Japanese wildlife might not be as famous as Japanese culture, but there are many beautiful wild animals in Japan to look out for! From the mountains to the sea, along rivers and rice fields, there are many, many wild animals in Japan that you might not be able to find anywhere else! Here and ten Japanese animals that we think you should seek out!
The first Japanese animal on our list is the raccoon dog. Known as TANUKI in Japan, this furry little thing is a staple of Japanese wildlife! Like the Racoons of the Americas, the tanuki is rarely seen in the daytime, being nocturnal. However, it’s worth staying out to spot one! This Japanese animal is seriously cute. HOWEVER. Remember, they are still wild animals, so should not be petted like household animals. They might sound like cats, but they aren’t pets!
Tanuki is popular in Japanese folklore, known for being masters of disguise, and often has a shapeshifting ability. Nowadays, statues of tanuki can be seen all over Japan, and offer good luck to travelers. These are one of the more popular animals in Japan.
Japan is a country of many different terrains: from mountain to sea, from fields to the forest, and even sand dunes (check out Tottori!). This is great news for fans of Japanese wildlife. With each terrain comes different wild animals.
In mountain forests, even in the snow-capped peaks, you will find Japanese Macaques. Called Nihonzaru in Japanese, no other non-human primate lives so far north, or in such cold a climate! They are one of the most iconic wild animals in Japan and always seem to feature in documentaries about the country.
Although there are ‘monkey parks’ around Japan, we recommend skipping out on these and trying to find these animals in their natural habitat. They are wild animals, after all. Yet don’t get too close. Nihonzaru, like all monkeys, can attack, and often are known to steal possessions.
Nihonzaru features prominently in Japanese culture and folklore. They are often portrayed in Japanese fairy tales, including Momotaro, and are the companions to gods and spirits like Raijin: the god of lightning. Because of this, they are some of the most famous wild animals in Japan!
Tsukinowa-Guma, or Moon Bear
Japan’s only species of bear, the Asian Black Bear, Nihon Tsukinowa-guma, or Moon Bear, is the largest animal to have roamed the island of Kyushu and Shikoku. They have been in Japan since prehistory, yet they are some of the most endangered animals in Japan. Some believe that they are already extinct on the island of Shikoku, and only a few remain in the most remote parts of Kyushu.
Whilst sightings have increased in the last year (note a bear attack in 2020!) sadly this is because of a lack of food driving the bears hungrily into cities. A beautiful animal, conservation efforts are being made to help their numbers increase. Moon Bears are one of the most unique wild animals in Japan!
Along rivers and waterways, you will find perhaps the most abundant wild animals in Japan. This is because the locals are known for keeping their waterways clean, creating a haven of clean water and healthy plant life for animals in Japan. One animal you are likely to see on these rivers (although, they are found in the cities too!) are Japanese weasels. Or, Itachi.
The Itachi is another cute little Japanese animal with bright orange fur, a fluffy tail, and a brown and white face. However, once again, remember these are wild animals, so should not be petted!
Like the Tanuki, Itachi is also known in Japanese folklore. This Japanese animal is often associated with harsh, cutting winds. Their foul-smelling scent led to the saying “itachi no saigo-pei” or “the weasel’s final fart”. This is said to mark the final words of an unpopular speaker. Lovely!
Unlike the previously listed animals in Japan, this wild animal is not actually native to Japan. And yet, it has occupied Japanese waterways for the last hundred years, so it has become a staple of Japanese wildlife. With a face like a Capybara, the lifestyle of a beaver, and a giant tail like a rat, the Nutoria is a strange animal.
Originally from South America, where it is called the Coypu, the Nutoria was brought to Japan at the start of the 20th Century for their fur. Nowadays they can be found burrowing in rivers. Though many in Japan consider these pests, we think they are another fantastic wild animal.
There are five wild mammals that we think are highlights of Japanese wildlife. Explore rural Japan, and eventually, you will come across them! As ever, be cautious and remember that they are all wild animals, so they are not tamed! There are of course plenty more beautiful animals in Japan, keep an eye on this blog to see the next installment!