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Wildlife in Japan

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Welcome to Wildlife in Japan.

Japan is a beautiful country, so famous for its ancient cultures, cherry blossoms, and, of course, being known as the land of the rising sun!

But did you know that amongst these beautiful cities lies deep forests and mountains home to many beautiful animals and insects? Wildlife in Japan is simply stunning, and this blog will give you a little insight into this fantastic country and what it has to offer!

Click directly on a heading that interests you below, or otherwise, sit back and enjoy the entire blog!

Japanese macaque (Snow monkey)

Giant Spider Crab

Tanuki (Japanese racoon dog)

Yamaneko Wildcat

Sea Eagles

Japanese macaque (Snow Monkey)

Japanese macaques, also called snow monkeys, are found on three main Japanese islands—Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu—and live further north than any other macaque species.

They live in a variety of habitats throughout these islands, including subalpine, subtropical, deciduous, and evergreen forest mountains; they are so versatile!

Those that occupy the northernmost regions, which range through the forested mountains and highlands of Japan, thrive in winter temperatures that fall as low as -5 degrees F (-15 degrees C) and with snow cover that is more than 3 ft (1 m) deep. Famously, they warm themselves by bathing in hot thermal springs heated by nearby volcanoes.

These macaques are, therefore, very famously and appropriately nick-named the snow monkeys of Japan. You can’t miss it when looking for Wildlife in Japan.

Japanese macaques are medium-sized, stocky monkeys with relatively short tails. Sexually dimorphic in size, males are twice as large as females. Males average about 22 (57 cm) in length and 25 lb (11.3 kg) in weight. Females average 20.5 in (52.3 cm) in length and 18.5 lb (8.4 kg) in weight. Their tails are a (relatively) diminutive 2.5-4 in (7-12 cm) long.


On average, Japanese macaques live 22 to 27 years old. The two most senior known individuals were a female in the wild who lived to the age of 32 and a fantastic male who lived to be 28. Japanese macaques’ coats range in color from brown to gray and can be mottled. They grow a heavy insulating coat in the winter to maintain their body heat. During the summer, their coat is lighter.

They have human-like naked faces and expressive eyes. They have cheek pouches for food storage. In adulthood, their faces and bottoms become red. All macaques have opposable thumbs that they use to manipulate objects. They use all four limbs to get around (quadrupedal movement), but also walk just on their hind legs (bipedal) when holding something in both hands.

Opportunistic omnivores, Japanese macaques eat fruit, seeds, young leaves, flowers, tree bark, fungi, bird eggs, insects, and invertebrates such as snails, crabs, and crayfish. Over 213 species of plants are included in their diet. The variety is primarily due to seasonal changes, the resulting abundance or lack of food, and their diverse habitat range. They prefer to forage on the ground.

More commonly called snow monkeys, you may be familiar with images of Japanese macaques bathing in hot thermal pools to keep warm during icy winters in the mountains of Japan.

Learned Behavior

Interestingly, bathing in the hot springs is a learned behavior within these animals. Anthropologists believed, in the 1950s, that humans were the only animals capable of passing on learned behaviors. Whether it was from individual to individual or across generations, a process called “cultural transmission.” As it is relatively easy to observe Japanese macaques, as they live in troops in their natural habitat, researchers determined that studying their behavior could provide accurate insight into whether they, too, engage in cultural transmission. Similar studies have been completed with captive primates, but evidently, captive animals do not engage in natural behaviors—a significant part of Wildlife in Japan.

Japanese macaques form matrilineal troops that usually range from 20 to 30 individuals but can sometimes be as large as over 100. Food availability is a significant constraint on troop size—an alpha female and an alpha male rule the troop. Females typically are greater in number than males in the troop, with a ratio of 3 to 1 and are ranked by an inherited hierarchy passed on from mother to infant. Responsible for fathering the group’s offspring, is the alpha male, providing protection, and leading the group’s movement.


Communication in macaques is varied and complex. Usually, they use a combination of visual signals, vocalizations, or physical contact. Furthermore, their bare faces, mobile lips, dramatic eyes, and body posture successfully convey information about their moods and environment.

Since Japanese macaques are very social animals, they use many different vocalizations to communicate. There have been six documented categories of vocalizations, including peaceful, defensive, aggressive, and warning calls. The other two vocalizations are specific to females in estrus and infants. More than fifty percent of Japanese macaque vocalizations are of the peaceful variety. These various vocalizations are used to signal the group to an individual’s mood.

The primary ecological role of Japanese macaques is to disperse seeds. Through their rich plant-based diet, many plant seeds pass through the Japanese macaque’s gastrointestinal tract and are deposited in the environment, where they can spread and grow. Japanese macaques also have a commensalism relationship with the sika deer; as the deer eats leaves, the Japanese macaque knocks to the ground when foraging in the treetops.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature lists Japanese macaques as the Least Concern (IUCN, 2015). However, like all other primates, they are threatened by habitat destruction and human overpopulation. They live mainly in reserves and in many cases, depend upon supplemental feeding by humans to survive the winter conditions.

