Kyoto, circa 1800
A rare depiction of a seated bear (kuma), licking the underside of one forepaw. The paws are large and powerful and the eyes intensely focused, which, together with the small pulled-back ears, lend the creature a feral mien. The thick fur is carved in minute detail with the outline of the hunched shoulders, the spine and jutting hip bones well defined beneath. The eyes are double inlaid in pale and dark buffalo horn.
The Japanese black bear formerly inhabited the islands of Honshu, Kyushu and Shikoku, but is now only found in Eastern Honshu. Bears have been hunted by matagi for food and for their skins since Heian times, but nowadays the practice has dwindled as efforts are made to conserve the breed.