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5 animals found only in Japan and where to see them

By Whitney Hubbell

Japan is well known for its animal attractions, particularly “Rabbit Island,” or Okunoshima, and a couple of “Cat Islands,” namely Aoshima and Tashirojima. It’s hard to beat the appeal of being surrounded by cute cats and fluffy bunnies. But for animal lovers wishing to observe some native animals in their natural habitats, Japan has so much more to offer.

As an island nation, Japan is home to many species that cannot be found outside its home islands. Additionally, though it is typically seen as an urban country, Japan’s land is actually 70% undeveloped, leaving ample habitat space for many of its native creatures, particularly those that dwell in alpine regions. Conservation efforts have been implemented for its more vulnerable animals, allowing some to thrive again.

With that, here are five species you can find only in Japan and where you can observe them in their natural habitats.

Japanese macaque

Japanese macaques are used to humans but don’t get too close. Image: PIXTA/ もっちー

If you’ve seen the photos of pink-faced monkeys frolicking in the snow or bathing in an onsen (hot spring), that’s the Japanese macaque. Colloquially known as “snow monkeys,” they can be found in some particularly snowy places. In fact, this species lives further north and in a colder climate than any other non-human primate. It is also the only monkey species in Japan, so when Japanese people use the word saru, meaning monkey, they have these guys in mind.

Snow monkeys can be found throughout Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu, but a few “monkey parks” are popular for seeing and interacting with these monkeys in their natural environment. The most famous is the Snow Monkey Park in Jigokudani, a natural hot spring in Nagano Prefecture. They come down from the mountains to take a warm bath in winter. There are also monkey parks in Arashiyama in Kyoto and Kanzaki near Beppu in Oita Prefecture.

Snow Monkey Park

6845 Hirao, Yamanochi, Shimotakai District, Nagano Prefecture - Map


Arashiyama Monkey Park

61, Nakaoshitacho, Arashiyama, Nishikyo Ward, Kyoto - Map


Takasakiyama Natural Zoological Garden

3098-1 Kanzaki, Oita Prefecture - Map


Shima Enaga

Hokkaido’s cute little puffballs. Image: PIXTA/ Daikegoro

The adorable shima enaga is a subspecies of long-tailed tit found only in Hokkaido. You can see them all year round in Hokkaido, but in cold weather, they puff out their feathers to keep warm, giving them their famous round, snowball-like appearance. The appeal of its cuteness has made it popular on social media and inspired lots of merchandise.

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Although it wasn't mentioned in the article, the tiny deer on Yakushima are absolutely precious. They're not used to humans, so don't run from us. I have wonderful memories of hiking there, and looking over to see deer munching on leaves. The monkeys there were also pretty chill (for monkeys).

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There are also racoon dogs in mainland Asia.

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Mr. Midnight

Today 11:36 am JST

There are also racoon dogs in mainland Asia.

Yes and also feral cats in other countries, long-tailed tit and macaque in other countries.

The difference is those mentioned here are a subspecies or a species unique to Japan. The Japanese tanuki is not a subspecies but a different species than the common racoon dog.



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The shima enaga are great subjects for Sumi-e painting.

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The only 5 unique animals left in Japan and where to see them.

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I thought about an island off the coast of Brazil after reading this nice story. It is called Ilha da Queimada Grande, or Snake Island. It is off limits to all people because of its wild life, the golden lancehead pit vipers. It is said there is one for every square metre of land and was once said to have over 430,000 of them, but recent estimates are so much lower. But then, who did the counting? The snake is reportedly one of the most venomous in the world.

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Tanuki are an invasive alien species that can be found in most of Europe where they affect local wildlife in various ways. In particular they are carriers of and spread disease, parasites, while competing for food and predate local wildlife. They can be found in the Baltic States, Scandinavian States, most of Northern Europe, Eastern Europe, most of Central Europe, parts of South Eastern Europe, areas of Western Europe and Southern Europe

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Watching in monkeys in parks, e.g. enclosures, is not their "Natural enviroment"! And it is also not natural for them to bathe in hot Onsens, otherwise a lot of Onsen on the countryside would'nt be able to offer outdoor baths for their human guests. My favourite one is the Kamoshika, Serow, for their cute looks, being usually alone in the wild, and their calm behaviour. They are related to cows, hence not running away until really neccessary.

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Lol I have raccon in my back yard don't need to go to Japan to see them. The entire family when they travel they vicious and they will tear your home up if they get inside the attic or bottom to make a nest!

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What about the kaiju native to Monster Island?

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Nice to read something like this on JT. I'm gonna complete the endemic top 10 for them and where to see them.

6 - ムササビ Giant Flying Squirrel, angrily available at big shrines on the edge of town.

7 - ニホンテン Marten, find an old coniferous plantation and keep going there.

8 - アナグマ Badger, keep still and you'll see one before you see a marten.

9 - オオサンショウウオ Giant Salamander. How this amazing creature didn't make the top 5 I'll never know. A national delight. Find a fast, clean river west of Nagano.

10 - ニホンオオカミ Honshu Wolf. They are still out there.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Animal cafes. There's probably a cafe for each of these animals listed in this article.

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