Japan's stunning and diversified topography, which includes everything from highlands, forests, and marshes to beaches, temperate climates, and undersea worlds, is home to some of the world's most remarkable and distinctive wildlife. On your trip, witnessing the wildlife in Japan is guaranteed to be a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, with everything from snow monkeys to tanuki, gigantic salamanders to cranes, and humpback whales to hammerhead sharks.
Zoos aren't the only places where charming animals can be found. Hundreds of cats or rabbits can be seen on some of the tiny islands, as well as wild snow monkeys bathing in hot springs and deer roaming free. There are numerous animal cafes where you can meet not only dogs and cats but also a variety of other animals. In this post, we'll go through some of the best places to spot the wildlife in Japan.
An ideal place to view the magnificent brown bear can be found in Hokkaido's Shiretoko Peninsula. These large land predators can run at speeds up to 30 mph and are considered to be highly dangerous. Nevertheless, the fishermen at Shiretoko are not fearful of these bears, which roam freely around the region.
In Shiretoko, you're very likely to catch a glimpse of bears with their cubs. Bears cannot be seen in the distance due to the hilly terrain and trees. Although, between spring and autumn, you can spot a couple of bears by the road nearly every day, and you might also see them regularly from the walking trails.
Suruga Bay, formed by the Izu Peninsula, and Lake Hamana, one of Japan's largest lakes, can be found in Shizuoka Prefecture, which is situated on Japan's Pacific Ocean coast. The area is abundant with marine wildlife in Japan, including dolphins.
Sea kayaking tours and other aquariums in the region allow you to come up close and personal with these magnificent sea creatures for an unforgettable experience.
Deer are regarded as sacred animals in Japan, and they serve as a symbol for Nara. They've also been declared a natural treasure. Nara Park is home to over 1,500 free-roaming deer, and trying to feed the deer is a point of interest in and of itself. The Park encompasses the lands surrounding Todaiji and Kofukuji temples, along with Kasugataisha Shrine, and spans 660 hectares.
The deer in Nara Park are so accustomed to human contact, and some of the animals have even learned to bow to you, particularly if you bow first. Specially made crackers offered at local souvenir stores and booths are available for visitors to feed the deer. The crackers are manufactured with wheat flour and rice bran, and a portion of the proceeds goes to deer conservation.
South of Kyushu and north of Okinawa is Amami Shima, Japan's seventh-largest island, with a population of 1.3 million people. Due to the island's seclusion from other landmasses, Amami Island has a vibrant natural habitat as well as a distinct culture.
The Ōhama Coastal Park is a popular tourist spot where sea turtles come to lay their eggs. In local folklore, sea turtles are considered to be emissaries of the Sea God. Snorkeling tours in Kagoshima allow you to swim with the sea turtles and see the beautiful underwater coral. Japan has taken great measures for the conservation of sea turtles. They are highly respected as wildlife in Japan, with dead turtles being buried in marked graves.
From December 2020 to March 2021, a total of 1,087 humpback whales were seen migrating to the waters around Amami-Oshima island in the southwest Japan prefecture of Kagoshima. Diving is possible all year round, with temperatures ranging between 21°C to 30°C and a visibility of 20m to 40m.
Migrating dolphins and whales, as well as schools of horse mackerel, manta, reef fish, hammerhead, and sea turtles, all thrive in moderate currents and can be spotted. Whale watching is a popular tourist activity in the region, and the chances of you encountering one are considerably high.
This rare species of monkey are the only primates who can survive such cold temperatures other than humans. These are, without a doubt, some of the most sought-after exotic Japanese wildlife.
Japanese macaque monkeys have a thick coat of fur that keeps them warm in the winter. They have brown-grey skin and crimson faces. They can usually be found soaking in hot springs in the Nagano Prefecture.
Jigokudani Yaen Koen, i.e., the Snow Monkey Park, was established in 1964 to allow these monkeys a safe space to bathe while humans could observe and learn about them. Since the park's inception, employees have fed the snow monkeys every day. They reside in the mountains nearby, but they come back down for the extra meals.
The monkeys use the baths all year, although they spend more time there in the colder months. As a result, the months of December through March are usually the ideal time for visiting.
The lovely but tragically endangered red-crowned cranes are regarded as a symbol of good fortune in Japan, and legend has it that they can live for a thousand years. Red-crowned cranes were assumed to be extinct until they were rediscovered in Japan in the 19th century and placed on the severely endangered species list. With such few numbers in existence, witnessing them in person could be a miraculous opportunity.
The village of Tsurui is often regarded as the best area in the country to see these cranes. Each year, thousands of foreign visitors go to the village to observe one of Japan's rarest creatures. Since this bird breeds close to the village, witnessing one here should be relatively easy, which should make this your priority for exploring wildlife in Japan.
The Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium is home to two whale sharks which are a wonder to behold. This wildlife tank is quite large, and it is spread out over several floors, allowing visitors to gaze into the waters from various viewpoints.
For a more adventurous and memorable experience, you can go snorkeling with the whale sharks by booking a diving tour in Okinawa, off the shores of Yomitan. Whether you decide to snorkel or dive, you can wonder at their beauty from afar. You could even get a little closer and swim right beside them if you're a certified diver.
Okunoshima, often referred to as Rabbit or Bunny Island, is situated in Hiroshima and is famed for its enormous population of cute fluffy rabbits. In WWII, this 4-kilometer island was a center of chemical warfare research and development. To keep the operation hidden, the island was completely omitted from Japanese maps. Rabbits were used as test subjects, and some people believe the critters there now are the offspring of the rabbits that were sent there originally.
The island is home to over 1,000 wild rabbits, who are revered as a symbol of healthy childbirth and the gift of many children thanks to their high rate of reproduction. The National Park Resort includes a golf course, a hotel, and a gas museum. As rabbits are hypersensitive, signs warn people against feeding them certain foods, cuddling them, or chasing them.
The months of January through March are the best time to go whale watching in Okinawa since the ocean is filled with active, migrating sea creatures. Humpback whales can be spotted off the coast of Zamami Island, as well as whale sharks and hammerhead sharks.
Boats depart from the main island and Kerama Island daily for whale watching tours that provide a glimpse into the natural habitat of whales. Spotting the 15-meter-long whale against the crystal-clear blue water is a one-in-a-lifetime experience. These dramatic and moving experiences with whales will undoubtedly be one to cherish!
Due to the enormous number of cats that live on the islands, Japan has roughly a dozen locations known as Cat Islands. Aoshima, located in Shikoku's Ehime Prefecture, is arguably Japan's most famed cat island. There are up to 120 cats in this area, although only 15 to 20 people live there. They can be found basking in the sun, napping, or observing the fishermen on the roads. Most of the cats are affectionate enough to let you pet them, but feeding them is strongly forbidden.
Tashiro-Jima in the Miyagi prefecture is yet another notable cat island, with a few hundred cats living there. Cats were brought in to defend the silk-worm farms from rodents, and eventually, the population of felines on the island rose to outnumber the population of humans. Locals believe that feeding and taking care of these cats can bring prosperity and good fortune.
The remarkable Japanese Giant Salamander can be found in freshwater rivers. It is referred to as a 'living dinosaur' since an average creature of this species can reach a height of 4.5 feet and live for over 100 years. In the Gifu Prefecture, you can find these creatures burrowed in the rocks of river beds.
The greatest time to see Japanese giant salamanders would be during their breeding season, which begins in late August and ends in early September when sexually mature salamanders travel up into the highlands. Their number is currently declining, which is why conservation areas are being established.
Apart from the rare red-crowned cranes, the wildlife in Japan is abundant with different species of these birds, particularly in the Izumi crane migration grounds. From mid-October to mid-November, the birds migrate here with north and northwest winds. Around 3,000 white-naped cranes, 10,000 hooded cranes, and tiny numbers of sandhill cranes, demoiselle cranes, common cranes, and Siberian cranes are seen every year.
It is a common emblem of longevity and good fortune in Japanese culture. It can be found on washi paper, kimono patterns, and carved into temple ornaments, but it is most commonly seen in the form of origami. According to legend, anyone who folds 1000 origami cranes would have their wish granted.
The remarkable ecological diversity of Lake Biwa's northern reaches includes wild birds that are a dream come true for any bird-watching enthusiast. As the largest lake in Japan, it has several points of interest where you can spot a variety of species, but the one that mainly concerns the public is the Kohoku Wild Bird Center.
Here, you can expect to catch a glimpse of birds such as the Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Elegant bunting, Japanese Woodpecker, White-backed Woodpecker, and ducks such as the redhead Smew, Baer's Pochard, Green-winged Teal, Ring-necked Duck, Ferruginous Duck, Red Crested Pochard, and the Lesser Scaup.
One of the largest eagles in the world, Sea Eagles are easily recognizable for their yellow beak and claws. The ideal time and place to observe these remarkable birds are in the Pacific waters around Japan between January and February. Sea Eagles enjoy eating cod, which is abundant at that time of year, providing tourists with a unique chance to observe these predatory eagles in action.
There are a variety of wildlife tours available nowadays that cater to nature enthusiasts and encourage them to watch animals in their natural habitat. Some of the above-mentioned species are indigenous to the island and are endangered, such as the red-headed cranes, salamanders, and spider crabs.
Strong cultural symbolism, as well as great respect and concern for the environment and wildlife, characterize Japanese culture. There are many mythical tales and folklore associated with the wildlife in Japan, which makes exploring the diverse landscape even more exciting. So, on your next trip to Japan, be sure to add more wildlife excursions to your itinerary!