• Life & Culture

20 Of The Coolest Animals In Japan

A red panda perching on a branch and eating leaves.

When you think of Japan, animals probably aren’t the first thing that come to mind.


Whilst things like culture and technology may be higher up the list of talking points, Japanese wildlife is just as amazing. With expansive mountain ranges, dense forests and unique geographical features, Japan is home to a thriving and diverse wildlife population.


In fact, there are over 90,000 animal species that have been confirmed in the land of the rising sun!


We’ve put together a list below of the 20 of the coolest animals in Japan. Meaning, if you’re considering visiting or working in Japan, you’ll have a bit of knowledge on the most interesting animals in Japan, as well as where to find them. That includes the cute ones, the dangerous ones and the weird ones!


Keep reading below to find out more.


A wild pika on a snowy Japanese mountain.


20. Pikas

Animal Classification: Mammal

Average Size: 15cm


Part of the rabbit family, pikas are tiny wild animals in Japan with round ears and no tail. They make a high pitched whistling sound and are sometimes referred to as whistling hares.

Pikas live in cold climates across the world, so the Japanese mountains are perfect for them. You will usually find them in rocky areas on mountains, where they live in cracks in the rocks. These cute herbivores mainly live on plant leaves and stems, as well as sometimes eating things like moss and mushrooms.

Many people speculate that the pika is the inspiration behind the character Pikachu because of the similar name. Although, the producer says this is not true.


A red crowned crane taking a drink from a lake.


19. Red Crowned Cranes

Animal Classification: Bird

Average Size: 1.6m


Standing around 5 feet tall, with a wingspan of up to 2.5 metres, the red crowned crane is an aquatic bird with a red patch on top of its head, hence the name.

This omnivorous bird can usually be found around bodies of water and pasturelands. Their diet includes fish, amphibians, small rodents, crabs, snails, plants and more. Delicious.

The red crowned crane is a Japanese wildlife icon. And, after facing extinction from overhunting, strong conservation efforts were made, and the population is recovering. Half of the whole world’s population of red-crowned cranes lives in Eastern Hokkaido.


A leopard cat perching on a rock in a Japanese zoo.


18. Leopard Cats

Animal Classification: Mammal

Average Size: 70 – 80cm


The leopard cat is a small, beautiful wild cat. As the name suggests, the leopard cat looks like a small leopard. It has a more slender frame than a regular cat, with long legs and black spots on its body.

Leopard cats mainly inhabit Tsushima island in western Japan. They are usually found in rainforests type climates near rivers, valleys and ravines. They are among the more endangered species of Japanese wildlife though, so you’ll be lucky to spot one!

This carnivorous Japanese animal feeds on a range of small prey including, mammals, lizards, amphibians, birds and insects. Unlike many other small cats, they don’t play with their food. They catch it, kill it and eat it.


A wild sable climbing on a snowmobile.


17. Sables

Animal classification: Mammal

Size: 35 – 56cm


Sables are small wild animals in Japan that were once found throughout Hokkaido. Now, they only live in forest areas in the north and east of the island. They tend to live in burrows near river banks and the thickest parts of the woods. They can be quite hard to find.

Unfortunately, sables are hunted for their valuable fur. Since the middle ages, they have been valuable in the fur trade because it is smooth when stroked against the grain, whereas the fur of most animals is rough when stroked against the grain.


A wild sika deer lying on the ground next to a tree.


16. Sika Deers

Animal Classification: Mammal

Average Size: 1.2m


Native to Japan, the sika deer is a cornerstone of Japanese wildlife and one of their most elegant wild animals. The name Sika is actually derived from the Japanese work Shika, which means deer. They are known as Nihonjika in Japan, which means “Japanese Deer”.

Sika deer can be found all over the main islands of Japan. Meaning, you won’t have to look hard to find one. There is an overabundance of sika deer in the country. This is largely due to their only natural predator, the wolf, going extinct in Japan around a hundred years ago.

Sika deer are herbivores, living on naturally growing vegetation. You’re likely to hear their whistling sound before you hear them, they’re very fast, and they can jump up to 1.7m high!


A wild Japanese fox stood on a rock staring into the distance.


15. Red Foxes

Animal Classification: Mammal

Average Size: 45 – 90cm


Red foxes are beautiful wild animals in Japan, inhabiting mountainous areas and the outskirts of villages. The crafty omnivores are very adaptable and eat a range of different foods. Namely, rabbits, rodents and birds.

A controversial attraction in Japan is fox village on Honshu island, where you can pay to play with the foxes. Although, many people think the way the foxes are treated at fox village is bad for their mental and physical health. In Japanese folklore, foxes are thought to have great wisdom and powerful magic. Serious guys!


Two Japanese flying fox bats sleeping whilst hanging from a tree branch.


