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The Sankebetsu Brown Bear Incident (Part 2)

Kesagake killed roughly 9 people in two nights. His hunger was matched only by his savagery. The survivors had done so barely. Pain and loss that no person deserves were served in spades.

Following the failure of the soldiers sent to protect the village of Rokusen-sawa, most of them left. The shame of abandoning the families right before the bear struck was too much to bear.

Only the veterans of the Russo-Japanese War remained. They were familiar with the bite of adversity, and the consequences of failure. Hearts forged in war do not so easily break.

December 10 had been particularly bloody in Rokusen-sawa. While their families were falling prey, Saitō Ishigorō and Miyouke Yasutarō were in town. They sought out a living legend – Yamamoto Heikichi.

December 10 – 11

Saitō Ishigorō and Miyouke Yasutarō split up in town. Thunderclouds gathered above, promising a delay in their return home.

They had to deal with the mountain of paperwork concerning the annihilation of the Ōta family, as well as other clerical matters. Saitō Ishigorō went to deal with admin.

Miyouke Yasutarō sought out the legendary bear hunter, Yamamoto Heikichi. The man he found was a far cry from the imposing slayer he expected.

Yamamoto Heikichi was a disheveled wreck of a man. He had spent his life fighting the Ussuri bears of Hokkaidō, and the enemies of Japan. Trauma left Yamamoto with little more than thirst.

Miyouke Yasutarō pushed aside his misgivings about the man, and described the brutal attack on the Ōta household. Yamamoto listened to his story, paying close attention to the bear's tactics and behavior.

“Kesagake,” Yamamoto said. The name translates to “diagonal slash from the shoulder”. He knew this bear, had faced it before. The bear was responsible for three other killings, he claimed. Kesagake had a taste for young women.

Miyouke Yasutarō needed more than a name for the demon terrorizing his village. He asked the bear hunter to go back with him. If they made haste, they could beat the storm.

Yamamoto Heikichi scoffed at the idea. His days of bear hunting were over. The only thing he cared about now, was drinking himself to the grave. So done was he with hunting, that he proudly claimed to have sold his rifle for liquor.

The next day, Saitō Ishigorō and Miyouke Yasutarō left town. They hoped that the storm had not been a bad omen. Luck was not on their side.

Upon arriving at Rokusen-sawa, the pair noticed the commotion around the Miyouke house. They soon discovered the extent of their loss. Death had come calling.

Miyouke Yasutarō had lost a son in the attack. His baby boy, Umekichi, had been badly bitten and crushed by the bear. Umekichi survived, but never recovered from his injuries. The boy died two years later, unable to overcome the paralysis.

Miyouke Odo had survived. His injuries, despite facing the bear head on, were superficial. He was inconsolable. Driven out into the snow in a desperate attempt to track down the bear that destroyed the Miyouke home.

Miyouke Yayo survived the attack. She was happy to see her husband again, but the weight of what she had experienced would never leave her mind.

Saitō Ishigorō lost nearly everything to Kesagake. His wife had been eaten alive. The villagers were able to deliver Saitō Take's baby, but it was too weak and died within two hours. Their son, Haruyoshi died side by side with his friend, Kinzō. Saitō Iwao survived his bite.

Saitō Ishigorō and Miyouke Yasutarō vowed to see the bear slain. They organized a posse of villagers and the remaining soldiers. Assuming that the bear would return to the Miyouke home that night to finish what it had started, the men set up within the brutalized home.

Kesagake did not return that night.

The Captain, The Legend, and The Demon

News of the Demon Bear's rampage reached the Hokkaidō government. They sent a team of six snipers to Rokusen-sawa, under the authority of Chief Inspector Suga. Arriving in the afternoon of 12 December, they were met by a surprising addition – Yamamoto Heikichi.

The legendary bear hunter had heard about the latest rash of attacks. Something stirred him from the drunken stupor, be it honor, shame, or the remnants of his courage.

Together, Inspector Suga and Yamamoto visited the survivors of the Miyouke tragedy. They had come up with a plan, something to hideously unspeakable that it could not be conveyed by messenger.

Saitō Ishigorō and Miyouke Yasutarō were informed that the remains of their loved ones were being brought back to Rokusen-sawa. They had been sent to town for burial, but at Suga's command, had been shipped back.

