hokkaido life

Washing Bears: Cow Killing Devils

There is a great beast who stalks the snowy heights of the Hokkaido hinterlands. This terrible animal is feared far and wide as an “oni”, a demon, a vicious beast with no respect for man or animal. He lurks in the shadows, plotting your downfall, the destruction of your property and the death of your livestock while he’s at it. From Nakagawa to Nayoro his name is spoken in hushed whispers as villagers, young and old, band together over bonfires lit in old rusted drum tanks, telling stories of this vile, murdering beast. His eyes are dark and blank, like looking into the abyss itself and his claws are sharp, all the better to gouge the life from the helpless victims who cross his path.

His name?

アライグマ or…


Seriously! Stop laughing! I mean it! The Washing Bear is a fearsome beastie! He is a demon! I had three different teachers confirm this for me! They all agreed that Washing Bears were responsible for a rash of dead cows in Otoineppu and Nakagawa. This of course answered a question I never had which was, why were there no cows in Otoineppu.


I had no idea there was another predator as life threatening as the actual bears who live in the forest less than a football field’s length from my apartment, or the killer wasps who can kill in two strikes, OR the giant deer that roam the country side, flinging themselves pell mell at your car or causing you to skid to your death over a dangerous precipice trying to avoid said deer. I seriously think Hokkaido is more dangerous than Australia and that is saying something. Bears I know to avoid with a bear bell and not wandering into the woods by myself and staying to well lit sidewalks and the deer are easily avoided by not walking around at dusk (D'oh!) and driving slowly around forested parts of the highway but the how to avoid the Washing Bear? I didn’t even know what it looked like, let alone how it could take down something as massive as a cow and not ONCE be mentioned in the ‘How Now To Die in Hokkaido’ presentation I attended at orientation. Don’t drink the water, don’t poke the bears, don’t fall down drunk in the snow (that seemed to be mentioned specifically for the Australians) but zilch on the Washing Bears.

So what IS a washing bear and why is it so feared in my little patch of snowy countryside? Well according to my students, it has human-like hands that it likes to rub together, over and over again, sometimes in water, other times in the blood of its victims. It wears a dark mask behind which it stares out at you like a devil and it apparently has a taste for beef because it kills cows by biting them. Not only is the Washing Bear meticulously clean but it’s also part vampire. It has been known to take down a cow with a great and mighty bite and it lives in barns or in the woods, I couldn’t quite get the real story from my students. 

Understandably confused (and a little worried I was living on borrowed time since there’s a barn across the street from my apartment building) I asked my co-worker, Mr. *, for the english translation. After several frantic charades, a drawing on the board best left forgotten and a desperate dash to the dictionaries in the back of the room, my students and co-worker revealed the English translation of this hideous beast.

Tumblr…I give you The Washing Bear!

“Hi. My name is Tide and I am a Washing Bear.”

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