14. Ryukyu Flying Fox

Animal classification: Mammal

Size: 1.2 – 1.4m


The flying fox is a species of megabat characterised by long and woolly fur. These large bats can be found in forests and swamps. They have a wingspan of around 1.2 – 1.4m! They are solitary and nocturnal Japanese animals, usually only coming out at night to find food to eat.

If you want to try and find them, you’ll probably need a Japanese wildlife guide. You’ll be able to locate them on the Daitō Islands, Tokara Islands, Ōsumi Islands, Miyako Islands, Yaeyama Islands and Okinawa Islands.


Fireflies lighting up a dark summer night in Japan.


13. Japanese Fireflies

Animal Classification: Insect

Average Size: 5 – 25mm


Luciola, also known as Japanese fireflies, are beautiful glowing insects that light up all over Japan in the summertime. Especially in June and July.

Although the magical glow of these interesting Japanese animals can be seen all over the land of the rising sun, fireflies prefer places with clean water and nature. Meaning you’re more likely to see them in rural areas.

Some hotspots for firefly viewing include the Kingayama Firefly Festival (Tokyo), Tsukiyono Firefly Village (Gunma), Motosu Hotaru Park (Gifu), Kushiro Shitsugen National Park (Hokkaido) and Uchio Shrine (Hyogo).

Fireflies are beloved in Japan. Their beautiful lights are a popular attraction on warm summer nights. In fact, many people believe the lights are an altered form of the souls of people who have recently passed away.


A red panda perching on a branch and eating leaves.


12. Red Pandas

Animal Classification: Mammal

Average Size: 60cm


The red panda is an adorable mammal about the size of a domestic cat. It mainly feeds on bamboo but also eats eggs, birds and insects.

A solitary animal, you will seldom find a pack of red pandas in the wild. They’re also very endangered, so you’ll only be able to see them in a zoo in Japan. Specifically, Sabae City’s Nishiyama Zoo. The red panda is the official animal of this city.


A wild Dugong eating seagrass from the seafloor.


11. Dugongs

Animal Classification: Marine Mammal

Average Size: 2.6m


Also known as sea cows, dugongs are some of the most incredible animals in Japan. These gentle giants can weigh as much as 450kg.

Similar to manatees in appearance, they spend their days mostly eating seagrass from the seafloor. In fact, they’re the only completely marine mammal that’s diet consists purely of seagrass. Just like a tree, you can estimate their age by the number of rings they have on their tusks!

Japanese dugongs can be found in the waters surrounding the island of Okinawa. They are a rare and critically endangered species; they’re protected by Japanese law as cultural monuments.

A wild serow sitting in a snowy Japanese woodland area.


10. Japanese Serows

Animal Classification: Mammal

Average Size: 80cm


Mainly found in dense Japanese woodland in northern and central Honshu, the serow is a national symbol of Japan. The Japanese native animal is a goat-antelope with bushy fur and curved horns. They eat leaves, shoots and acorns.

In the 20th century, they were hunted to near extinction. A law passed in 1955 now protects them as national monuments.

Because of their sure-footedness, they are associated with good luck in passing exams. Japanese students often buy charms with a serow hoof print to give them extra luck for exams.


A giant spider crab walking around an aquarium.


9. Giant Spider Crabs

Animal Classification: Invertebrate

Size: 3.7m


One of the strangest of all the animals that live in Japan is the giant spider crab. As its name suggests, this freak of Japanese wildlife is huge! When fully grown, it can reach a leg span of up to 12 feet!

Even though it’s terrifying in appearance, it’s actually quite a calm animal, spending most of its time scouring the seabed for food.


A black bear shaking water off its fur.


8. Bears

Animal Classification: Mammal

Average Size: 12-2m long


Bears are the largest land animals in Japanese wildlife. Both brown bears and Asian black bears roam the land of the rising sun.

Black bears are common wild animals in Japan. They live in the mountains all over the country. They can even be found around the fringes of Tokyo. Brown bears, however, are only found on the northern island of Hokkaido.

Japanese bears are most active in the early mornings and the evening. They hibernate from around December to April, so you won’t be able to find them easily around these times.

The omnivorous creatures feed on plants, animals and fish, so be very careful if you stumble across one. Although humans aren’t part of their regular diet, they might attack if you scare or provoke them.

They’re faster at running than humans, great climbers and very strong. If you are attacked by a Japanese bear, try to hide behind a tree or a rock and curl up in a ball rather than running away.

A goblin shark in a museum.


7. Goblin Sharks

Animal Classification: Fish

Average Size: 3.7m


Goblin sharks are possibly the scariest animals in Japan. These deep-sea demons look like they came straight out of a horror film. Just like most other sharks, they are solitary animals. These huge deep-sea monsters can grow to about 12 feet long and weigh around 200kg.

They are spotted mostly off the coast of Japan, but they live at the bottom of the ocean. Meaning, you’re unlikely to see one of these rare Japanese animals.

