Japan's 400-year-old bear hunt is sacred and disputed
The Matagi start hunting in the north Honshu highland, Japan. Bloodstains of reddish colour bloom in virginal snows as the bears corpse is towed to a near-by plane to be disembowelled and chopped up with a Matagi tradition-live. Corso Javier lived 15 nights with the Matagi and took photos showing how their practices were deeply ingrained in 400 years of evolution.
The Corso team worked on the film as part of the OAK tales editorial team, an editorial office of reporters, film makers and geographers with a focus on storytelling. He collaborated with Alex Rodal, a OAK research supervisor who spent six month researching the Matagi before shooting. Hunting is such an intense intellectual activity that Corso was the first to be able to record it outside the realm of Yasuhiro Tanaka, the famous Japan based photojournalist.
The group of Matagi people took five consecutive visits, gained their confidence and got to know their cultures before being taken to the hills. "I was very struck by how they were hunting," says Korso. After the Fukushima atomic catastrophe in 2011, the state prohibited many Matagi municipalities from selling bears' flesh for six years for fear of soiling.
"They had to find other ways to keep themselves alive," says Corso. And Javier Corso is a member of OAK Stories.
Hunter Matagi threatened with disappearance
The Matagi are fighting for their existence and the preservation of their culture in the area T?hoku, just off Honshu - the capital isle of the Japan Islands. Ever since its creation as an independent sub-culture over three hundred years ago, this municipality has been characterized by very strict hunts and great reverence for the outdoors.
Your demanding way of living is now associated with a disturbing realization: you are lacking the new lifeblood to continue the Matagi's work. In fact, the hunter's tradition of living no longer reaches the younger generations and the mean ages of their current members are constantly rising.
During the twenty-first centuries, Japan - modern, globalized and industrialized - no longer has the same charm with the prospects of surviving in the snow-capped mountain and the enormous amount of exercise required to live as a slayer. Furthermore, the regulation of hunt is increasing and many of the statutory limitations are a serious barrier for young and old.
Because of the high tax rates and the strictly defined seasonal hunt, Matagis have to take on other tasks in order to be able to live the year. The Matagi hunter works in agriculture or as a woodcutter outside the cold season," says Yasuhiro Tanaka, a photo artist and specialist in this fellowship who has been living and working with them for more than threety years.
Tanaka, who has published a range of publications on the many characteristics of this group of hunter, says that many are compelled to move to town. "The Matagis can no longer make a living from the hunt alone. The inscrutable web of laws and regulation that they have to face today is a genuine challenge for a society that has been on the hunt for hundreds of years.
Under the Law on Wildlife Protection and Wildlife Conservation, they must obtain a license from the prefectural authorities, take an examination and the application and hunting-taxes. This license is about 19,000 Japanese Dollars (about 141 or 170 US$), it is only available for the hunt in this county and must be renew every three years after it has passed another suitability test.
You are also obliged to take out accident insurances. And of course a gun is needed for the hunt, so a license must be applied for at the National Commission for Public Security. "I was 15 years old and the first date with the Slayers.
It was my task to act as a scouts - a vital part that the Matagis call seckou to see the loot and act as a kind of bait," says Hideo Suzuki, head of the isolated shelter Animatagi. The municipality in Akita County is known among the natives as "the (original) home of the Matagi".
The most recent figures from the Japanese Ministry of the Environment show that the number of hunt license owners has declined nationwide over the last four decades: in 1975 there were 518,000, in 2014 there were only 194,000. The figures for the Matagi tell the tale: four centuries ago, over 60 year old fighters accounted for 9 percent of the population. Today the figure is 66.
But in 2016, at the University of Iowa, USA, Scott Schnell organized a meeting to debate the issue and the fight of hunting civilizations like the Matagi - trapped between two epochs - to keep their heritage intact. The two members of the fellowship were asked to talk about their own cultural life.
The Matagis - who have many things in common with the Indian hunter - played a vital part in the rest of Japan's community, not only as guardians of indigenous eco-systems, but also as proponents of sound co-existence between the countryside and the city, working in constant community and harmonious with the natural environment.
Matagis, unlike most contemporary fighters, do not regard the hunt as a sports or leisure pursuit. No more than what they need to live, they hunt for their own needs or for regular sales, or to save rustic and farming communities from the devastation of wildlife. For example, they use advanced weapons and clothing, but the Matagis cling to the mystic convictions they have learned from their ancestors.
It is a remarkable achievement to keep your memories going, considering how little writing is available about the world. "of the Matagi people. Everything they know about their traditions, as other fellowship directors and veterans say, was learned through verbal transmission and given to them by their ancestors.
I' m really concerned that the Matagi civilization could disappear," he closes. Today, in Japan and beyond, the hunt is widely denounced against a background of growing consciousness and activation (as it can no longer really be regarded as a subsistential activity) and in particular the hunt for wildlife such as the Matagi's most primal and symbolic predator, the Matagi, a wildlife currently classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Against this backdrop, a Matagi Summit is organized once a year in Japan, at which traditionally trained fighters exchange their experience, convictions and lifestyles in order to eliminate the associated embarrassment and, if possible, win new members.