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Wild Boar Hunting in Japan by William Elliot Griffis



Winter is the harvest-time of the Japanese hunter. The snow-covered ground is a great tell-tale, and the deer, bears, rabbits, and wild hogs can be easily tracked. Though the Japanese hunter often uses a matchlock or rifle, his favorite weapons are his long spear and short sword. He covers his head with a helmet made of plaited straw, having a long flap to protect his neck, and keep out the snow or rain. His feet are shod with a pair of sandals made of rice straw, his baggy cotton trousers are bound at the calves with a pair of straw leggings, and in wet weather he puts on a grass rain cloak. To see a group of hunters stalking through the forests in Japan, as I have often seen them, reminds one of bundles of straw out on a tramp.

I once enjoyed a dinner of fresh boar-steak at the house of a famous Japanese hunter named Nakano Kawachi, who lived in a village at the top of a mountain, between the provinces of Omi and Echizen. I had been travelling all the morning on snow-shoes through the forests of Echizen. The snow was full of tracks of deer, hogs, rabbits, woodchucks, weasels, martens, porcupines, monkeys, and ferrets. The hunters were out in force, and their shouts made the forest ring with echoes. Our path lay through a valley, with rocks on either side.

Just as we were within a mile of a village named Toné, a wild boar, closely pressed by a man with a spear, rushed down through the woods, and around a huge mass of rocks. The hunter, knowing every inch of the ground, sprang round a shorter curve, and reached the path at the end of the gully just as the boar at full trot leaped down. Levelling his long weapon, with all his might he drove the blade with a terrific lunge between the boar's ribs, just back of the heart. So great was the impetus of the swift animal that the hunter was nearly taken off his feet, while the boar turned a complete somersault. We expected to see the blade of the lance snap, or the handle wrench off; but no, steel and wood were too true. The boar struggled and rolled over the bloody snow, but was helpless to get on his feet again. The hunter quietly drew out the steel, wiped it with a bunch of dead leaves, and then, with equal coolness, drew his sword and severed the jugular vein of the dying boar.

By this time the hunter's two sons, who had helped to start the animal from his lair, came down the hill. Passing two strands of rope made of rice straw around the carcass, they inserted a thick bamboo pole under the withes. Then swinging the pole over their shoulders, they started off on a dog-trot to the village, shouting as they went. We followed them, and when near the village gate heard a bedlam of unearthly yells and whoops of triumph from all the boys and girls of the village, who were proud of their famous hunter. We had entered into conversation with him, and learned that his name was Nakano Kawachi.

Our party, at the invitation of the hunter, entered his house, first taking off our shoes. We all sat round the fire, which was in a great square hearth in the middle of the floor, while the chimney was a gaping black funnel in the ceiling. My party consisted of three of my students from the government school of Fukui, my interpreter, a brave soldier named Inouyé, and my body-servant Sahei. The six mountaineers with huge wide snow-shoes, whom I hired for the size of their feet to beat a path in the snow-drift for our party, remained outside with the villagers. They, with their children, stood in crowds outside to catch a sight of me, as they had never seen an American before.

Our host, first unstrapping his sword, carefully wiped and cleansed his spear, which he stands on its iron butt in the corner. We all sit around the fire, on which turnips and rice are boiling and omelet is frying. All around the ceiling from the smoky rafters hang strings of large dried persimmons, almost as sweet and luscious as figs. These we munch while Nakano cuts tenderloin steaks from half the carcass of a boar which he speared the day before. In a few moments seven hungry travellers are watching the sputtering, sizzling boar-steak as it wafts its appetizing odors everywhere, as it seems, but up the chimney.

"Is this the second wild hog you've speared this winter?" asks Iwabuchi, the interpreter.

"No, your honor," answers Nakano; "the snow began to fall ten days ago, and this is the eighth hog I have killed; but yesterday I speared my first boar this winter."

"How long have you been a hunter?"

"Hai! your honor, ever since I was a boy. I speared my first hog when I was fifteen."

"What do you do with the boar's tusks?"

"Hai! your honor, they are the most valuable part of the animal. I sell them to an agent of an ivory-carving shop in Tokio, who comes through these parts in the spring. The Tokio men carve nétsukés from them. They are not as good as ivory, but they do for bimbo [poor men]. My own nétsuké is of boar's tusk."

"Meshi shitaku" (rice is ready), cried the housewife, at this moment, and conversation was suspended. A little table of lacquered wood a foot square and four inches high was set before each man of our party. With chopsticks for the rice and knives for the boar-steak, we partook of the hunter's fare. The march of eight miles in the frosty air, plodding our way through drifts, and stepping on snow-shoes, which furnished good exercise for our legs, had made us ravenously hungry. When full, and all had said "Mo yoroshio" (even enough) to the polite girls who waited on us, we walked out to the front, where a gaping crowd gazed at the American white-face, as if they were at Barnum's, and he was the Tattooed Man. I rushed at them, pretending to catch the children, when they scattered like sheep. In their fright they tumbled over each other, until a dozen or more were sprawling on the snow or had tumbled head-foremost in the drifts. A smile, and the distribution of some sugared cakes of peas and barley, made them good friends again. After an hour's rest we bade the hunter, the villagers, and our snow-shoe men good-by, and resumed our journey in single file over the mountains to Tokio.