Asiatic black bears Ursus thibetanus are threatened in Japan but are generally considered to be nuisance animals because of the damage they cause to agriculture and property, and because they cause human casualties. We analysed media coverage of black bears in Japan to understand social discourse and potential influences on public perceptions about conservation of bears. Content analysis of a total of 348 articles in a local and a national newspaper revealed that the number of articles regarding black bears and the proportion of negative articles that describe the risks posed by bears increased concomitant with a rise in sightings of bears. Local newspapers included more articles about the risks posed by bears than national newspapers. This potentially reflects and can amplify local residents' perceptions of risk. The proportion of thematic and episodic articles was unrelated to increases in bear appearances. More extensive communications with media representatives by biologists, government officials and police are needed to enhance public knowledge of bears and lead to broader perspectives on their management.