Eight people spent the night in an unheated train in chilly northern Japan after the vehicle hit a bear, authorities said Wednesday, as the country grapples with a rise in bear-related incidents.
The number of bear attacks on people is sharply higher this year, with experts blaming a poor acorn harvest forcing the animals to search further afield for food ahead of winter hibernation.
The small train on the island of Hokkaido collided with the 1.8-metre-tall (almost six-foot) bear in the city of Furano at around 11:30 pm (1430 GMT) on Monday, Japan Railways said.
The accident put the train out of action and those on board were advised not to leave until hunters arrived to check there were no other bears.
But with hunters not allowed to open fire at night, passengers had to wait until dawn, JR Hokkaido said.
Once the sun rose, the bear was found dead and removed by rail employees under the guidance of hunters, the company said.
“I felt this sudden jolt,” one of the passengers told a local broadcaster.
“It looks like the heating system was left broken so it was cold inside, which was a bit tough,” he said.
In Japan, five people have been killed by bears this fiscal year, according to a preliminary tally released by the environment ministry on Wednesday.
In May, a man’s severely maimed torso was found under vegetation in a Hokkaido town, following the discovery nearby of his severed head, according to media reports.
The ministry figures show that in the current fiscal year, 180 people were involved in bear attacks, substantially higher than an average of 106 over the previous five years.
There were 14,943 sightings across Japan through the end of September, an increase of 4,210 from the same period last year, according to media reports.
In Furano, too, bear sightings seem on the rise this year in part because more tourists are returning post-pandemic, a city official told AFP.
“It’s not clear if the number of bears is actually increasing, or if there are certain bears not afraid of coming near humans,” the official said.