Yamamoto explained that Kesagake was starving. His attacks were driven by maddening hunger. There just wasn't enough food for the nearly 9 foot tall bear in the wintry landscape.

Kesagake's victims already smelled of him. They also bore the scent of fresh meat. Both of those scents would draw the bear as surely as flies are drawn to excrement. Yamamoto was sure of it.

Chief Inspector Suga, Yamamoto, and the snipers would set up in the remnants of the Miyouke house. There they would wait, surrounded by the dead, for the bear's return. Hoping that their scent was sufficiently masked by the smell of the bear's victims.

Kesgake returned, sniffing around the hole that he had torn into the wall. Yamamoto had instructed the snipers not to fire until the bear had a paw in the house.

Soon, the bear's snout appeared in the darkened hole. He was close enough to the snipers for them to smell his breath. Still, they held their fire. After a moment, Kesagake disappeared into the night.

Their plan failed, and in the morning of 13 December, they discovered that Kesagake had raided eight houses while they sat waiting in the Miyouke house. Luckily, all the civilians had fled the village the day before.

Death of Kesagake, Demon of Sankebetsu

Chief Inspector Suga was informed that able-bodied men from all over Hokkaidō had gathered to help. They were armed with whatever weapons they could muster, and eager for the bear's blood.

Yamamoto tracked Kesagake to the frozen river. He came to the conclusion that the bear must retreat across the river to rest. Somehow it knew that the crossing was perilous for humans, and that pursuit would prove difficult.

Suga set up his snipers and villagers along the bank of the river. He also had them construct rope bridges across the river, to aid in pursuing the bear. The snipers hid themselves in snow and foliage.

Night fell, and Chief Inspector Suga moved up and down the line of armed men. He encouraged them, and reminded them of their purpose.

One of the snipers noticed a large unmoving shadow on the far bank of the river. He sent word to Suga, who arrived, and challenged the shadow. When it did not respond, he gave the order to fire.

The sniper squeezed the trigger, and was rewarded by the shadow tearing off into the night. Chief Inspector Suga congratulated him on what seemed to be a direct hit.

Yamamoto arrived, drawn by the gunshot. He was just in time to dissuade Captain Suga's plan to send men over the bridges in pursuit of the bear. They would wait until morning.

On 14 December, Yamamoto and Suga crossed the river. They found Kesagake's footprint, along with a sizable blood trail. The weather was turning bad, there would be a snowstorm that night.

Yamamoto decided that he should take only a small team out after the bear. Ikeda Kamejirō, a local guide, volunteered for the expedition. Captain Suga ordered one of his bravest men to join Yamamoto's team.

The three men tracked the bear to where it lay sleeping under a Japanese Oak tree. Yamamoto instructed the other men to hold back, and he approached Kesagake alone.

He stopped 20 meters from the bear. Took aim, and fired. His first shot tore through Kesagake's chest, awakening it. The bear roared and charged wildly at Yamamoto, who was already lining up his next shot.

Yamamoto's bullet hit Kesagake in the head. The beast's momentum bore it to the ground, where it shuddered, and died.

Kesagake weighed 340 kg, and would have stood 2.7 meters tall. The remains of his victims were found in his stomach.

Kesagake Strikes From the Grave

The Sankebetsu Brown Bear Incident is remembered as the deadliest bear attack in Japanese history. It seems to be the deadliest bear attack in world history, if the internet is to be believed. Whatever the case is, the scars left by Kesagake were both mental and physical.

Miyouke Odo recovered physically. His quest to kill Kesagake had ended in failure. By the next Spring, his melancholy and survivor's guilt got the better of him. Miyouke Odo died after 'falling' from a bridge and drowning in the river.

The other survivors of Kesagake's assault on the Miyouke household recovered. Miyouke Umekichi died after suffering in a broken body for two years.

Rokusen-sawa was soon abandoned by the villagers. Becoming a ghost-town by the end of WWI.

Ōkawa Haruyoshi was 6 years old at the time of Kesagake's rampage. He was the son of Rokusen-sawa's mayor. When he grew up, he vowed to kill 10 bears for every life that Kesagake had taken. By his retirement at 62, he had slain 102 bears.



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