Governor promises “devil” bears in redesign.

Akita, located in Japan’s northeastern Tohoku region, is one of the country’s more rural prefectures. While its human population might not be very big, though, Akita has one of Japan’s larger bear populations.

So among the public awareness posters the prefectural government has recently designed is one about bears, which contains some useful and important pieces of advice. There’s a potential problem, though, with the artwork the posters use to illustrate their points: the bears are adorable.

“Be careful of bears” reads the large-font text at the top of the poster, but bear in the drawing doesn’t look intimidating in the slightest. With its head tilted, ears standing up, and lack of a visible mouth as he peeks out from behind some shrubbery, you could argue that he looks more like a cute creature with his own line of merchandise than an omnivorous apex predator.

The issue, though, is that Akita has been having a spike in bear attacks lately. Bear sightings in the prefecture are up more than 25 percent compared to this time of year in 2023, in which Akita had its largest-ever reported number of bear attacks on humans. With six attacks so far this year, 2024 is on pace to equal last year’s number.

The whole point of the posters is to remind people that bears can be very dangerous, but that danger isn’t really being communicated by the cute illustrations. At the poster’s lower left corner, it cautions people not to leave litter in the woods, as food scraps and unconsumed beverage liquid can attract bears, accompanied with another illustrated bear with a cute bit of “I’m so hungry” drool on his chin. On the right side is a warning for residents to take countermeasures to keep bears out of their farms and gardens that have edible plants, with a bear sitting like a forlorn puppy with a manga-style “I’m so confused” swirl above his head (the other illustrations advise talking, playing a radio, or putting a bell on your bag when walking in the woods and keeping vegetation trimmed around your home to maintain open lines of sight so that you don’t inadvertently startle a bear into attacking).

▼ “It’s so cute,” says a 70-something Akita resident when asked for her impression of the artwork.

Now, you’d be right to assume that, in Japan, “cute” is generally the default style of graphic design, even when it’s the government producing the artwork, and not everyone sees anything wrong with the poster’s design. However, many have also said the poster’s illustrations defeat the purpose of trying to instill a greater sense of caution regarding bears, and the Akita Prefectural Assembly discussed the matter in a recent session. “We didn’t set out to make the bear look cute,” said Masato Ito, head of Akita’s environmental department, “but it’s true that, as has been pointed out, it doesn’t do a good job of conveying the serious injuries that can result if a person is attacked by a bear.”

“I’m sorry,” Akita Governor Norihisa Satake agreed. “I should have looked this over.” Satake went on to indicate that the poster will be redesigned, saying “I will make it look scarier, like a devil. This is different than designing an animal welfare poster, so I believe the visual elements need to be frightening.”

One could make the argument that since real-life bears also often appear cute when in a non-aggressive state, cute illustrations aren’t a complete mismatch for a beware-of-bears poster, and that it’s in the public’s best interest to be reminded that the aura of disarming cuddly silliness the animals sometimes radiate can be dangerously misleading. Still, artwork that’s uniformly nonthreatening probably isn’t the most effective way to promote caution, so while the posters that have already been distributed don’t appear to be being recalled, a redesign probably isn’t a bad idea.

Source: Akita Prefecture, FNN Prime Online, Yomiuri Shimbun
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert images: Akita Prefecture
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