Matagi. Nevertheless, Yuko’s uncle fed me frozen cutlets of pure, raw bear fat and regaled us with Iwate bear stories like the one about an onsen worker who saw a bear cub on his way home from work. Thinking it was small enough to capture with his bare hands the unfortunate fellow got off his motorcycle and made a grab for it. Simultaneously, the mother bear came up from behind and put him into the hospital for a few weeks. “Har har har har har har, what a dipstick!” (Slap thighs for emphasis). Then there was the guy who tried to pull the old “play dead” ploy on a local bear after getting walloped on the back of the head (resulting in injury number one). After a few minutes he figured it would be safe to take a peek and see if the coast was clear. Thunk!! (resulting in injury number two). Nope, still there. “Har har har har!!” In the final analysis, though, Yuko’s uncle liked me well enough that he tried to dissuade me from becoming another funny bear story. I promised him that I would win Operation Bear Watch by cheating rather than by actually getting too close to bears.
Later, Yuko’s uncle took me to his garden in the shadows of a mountain separating Iwate from Akita to view bear sign but the trail was cold. I took a photograph of this washed out paw print and then turned my attention to thatched roofs.