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The Sankebetsu Brown Bear Incident (Part 1)

Bears are terrifying. Their raw power and near-insatiable hunger make them some of the most dangerous animals to roam the Earth. Bears, despite their bulk, can run, climb, and swim with startling swiftness.

Attacks on people by these mammalian titans are rare. Between 2000 and 2015 there were roughly 44 recorded brown bear attacks per year. That number is increasing as humans encroach further into what little natural habitat remains to the brown bears.

The brown bear family includes several subspecies scattered across the globe. As a whole, brown bears are the largest terrestrial predators in the world. Polar bears, which are bigger than brown bears, are technically marine mammals, so they don't count.

The Ussuri Brown Bear is also known as the Russian Grizzly. Growing up to 1000 lbs (454 kg) in weight, they are absolutely massive creatures. Now imagine one of these mobile meat mountains with a taste for human flesh.

Hokkaidō, a Northern island of Japan, is home to the Ussuri. During the first half of the 20th century, 131 people were killed by Ussuri bears, with a further 300 injured. That's a lot of mayhem.

The Sankebetsu Brown Bear Incident is the single deadliest brown bear attack in Japanese History. It may even be the deadliest bear attack in recorded history.

The Oni Rises

Kesagake, the Ussuri Brown bear that perpetrated the Sankebetsu Brown Bear Incident
This story gets dark, quick.

Kesagake, a massive 750 lb (340 kg) Ussuri Brown Bear who stood 8.9 ft (2.7m) tall, woke early in the winter of 1915. He failed to prepare adequately for hibernation. This combined with an unusually mild winter to create the perfect conditions for Kesagake's early awakening.

He ventured out into the snowbound wilderness. The search for food brought him to the Ikeda family's homestead. Kesagake spotted the family horse, as well as sacks of corn stored for the winter.

The horse spotted what must have been a groggy Ussuri. Alerted by the horse's panic, Mr. Ikeda rushed over to discover the Ussuri rummaging through his storage shed. He spooked the animal, which fled the scene with a sack of corn.

Kesagake's pride was stung by his humiliation at the hands of the farmer. He must have mused about that fact while eating the corn. Soon enough, the whole village of Rokusen-sawa would know that an Oni had come to walk among them.

Several days later, Mr. Ikeda was alerted to the bear's presence once again. He summoned his son, and sent him to get the Matagi to hunt the bear down.

The Matagi are clans of legendary bear hunters. Kametarō managed to find two who happened to be visiting the village. Together, the three of them sought the bear for 10 days.

On 30 November, 1915, they encountered Kesagake. He roared and they fired their rifles. The bear fled, pursued by the hunters. Kametarō's party followed the bear's tracks to the foot of Mount Onishika, where they were forced back by a sudden snowstorm. They did find a faint bloodstain, which they concluded was from their rifles.

Kametarō and the Matagi agreed that the bear would know better than to return to a human settlement. They were wrong.

Carnage - Kesagake the Demon

Nine days passed as Kesagake nursed the superficial wound he received from the Matagi. He watched the villagers of Rokusen-sawa from the Sankebetsu woods. Winter, wounds, and hunger made him desperate.

At 10:30 am on 9 December, Kesagake approached the Ōta family's home. He could hear the keening cry of a baby within, and the soothing voice of the baby's mother.

Abe Mayu had just put baby Hasumi Mikio in the crib when the thatch wall behind her exploded in. Kesagake went straight for the baby, killing Hasumi Mikio with a bite to the head.

Abe Mayu tried desperately to fight back. She threw firewood, her only weapon, at the Ussuri. Her resistence proved futile, as Kesagake smashed her down with a mighty blow before dragging her into the forest.

Abe Mayu's husband came upon the scene the next morning. He ran from it, after realizing what had happened to his family. That man would flee the island of Hokkaidō altogether.

Before he could, he ran into two men on their way to Sankebetsu. He told them his tale, likely still in shock. Saitō Ishigorō and Miyouke Yasutarō pledged to take care of the paperwork for the bereaved widower. The man left.

Saitō Ishigorō and Miyouke Yasutarō decided to take a look at the Ōta home before heading into town. They discovered a scene so grizzly, it was described as bloodier than a slaughterhouse.

By this time, nearly all of the men of the village had gathered at the Ōta home. 30 of them set out in search of the bear. Within 150 m of the Ōta residence, the men encountered the bear.

Panicked by the sight of the beast, only five of the men managed to fire. Of those five, only one shot struck true. The bear fled into the forest, having now tasted not only the hospitality of humans, but also their flesh.

