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.
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
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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