Giant Spider Crab

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Spider crabs are the giant crustaceans in the world – males grow to approximately 1m in length with a 4m leg stretch. These crabs live at depths of roughly 400m and in temperatures between 11ºC and 14ºC.

Very little is known about the biology of giant spider crabs. It is virtually impossible to determine their age, and we do not know when they reach sexual maturity. Their breeding habits are also a mystery to marine biologists.

As with all crustaceans, continual growth is impossible for giant spider crabs because of their hard exoskeletons. To grow, the crabs have to shed this exoskeleton by molting.

This is a complicated process that can take up to two days. Each moult is potentially life-threatening as the crab can become entrapped in its old shell. Even if the molt is successful, the sheer effort is sometimes so exhausting that the crab dies soon afterward.

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The crab is vulnerable to predation with its “new” soft, elastic exoskeleton exposed. The new exoskeleton expands rapidly as the crab “pumps” water into it. Over time, together with a combination of enzymes and calcium carbonate, the new skeleton hardens. The water is then “pumped” out again, and the crab grows into its fresh “coat.”


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Raccoon Dogs, not at all surprising, look like a mixture between a raccoon and a small dog. They are relatively small animals, however, their fur is very long and puffy that it can make them look a lot plumper. A mask of a black coat wraps around their eyes, making them look like a trickster or bandit. They have dog-like paws and short, puffy tails.

Tanukis, gifted with magical power, have eight particular traits that differentiate them from their standard brethren. They wear a wide-brimmed hats to protect themselves from bad luck and bad weather. Additionally, they hold a bottle of sake, a popular alcohol which is made of rice, in one hand, symbolizing virtue; on the other, they have a promissory note representing trust.

They have big eyes to survey their world and make decisions, large fluffy tails to give them strength and agility, large scrotums representing wealth, and a large stomach symbolizing tranquility and decisiveness. Lastly, they wear playful, friendly smiles, inviting humans to join them in their games.

Illusion Masters

Raccoon Dogs are the masters of illusion. They can shapeshift into any form from which they choose: from a crooked older woman to even a bottle of white wine. Furthermore, these devious magicians are also good at transporting people and casting minor curses.

When they are in disguise, they like to use little rhymes to lure people into their games, which inevitably end in inconvenience or embarrassment. They want to trick people into touching enchanted objects, like umbrellas or rice cakes, which will cause the person to be transported into the distant wilderness. Their favorite curses cause inconvenience by forcing people to run around hills or chase after enchanted objects.

The inspiration for the magical Tanuki is believed to come from China, where people believed in god-like, shapeshifting wildcats, usually leopards. Because Japan didn’t have animals like the fearsome leopard, the scholars transferred the power to other creatures such as stray cats, badgers, weasels, and even wills. Eventually, the Raccoon Dog and the Fox became the most famous vessels for these magical powers, and they were revered as gods who ruled over nature.

Yamaneko Wildcat

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This wildcat is considered the Lock Ness Monster of Japan! While on Iriomote Island, keep your eyes peeled for the yamaneko, an elusive wildcat discovered in 1965 and found only on Iriomote.

Related to the leopard, it’s only the size of a domesticated house cat and a nocturnal animal, most active around twilight. The cats are terrestrial but can climb trees and also swim. During the day, they sleep in caves or tree hollows. Sadly the yamaneko is an endangered species, and there are thought to be just a hundred cats left on the island. So it’s very likely that you’ll spy on one, but please let us know if you do!

Sea Eagles

Wildlife in Japan: The Steller’sSteller’se is one of Earth’s most giant and fierce diurnal birds. These Eagles are, on average, the heaviest raptor on our planet, weighing up to 10 kg (22 pounds). They are also tall, measuring up to 94cm (3 ft), with a massive wingspan of up to 250 cm (8.2ft).

Their plumage is blackish brown black all over except on the shoulders, rump, tail, thighs, and forehead, which are white. Their big bill is Yellow and wickedly hooked; with raw force, they quickly slice through the flesh of their prey and devour it. The Eagles are masters at fishing, and it’s incrit’sle to watch as they swoop down and catch fish in their paws.

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They prefer a diet of trout, salmon, or other fish. However, they will eat sea lions or land species when fishing is slow.

The Steller’sSteller’se is protected by law, designated as a National Treasure in Japan, and listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Red Li’s of Endangered species. Around 5000 remain in the wild, and over 2000 visit Japan every winter.

On a bird-watching trip to Hokkaido, priority should be given to tracking Steller’sses. They can be seen from the Nemuro Peninsula. On average, this is the giant eagle in the world. They can weigh 5 to 9kg, and the birds are known for their distinctive yellow beaks.

Summary of Wildlife in Japan

Clearly, there are many reasons to explore Japan’s beautiful wildlife! These are merely a few beautiful animals to observe in the wild!

Some other blogs will interest you! Look at Wildlife in Vietnam, Wildlife in Thailand, and Wildlife in Hawaii!

If you find yourself in Japan and want to see some of these beautiful animals, look at the operators below, which might help you on your quest!

Inside Japan Guide Tours

Wildlife Worldwide Tours

Thank you for reading Wildlife in Japan.

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