Translated by Hilary Keyes
Wild Animals In Japan!? Where To Find Them
Written by KN June
Would you like to see Japan's wildlife up close and in person? This article introduces islands and other areas in Japan that are inhabited by wild and friendly animals such as deer, monkeys, cats, rabbits and more!
Wild Animals in Japan
Although Japan is well known for its historical cities and ultramodern hot spots, there are plenty of natural areas to enjoy too. But amidst all that nature, what sorts of creatures call Japan home?
While you will find plenty of bears, wild boars, tanuki (raccoon dogs), foxes, and other creatures in northern Japan and sometimes even just outside the city limits near Tokyo, these aren't necessarily the sorts of creatures you'd like to encounter while out on your own.
Animal cafes that even have tropical birds or falcons, zoos, and aquariums are some of the easiest places to look, but if you'd like to see Japan's animals in their natural habitats, then these are the places to go.
Here are some of the places where you can safely encounter Japan's natural wildlife today. These areas are spread far apart and located in rural areas in Japan, so we recommend traveling via Shinkansen; use the JR Pass to save yen to save on multiple trips to see more of these adorable creatures.
** Please remember, semi-wild and wild animals are unpredictable, and should be approached with caution. For monkeys and other wild animals mentioned later in this article, you should not attempt to touch or interact with them unless directed to do so.
Ogijima Island - Cats Everywhere
Cat fans may find themselves spending time in any of Japan's famous neko cafes, but if you'd like to see cats living on their own terms, then a trip to Ogijima in Kagawa is just the thing for you! Plus, this island is full of natural charms and art installations that are sure to make for an even more memorable trip.
Take a look at Kagawa’s Cat Island Ogijima - Play With Cats And See Beautiful Art to see more of the cats and some of the public works of art.
Okunoshima Island - Bunnies Galore
Bunnies rule the island of Okunoshima in Hiroshima; that isn't an exaggeration. About 700 rabbits call this island home, and they are more than happy to greet visitors here with a wiggly nose. To learn more about these free-roaming fluffy friends, check out Discover Hiroshima's Rabbit Island! The Incredible Okunoshima.
Nara Park - Deer, Deer and More Deer
Nara Park is known for its many historical temples and shrines, but perhaps some of the most popular residents of this park are its deer. These deer have found fame online for their polite manners, as they always make sure to bow before receiving a snack of deer senbei (rice crackers) from guests. To see more of the deer strolling about the park, read Are There Really Deer Everywhere In Nara Park?
Miyajima, in Hiroshima prefecture, is another place where you'll find friendly deer roaming around. Just like in Nara, these deer used to be considered messengers of the gods so they have always been cherished on this island.
All Over Japan - Snow Monkeys and Hot Springs
The majority of the northern hot spring spots in Japan are also home to the Japanese macaque, a type of monkey that simply loves to hang out in the bath. If you'd like to see these cute snow monkeys for yourself, you should head to Arashiyama, Kyoto, Yamanouchi or Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano, or in the Yunokawa Onsen area of Hakodate, in Hokkaido.
Okinawa - Iriomote Wildcat
photo courtesy of Okinawa Convention＆Visitors Bureau
Iriomote is the second largest island that makes up Okinawa. Over 90% of the island is covered with a subtropical primeval forest, which is home to many protected species of flora and fauna, including the Iriomote wildcat, a subspecies of leopard.
Eco tours make it possible for visitors to see the natural wonders of this island in a manner that both protects and supports these cats and other creatures. For more information about traveling to Iriomote, see How To Reach Okinawa's Outer Islands - Ishigaki, Yonaguni, And Others.
Hahajima and Chichijima - Beautiful Birds
Both Hahajima and Chichijima in the Ogasawara Archipelago, located 1000 km away from Tokyo, are home to numerous protected and endangered Japanese species as well. These include the katsuodori (brown booby), akagashira karasubato (Japanese wood pigeon), and the Katamaimai land snail, plus the Hahajima meguro (Bonin white eye) you see here.
Eco tours are available in the archipelago as well, so if you'd like to do a bit of bird-watching and hopefully see something quite rare, these two islands are the best places to check. Read Your Guide To Hahajima, The Pearl Of The Ogasawara Archipelago and The Unique Wildlife And Food Culture Of Chichijima Island, Ogasawara to learn more.
Yamaguchi - Sacred White Snakes
Although not a fluffy critter, the Iwakuni shirohebi (white snake) is a cute and very important creature to Japan. White snakes were seen as being a beneficial, good fortune summoning guardian deity of the home in the past, and it is thought that this belief is what led to the population boom that they underwent in the past. Unfortunately, modernization took away much of their natural habitat and in 1972, the Iwakuni shirohebi was declared a protected species. If you'd like to see more of these sacred snakes, and help out with their protection, see Meet The White Snakes Of Iwakuni In Yamaguchi.
Across Japan - Swim with Wild Dolphins
There are only four places in all of Japan where you can encounter wild Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins, two of them being Nanao Bay, Ishikawa prefecture, and in Mikurashima, which is counted as part of the Tokyo Metropolitan area, despite being 200 km off the main island of Japan. Special eco tours where you can either view or swim with the dolphins are offered in both areas, so for more information on each, please see Meet And Swim With Wild Dolphins At Notojima Island, Ishikawa! or Meet Wild Dolphins Near Tokyo In Mikurashima!
Have Fun and See Japan's Wildlife for Yourself!
Animal lovers will have their work cut out for them when visiting Japan - there are just so many different places to go to see any number of animals in Japan. Whether you want to see cats in a cafe, or encounter some wild dolphins and endangered species during an eco tour, there is something for everyone here. Please come and visit Japan's indigenous wildlife!