Unless you’re confined to the inner city, I’m sure at some point you’ve seen a ‘Caution: Animals’ sign when travelling by car. Though not so common in urban areas, the sign can often be found dotted along mountain roads as an indication to the wildlife that often lives in the greenery nearby. In Japan it is no different, with animal warning signs an ordinary part of the highway code for those who live in the inaka areas.
Whilst the signs serve as a reminder that we are not the only inhabitants of this beautiful country, it’s easy to forget that we are not alone when we don’t often encounter said wildlife on a regular basis. With most people travelling by daylight, the chances to come across some of Mother Nature’s most intriguing and beautiful creatures narrows down further, with the majority living nocturnal lives.
That’s why, when the odd opportunity comes up for regular folk to go on a night drive, a sudden meeting with an unexpected critter on the road can come as quite a shock, even when there are warnings all around.

Speaking from experience, I once found myself screaming ‘Bear! Bear! There’s a bear!’ as I drove from our campsite located within a forest near the top of Yamaguchi prefecture’s Akiyoshidai plateau to the nearest konbini. We had just left the campsite car park, and our tent was only 200 to 300 meters behind us, when out of the corner of my eye I caught the sight of something dark and large stumbling through the gloom. As the road twisted, my lights illuminated the foliage, and my partner and I sighed a gasp of relief when we realised what we had seen was not a bear but in fact a boar – though looking back now, a large wild boar patrolling the area near our tent should have also been cause for concern, however we did survive the night, and I am here to tell the tale.

Continuing down the road, it wasn’t long before we came across another boar, though this time was not as shocking as the first, and we pulled up nearby to watch the creature from a distance inside the relative safety of our car. Looking at the boar peacefully rooting up the ground, I felt a little bit ridiculous for my earlier outburst. However, in my defense, only earlier in the month there had been two bear sightings in my city of Kudamatsu, despite Yamaguchi being supposedly “bear free” according to most locals. Not surprisingly, the sightings caused quite a bit of commotion amongst the local community, and the thought of stumbling across a bear had obviously become a somewhat paranoid thought in the back of my head.
(These days, the number of bear sightings have been increasing in my old city, with eight recordings since April available to see on the city homepage. Perhaps this increase is a nod towards changes that have been happening in the world around us, most likely brought on by human activity.)

It seems as though I’m not the only one to fall victim to surprise when encountering an unexpected four legged friend in the dark whilst driving around Japan’s country lanes, as night-driving-fan Shoki (@shoki_sigure) shared an image on twitter from an astonishing meeting that occurred as he was driving one night recently.

Source: @shoki_sigure

Source: @shoki_sigure

Shoki, who likes to keep track of his night drives, was recording his ride, when suddenly, a stag with a head full of impressive antlers appeared on the side of the road. Despite being a regular night-driver, Shoki was surprised by the encounter and shared his documentation of the experience to his twitter account.

Deer are not nocturnal animals, but even so, there are occasions when they can appear at night, and to the unexpecting driver can cause feelings of shock and amazement.

Coming across nature can be one of the highlights of driving after dark, but with limited visibility the roads can be dangerous, so it is always wise to slow down and adjust your lights when heading up a mountain road during the night.

Have you ever come across an unexpected four legged friend after nightfall?

By - Connie Sceaphierde.