Over the last four decades, the number of hunters in Japan has dwindled by more than 50 percent. However, more and more Japanese women are stepping into a traditionally male-dominated activity. In Japanese they are called kari-gaaru, or hunting girls. According to the Japan Times, more and more young women are becoming interested in hunting due to an overpopulation of wild game like sika deer and wild boar. Large numbers of these animals are degrading native habitats and causing millions of dollars worth of agricultural damage.
“It feels like women are more tolerant than men of things like hunting and butchering,” Eiji Ishizaki, a spokesperson for the hunters association Dainihon Ryoyukai, told The Yomiuri Shimbun. “There are a lot of difficult things—having to master the skills and obeying local customs—but we’re very excited about the role women can play amid the shrinking hunter population.”
A 1975 survey counted more than 500,000 registered hunters in the country, but the Environment Ministry recorded only 190,000 in 2010. Of that 190,000, most were men over the age of 60.
Just like in North America, big game animals like deer and wild pig are among the most popular for Japanese hunters. Sika deer are especially a point of pride for Japanese conservationists, who restored from the species from the brink of extinction over the last century. With an estimated 650,000 individuals, Japan is believed to have the largest population of sika deer in the world. That victory came at the cost of driving the country’s native wolf species to extinction. Without their only natural predator, sika deer now pose a threat to Japan’s roadways, farms, and forests. Some have suggested importing wolf urine or even small numbers of gray wolves from North America. Hunters see it as a clear sign that their sport is at risk—but many also see an opportunity.
Procuring a firearm and a hunting license in Japan can be a very complicated process, yet more women in their 20s and 30s now call themselves hunters. Some, like 28-year-old Chiharu Hatakeyama, said that they became interested in hunting after Japan’s 2011 tsunami, which resulted in a massive food shortage.
“I wanted the ability to live on my own,” she said.
Others say they were drawn in by the prospect of living closer to the land. It is a trend that hunting associations are enthusiastically supporting, including a new campaign by Dainihon Ryoyukai called “Aim to Be a Hunting Girl!”
Only about one percent of Japanese hunters are women, yet that number is rising. Hunters are hopeful that the popularity of wild game cuisine and an increasing awareness of wildlife will draw even more prospective converts.