Unique Animals You Can Only See in Japan

In recent years, Japan has become one of the world’s most popular tourist hotspots. From Tokyo to Mount Fuji, there are so many reasons to visit Japan, but have you ever wondered about all the unique animals you could see on your trip? Wildlife lovers rejoice – Japan has an incredibly diverse habitat that supports several rare species of animals, with around 153 different species of mammals alone.

The Red-Crowned Crane (Grus japonensis)

One of the rarest East Asian cranes, the Japanese crane is a large bird that is a well-known symbol of luck and longevity. These elegant cranes are named after the patch of red bare skin on the top of their head, which becomes increasingly vibrant during the breeding season. These cranes are also distinctive in their mostly black and white appearance, defined by snowy white feathers and black on the lower wings. They have an omnivorous diet; subsisting on rice, carrots and water plants. You can see these spectacular birds in Hokkaido.

If you plan on traveling to Japan to photograph the Red-Crowned Crane, make sure to read my tips on improving your bird photography!

Grus japonensis in flight at Akan International Crane Center | Spaceaero2, via Wikimedia Commons


The Japanese Pond Turtle (Mauremys japonica)

The Japanese Pond Turtle is endemic to Japan and known locally as the “Nihon ishigame” (日本石亀), a species belonging to the Geoemydidae family. Hoping to spot one of these cute little guys? Look for their distinctive yellow and brown shell and olive green head. Female pond turtles often grow bigger than the male, reaching up to 21 centimeters. However, you can differentiate a male pond turtle by seeing if it has a longer tail. Japanese pond turtles tend to eat a varied diet of frogs, water insects, tadpoles and earthworms. Unfortunately, the population of these turtles has significantly decreased in the past two decades due to habitat loss – although they have not yet been declared an endangered species.

Japanese pond turtle (Mauremys japonica) | courtesy Totti, via Wikimedia Commons


The Steller Sea Lion (Eumetopias jubatus)

Steller Sea Lions look very similar to other sea lions in the world in many ways, but their distinctive coloring sets them apart – ranging from pale yellow and tawny brown to reddish tones. These sea lions can be found in coastal waters, where they enjoy the cooler temperatures. Male sea lions have a higher forehead and hairier necks than the female. The Steller Sea Lion is another species that is dwindling, now categorized as near-threatened. This unexplained decline in their population has attracted a lot of attention and is a popular charity cause.

Steller sea lion (Eumetopias jubatus) | Image by Ирина Гиязова from Pixabay


The Green Pheasant (Phasianus versicolor)

The Green Pheasant is the national bird of Japan, native to the Japanese Archipelago. If you are hoping for a glimpse of these birds they are mainly found in Kyushu, Honshu, and Shikoku. The impressive male green pheasant is characterized by its jewel-toned green plumage on its breast, and the female has brown and black plumage. The green pheasant is allowed to be hunted by those with hunting licenses, although they are limited to capturing two male birds a day. Shooting female birds is not allowed so as to maintain a healthy population.

Green pheasant (Phasianus versicolor)| courtesy Alpsdake, via Wikimedia Commons


To get the best photos of the green pheasant, make sure to read my tips on improving your bird photography!

The Sika Deer (Cervus nippon)

The Sika deer are incredibly populous in Japan, even being described as overabundant. They are native to parts of East Asia, and have been introduced into other areas of the world, but Japan remains the best place to see these glorious mammals. Nara is a particularly famous destination for Sika deer fans – they roam freely around Nara Park and Todaiji Temple. The name ‘Sika’ comes from the word ‘Shika’, which is the Japanese for deer. It is usual for other species of deer to lose their spots with age, but many adult Sika deer still sport their beautiful large spots into adulthood. The Sika deer’s sumptuous coat ranges from mahogany to black, and it darkens in the winter. See if you can spot these fairy tale creatures in forest clearings!

Sika deer (Cervus nippon) | courtesy mirkoblicke, Unsplash


Japan is the home of some incredibly unique animals, but it is also important to remember that out of its 153 species, 3 are critically endangered, 22 are classed as endangered and 12 have been categorised as vulnerable. While traveling and taking part in wildlife tourism, be sure to pay attention to conservation rules and keep a safe distance.

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