HAKUI, Japan >> A wild boar nearly 4 feet long and weighing about 220 pounds lay in a room at a game meat processing facility in Hakui, Ishikawa Prefecture. Hakui is the gateway city to the Noto Peninsula, which is blessed with the bountiful nature of satoyama and satoumi (woodlands and oceans near populated areas).
The room was being kept at 59 degrees, and pre-treatment of the animal was completed within an hour after hunters called to say it had been killed.
The boar was cleaned with acid water for sterilization and swiftly separated into skin and meat before processing.
The facility is operated by a joint company called Notoshishidan, which has been commissioned by the city government.
“When processed quickly and well, the meat doesn’t smell so strong,” said company head Shinji Kato, 31, emphasizing the importance of time-critical work.
In 2015, the Hakui city government launched Notoshishi Daisakusen, a project to sell the meat of captured boars. The name Notoshishi comes from the Noto region’s traditional Shishi Goroshi lion dance, in which a tengu long-nosed goblin gets rid of vermin that devastate farms and rice paddies.
The project was created in response to the serious crop damage caused by the animals, endangering conservation of the satoyama landscape.
As boar sightings increased in Hakui and two neighboring towns, the number of animals killed jumped from 25 in 2012 to 779 in 2015. Five people, including members of the central government’s Community-Reactivating Cooperator Squad, are participating in the mission.
Kato, who is from Kyoto Prefecture, moved to Hakui in 2015 as a member of the squad, promoted by the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry to revitalize underpopulated areas. Kato joined Notoshishidan at the time of its inauguration in spring 2015. Back then, the organization was just a voluntary group.
In December 2017, Kato finished out his term as a squad member and became the head of Notoshishidan, which has developed into a corporate body.
There were only two members when the group began its activities, laymen with no knowledge of distribution.
“I didn’t know where to sell our meat,” Kato recalled.
With the city’s support, they visited michi no eki roadside rest areas and participated in trade fairs in Kanazawa and Tokyo organized by the Ishikawa prefectural government. They gradually expanded distribution routes.
During the summer of 2017, the operation finally became profitable. In 2017, 336 boars that were killed in one city and two towns were processed into 4.8 tons of meat, with sales reaching about $146,000.
The company’s meat is popular for being “less smelly and soft, despite being game meat.” The brawn loin is distributed to restaurants in Kanazawa and Tokyo.
Bones and guts, which otherwise are treated as industrial trash, are carbonized to become fertilizer, while the skin is processed into key cases and other accessories, utilizing every part of the animal for profit.
More members of the company are needed to expand the market.
Daisuke Higuchi, 23, graduated from a university in Tokyo this year, and became both a squad member and a member of Notoshishidan.
“I’ve wanted to get a job related to hunting and game meat for a long time. I want to go hunting by myself in the future,” Higuchi said.
The key will be bringing in the younger generations, who are increasingly interested in hunting, which is directly involved with nature.
“If our activities stop, these pests will bedevil local farmers. We must continue our activities while spreading the name of ‘notoshishi’ throughout Japan,” Kato said.
Amid the growing popularity of game meat cuisine nationwide, the central government and local authorities have set up certification systems to relieve consumers’ concern over quality and help expand the market.