The goblin shark is quite a slow mover for a shark. To give itself an extra edge on catching prey, it can thrust its jaw three inches forward like a slingshot, which is as gross as it is terrifying.


A Japanese dwarf flying squirrel perching on a tree branch.


6. Dwarf Flying Squirrels

Animal Classification: Mammal

Average Size: 20cm


The dwarf flying squirrel is arguably one of the cutest wild animals in Japan. With huge round eyes, they almost look like cartoon characters. A membrane called a patagium connecting from their wrists to their ankles enables them to elegantly glide between trees.

Known as Nihon Momonga, they can be found hiding in trees in the subalpine regions of the Honshu and Kyushu islands.

Although very common, they’re nocturnal animals, so they can be hard to find. In the day, they hide in holes in trees, often in groups. At night, they come out to feed on buds, leaves, bark and seeds.


An Asian Giant Hornet against a white background.


5. Asian Giant Hornets

Animal Classification: Insect

Average Size: 3.5 – 5cm


The Asian giant hornet is one of the world’s largest hornets and one of the nastiest wild animals in Japan!

Growing up to 5cm long with a demonic stinger that’s loaded with potent venom, they’re also known as murder hornets. Whilst very painful, a single sting is not usually lethal. Multiple stings can kill someone, though, even if they aren’t allergic. They have even been known to spray venom into their victims’ eyes in some instances. Nasty!


They are usually found in low mountains and forests, but they tend to make nests near agricultural areas and can pose a threat to farmers. They often make their nests in holes in the ground that have been dug by other animals.

In some Japanese mountain villages, people even fry and eat the hornets eggs as a delicacy! And, in the Chubu region, they are eaten as snacks or used as ingredients in drinks. Would you try it?

Two giant salamanders swimming around in an aquarium.


4. Japanese Giant Salamanders

Animal Classification: Amphibian

Average Size: 1.5m


Known in Japan as Ōsanshōuo, which means “giant pepper fish”, the giant salamander is a nocturnal animal that lives mostly at the bottom of streams and rivers with cool, clear water.

It’s called a pepper fish because when it’s threatened, it excretes a strong milk-like substance that smells similar to Japanese pepper. Gross!

They mainly eat insects, frogs and fish, but they have very slow metabolisms, so they can go for weeks without eating sometimes. They’re pretty much blind too, so they detect their prey by sensing vibrations in the water.

Giant Salamanders usually live in rivers in rural Japan and can be very hard to find, so you’ll probably need a guide if you want to find them.


A wild Japanese racoon dog sitting patiently in a field.


3. Tanuki (Raccoon Dogs)

Animal Classification: Mammal

Average Size: 45-70cm


Tanuki are mischievous wild animals that live in Japan. They are a type of Raccoon dog and are viewed very fondly by locals. They’re common throughout the country, even in densely populated areas.

They look very similar to northern American raccoons, but they’re only distantly related. As nocturnal animals, they’re mainly active at night, but they are sometimes active during daylight. These omnivores will eat almost anything, including birds, insects, lizards, snakes, frogs, crabs, fish and plants. They’ll adapt to their environment and have even been known to rummage through bins.

In Japanese folklore, it is said that Tanuki can shapeshift and appear in human form or as everyday objects.

These adorable animals form strong social bonds. They live in monogamous pairs and even cuddle up together when they hibernate in the winter.


A wild Japanese marten perching on a snowy rock.


2. Martens

Animal Classification: Mammal

Average Size: 50cm


Japanese martens are small wild animals that can be found in forests in Japanese mainlands. They usually live in underground dens and hollowed out trees.

They are omnivorous, and they like meat from frogs, fish and small birds. Although they will eat insects, fruit and seeds when their favourite foods aren’t available.

Their offspring are born completely useless; they are blind and deaf! But, within 3 – 4 months, they are mature enough to leave their mothers protection and hunt.

In Japanese folklore, it is bad luck if a marten crosses in front of someone.


A parent and a baby snow monkey perching on the side of a Japanese natural hot spring.


1. Macaque Monkeys (snow monkeys)

Animal Classification: Mammal

Average Size: 60cm


Macaque monkeys are the national animals of Japan. Also known as snow monkeys because they often live in snowy mountain ranges, they have long, thick hair and red faces.

These wild animals are very sociable. They live in large groups of 20-30 and are usually led by a dominant male.

Snow monkeys are very common in Japan. They can be found across the Japanese islands of Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu, from tropical lowlands to the very cold mountainous regions up to an altitude of 1,500 metres. The only reason they can survive in the snowy mountains is because of the naturally occurring hot springs. They use them to heat up when they get cold.

If you want to see them in the wild, there are locations near Tokyo you can find them, but the most famous location is Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano Prefecture.


What is your favourite Animal in Japan?

Now you know a little bit about animals in Japan, do you think you’ll go and visit the Japanese wildlife?

If you’re looking for a job with or near animals in Japan, head over to our Job Application page and see if we can help you find a job in Japan!