One man's encounter with a wild boar in Japan

One man's encounter with a wild boar in Japan

by Chris Carlson
Stripes Japan archives

I’m not the smartest guy in the world. Neither family nor friends will dispute that.

So the story I’m about to tell makes perfect sense to those who know me.

On the other hand, I’m not bravest person in world. Let’s just say that growing up, I preferred to sleep with a nightlight on. And I would jump into bed so the Boogie Man couldn’t reach out from underneath and grab me. Yep, I was that kid. That teenager.

So, why was I walking through the woods up in the mountains of Hakone looking for “inoshishi” in the dark of night? By myself. No flashlight. My opening sentence is the best explanation.

Inoshishi are Japanese wild boar. They are big, ugly and are over-populating areas throughout the country. They attack people and are not afraid to walk into someone’s backyard and tear it up in search of grubs.

Sounds like the perfect animal you want to see up close and personal. At least that’s what I had convinced myself.

My mom-in-law lives in a condominium neighborhood that serves as a second home for many of the people who own condos there. She lives there year-round and has come across inoshishshi on many occasions. She’s seen them while picking berries in the woods and as they peered in her living room standing outside her balcony

This just fascinated me, and although I told my mom-in-law to stay clear of them and not take any chances, I was determined to see one for myself. The last couple of times I ventured out I had no luck as I walked aimlessly in the dark looking and listening for these creatures that are said to be good eating.

One time when we were driving home late at night, a couple of big ol’ inoshishi walked out of the woods right in front of our car. They just ignored us, as well as the car lights. My family sat in the car in amazement as the hogs took their good old time, using the crosswalk to get to the other side of the road. It actually looked like they looked both ways before crossing and heading back into the woods.

Although it was cool seeing them up close, I wasn’t completely satisfied with the encounter because I was in a safe, warm car. Not enough of a thrill.

So last weekend, I ventured out by myself around 10 p.m. looking for these beasts. My 13-year-old son, a lot smarter than I, declined to come, calling me “crazy.” My wife simply shook her head and said, “No.” It was the same word she used – this time a little more sternly – when I half-jokingly asked if I should bring a kitchen knife with me.

I headed out. It was cold, dark and no one was out in the neighborhood. It was just me and, I thought to myself with hope and conviction: “Some wild boar traipsing about.”

I was out there for about 45 minutes and saw nothing, although I did hear some rustling of leaves in the distance when I was walking down a trail. It made my heart – and feet – jump.  But as I stood there peering into the darkness for what seemed like an eternity, I was kind of relieved that no huge hog made its way into the light.

As I headed back to my mom-in-law’s, I convinced myself that I was upset that I had not bumped into one of these creatures.

But as I walked up the street, I heard a noise. Was it someone taking out the trash? I stood there as the noise got louder. It was coming from behind some bushes right next to a condo. I walked up. My heart was racing and my eyes were wide and wild with excitement.

I stood about 10 yards from the bushes. And then I heard an exciting, scary sound. It was a grunt. And it wasn’t human! I stood there shaking with excitement. Fear. Yeah, fear.

And then a big, wild boar the size of a large calf poked through the bushes and stopped. I couldn’t move. There, in front of me, was the beast I had been searching for. I stared at it. It stared at me, steam coming off his body, its breath visible with each snort. Earth dripping from its snout.

I took a step back and looked for an escape route. It took a step forward. As I stood there in fear. I didn’t see an animal that would make a tasty feast. No, I saw a wild beast. A predator waiting to pounce on a dumb human looking for a thrill.

And then common sense rushed through my veins. I took off running, looking over my shoulder all the time. I swear I heard hoof prints, but I couldn’t see the beast behind. Let me tell you that I am a 49-year-old with a bad back and a tendency to pull a hammy when I do more than trot. I ran with all my might to my mom-in-law’s condo. Those 200 yards seemed like a mile. My hope was to make it back in one piece.

I’m sure it was quite the sight: A foreigner with a hooded sweatshirt running through a nice Japanese neighborhood in the middle of the night. But I’m pretty sure I was the only one foolish enough be out with these beasts.

I made it back safe and sound. Sweating and breathing hard, I opened the door and began telling the tale of my encounter. In the safe and comfy confines of the condo, I bragged how I outran the beast and how exciting it was. I vowed to go out again the next time we visited.

A couple of days later back on Yokota Air Base, my wife called for me to watch a news special on inoshishi. Since I now considered myself an expert on the specie and was fascinated by them, I watched. People talked about being attacked in their yards and afraid to go to parks in fear of running into the wild boar. They just didn’t know what they were doing, I thought.

And then I saw the most fascinating and frightening video. A family of seven inoshishi jumped into the ocean and swam to an island. These pigs may not be able to fly, but they sure can swim! People on the island watched in amusement and amazement as the happy hog family swam ashore. And then the amusement turned into fear and the hogs took off with lightning speed through the streets of the village. People ran in fear. I watched in amazement at how fast these hogs were. Really fast. Faster than a 49-year-old whose athletic ability is but a faint memory.

It truly was scary how fast those suckers ran. I knew right then that my days of tracking inoshishi were over. My wife sighed in relief.

I have come to my senses, but will always cherish my encounter with the wild inoshishi in the mountains of Hakone.

So take it from an expert who lived to tell the tale: stay away from them there hogs.

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