Abe Mayu's head and parts of her legs were found buried in the snow near the spot where the bear had been shot. The villagers now knew that it was an Ussuri that attacked the Ōta family.

They also knew that it would be back.

Miyouke Yasutarō's home was the nearest to the Ōta residence. His stomach sank when he realized that his own family had been so close to being victims themselves.

Saitō Ishigorō feared for his family as well. His house wasn't well-built, in fact it was very similar to the Ōta home. Miyouke Yasutarō offered that Saitō Ishigorō's family could stay with his own, considering that the Miyouke home was far sturdier.

Soldiers were alerted, and soon arrived at the Miyouke home. 50 men, armed with WWI era firearms set up a perimeter around the house while men from the village waited at the Ōta residence.

Saitō Ishigorō and Miyouke Yasutarō raced to Sankebetsu for help. They had heard stories about a legendary bear hunter who lived there. Leaving their families behind seemed relatively safe, considering the presence of the soldiers.

They were dead wrong.

The Miyouke Tragedy

While the soldiers were having dinner outside of the Miyouke home, ten people huddled within. They were comforted by the presence of the soldiers, and confident that there was no danger.

Around 8pm Kesagake returned to the Ōta house. He startled the gathered villagers. They already saw him as more than a mere bear. His demonic deeds elevated him to some mythical monster.

The soldiers heard a single shot fired 330 m away at the Ōta residence. Soon after, a villager came running to alert them that the bear had been sighted. The soldiers left the Miyouke home in search of the bear. No-one inside knew that the soldiers had left.

Spooked villagers pointed the soldiers in the direction of the bear. They followed the tracks down to the river, and continued tracking them downstream. Eventually, one of the men realized that the tracks they were following were facing the wrong way.

Kesagake hadn't fled to the river. Instead he stalked past the 50 soldiers. His attention had been drawn by the smells and sounds of the Miyouke home. The sound of the armed men fading behind him.

Miyouke Yayo was cooking a stew, her youngest son, Umekichi strapped to her back and her second youngest, Yūjirō playing nearby. Something drew Yayo's attention to the window. There she had a moment to see the massive face staring in at her.

Kesagake tore through the window and into the Miyouke home. He knocked over the cooking pot and the oil lamp, extinguishing the light.

Yayo tried to run from the demon bear, but in his terror, Yūjirō grabbed onto his mother's legs. She fell over her son just as the bear's jaws snapped shut behind her. Without looking, she knew that it had bitten her baby, Umekichi.

Miyouke Odo was alerted to the commotion. He was the eldest boy, left behind to 'look after' the family. Odo charged the bear, distracting it long enough for Yayo to pick up Yūjirō and flee the house.

Kesagake roared and the boy fell back, but not far enough. The bear clawed him in the back as he fell.

Kinzō, Odo's younger brother, tried to save Odo. His best friend, Saitō Haruyoshi, stood by him against the monstrous bear. They were both mauled to death despite their bravery.

Saitō Iwao tried to help his mother, Saitō Take, flee. His mother was eight months pregnant, and struggled to move quickly.

Kesagake bit Iwao on the head, shook the boy, and tossed him aside. He hit the wall and fell unconscious. Take was cornered as the huge Ussuri stalked in closer. There was no escape.

Survivors of the attack reported that Saitō Take was pleading with the bear even as it ate her. She begged it to eat her legs, arms, and head, but to leave her belly untouched. As she died, her thoughts were only with her unborn child.

Misouke Yayo was injured but alive. Badly scratched, partially scalped, and bleeding from several other cuts, she raced after the soldiers, who were still blundering about near the river. Not once did she stop to check on her youngest son, strapped to her back. The horror of what she knew she would discover chased her as surely as any bear would.

She had Yūjirō, and two other children with her as she ran into the night. They were all injured. Most severe though, was the trauma they now carried in their hearts. Wounds which could never heal.

The soldiers were stunned when Yayo informed them of the attack on the Miyouke home. Surely they hadn't just been outsmarted by a bear? They followed Yayo back home, and found the house dark and quiet.

The men suggested that they burn the whole house to the ground. Miyuke Yayo refused, holding on to hope that some of the children might still be alive within. Grumbling, the soldiers agreed not to burn the house.

They split into two groups. One headed to the back of the house to make noise, banging on the walls and yelling. The other group waited in front of the home, rifles at the ready for the bear's appearance.

Slowly, the silhouette of the Ussuri appeared in the front doorway of the Miyouke home. Kesagake's eyes glowed like coals above its bloodstained mouth, dripping gore.

The lead soldier's rifle jammed, and in his excitement he blocked the rest of his troop's line of fire. Kesagake lumbered by the soldiers and disappeared into the night with a full belly.



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