then proceeded to attack Mayu, dragging her off into the forest. Rescuers later described the inside of the house as looking like a “slaughterhouse.”

The next day, 30 men attempted to track the bear. It wasn’t long before they came upon Kesagake. One man managed to hit the animal, forcing it to retreat. They found Mayu’s remains, her head and parts of her legs, cached in a snow bank, not far from where the attack occurred.

An Alaskan Brown Bear, a relative of the Ussuri Brown Bears of Japan.
An Alaskan Brown Bear, a relative of the Ussuri Brown Bears of Japan.

The no doubt shaken search party realized they had a man eater on their hands. They hatched a plan to kill the beast, by setting a trap for it at the Ota house, assuming it would return again in search of food. A group of 50 guardsmen were stationed at the Miyoke house, 300 meters away.

Sure enough, that night the man eater returned. Another villager managed to score a hit, and the bear withdrew. The villagers took off after their quarry, and the guardsmen stationed at the Miyoke house joined them.

Kesegake showed the cunning seemingly inherent to a man eater, eluding his hunters and circling back to the Miyoke house. The bear crashed through the front window and proceeded to maul everyone inside, including a pregnant woman who reportedly begged for her life. Yayo, the homeowner’s wife, managed to escape and tell the returning guardsmen what had occurred. The guards surrounded the house, but in the fear and confusion of the moment they missed their shots and Kesagake managed to escape again. After the attack, only veterans of the Russo-Japanese War remained at their posts; the rest fled.

A sniper team was assembled by regional authorities after the attack on the Miyoki homestead, but the marksmen could not find the beast. Finally, locals turned to a famed bear hunter named Yamamoto Heikigachi to kill the man eater. They had approached him after the initial attacks, but he refused. He had traded his gun for the bottle, in true washed-up-hero fashion, but after the Miyoke house attack he agreed to hunt down Kesagake.

With a local guide, Yamamoto managed to track the bear and killed it with two shots, one to the heart and one to the head. The bear weighed in at 340 kg (749lbs) and measured 2.7 meters (almost 9 feet) in length. A necropsy performed later found human remains in the bear’s stomach, confirming that this was indeed the infamous Kesagake.

All told, Kesagake was responsible for seven deaths, six during the attacks and one victim who died later. It remains to this day the worst bear attack in Japanese history. In the wake of the attacks, villagers abandoned the area, leaving it to the bears and the ghosts of the past.