Hokkaido Travel Guide Wildlife

10 Best Places to See Wildlife in Japan

If you don’t know much about the plants and wildlife out there in Japan, you would probably like to embark on a trip to learn about them practically. Indeed, this could be a real adventure for the whole family.

In search of incredible wildlife in Japan, you can start a walk in the forest of a designated national park. It can be somewhere around Hokkaido, the northernmost prefecture of Japan!

All the way you simply pretend to be wild so that the wild animals dwelling in the zone don’t run away quickly. An outdoor expedition like this is full of fun, wonders and educational at the same time.

Seriously, that is a great way to learn about Japan’s wildlife, conservation and how you can protect nature and the environment.

A beautiful valley of Japan Alps. Photo Credit: Konstantin Leonov at Flickr.

If you want all kinds of Japanese wildlife on your safari, head to Hokkaido, a surprising destination with a number of endangered animals and amazing virgin forests.

Traveling around Hokkaido by public transport could be tricky, especially the countryside. To be honest with you, that’s my favorite destination when I decide to explore the wildlife.

It is a place of wonderful discoveries and represents the diverse unspoiled nature of Japan. Bear in mind, it will be an expedition of a lifetime and you would hardly stop remembering the trip for many years.

However, just to help you, we have decided to feature 10 incredible places that are arguably the best when it comes to safari in Japan. You will be familiar with incredible places that are scattered throughout the country. Enjoy!

1) Daisetsuzan National Park

Asahidake (Mt. Asahi), Daisetsuzan National Park. Photo Credit: Carolien Coenen at Flickr.

Daisetsuzan National Park is the ideal place to experience Hokkaido’s real wildlife.

This is the land of beautiful natural landscapes, hot spring resorts, alpine plants, mountain ranges, active volcanoes, hiking trails, and animals, especially the brown bear. Besides, this is one of Japan’s best autumn leaves viewing spots.

Taisetsuzan, is the local name of the park, located in the center of Hokkaido and commonly known as “the roof of Hokkaido” with Asahidake (2,291 metres) – the tallest mountain in the region.

Also it’s important to inform you that Taisetsuzan is the largest national park in Hokkaido.

Brown bear of Hokkaido! Photo Credit: Chi King at Flickr.

Without doubt, the park is a paradise for hikers and trekkers who can enjoy walking along the trails surrounded by primeval forests and beautiful lakes. And meeting wild animals and birds here while hiking is very rewarding for adventure seekers.

When you hike, there is a chance of seeing birds of different kinds, and animals such as the brown bears, red foxes, squirrels, and the majestic sika deer.

The bases of the trails actually begin from the hot spring resort towns. It could be a long walk depending on the weather condition and your hiking skills.

Sounkyo fall color and snow-capped mountains. Photo Credit: sounkyo.net.

It is highly recommended visiting the visitor centers before you start off your trip.

For example, you must visit the Kogen Hot Spring Brown Bear Information Center in order to learn some very useful hiking tips as a result you have a safe hiking experience in the area.

Along the trail, visitors often encounter brown bears, so it is extremely important for you to attend a training course at the information center to learn how to deal with the bad situation.

Note that this trail leads you to see the gorgeous fall colors in every autumn. What a truly awesome sight!

Hokkaido is diverse and spotting wildlife in the region is a daunting task. If you want to see red-crowned cranes there, make your way to the Kushiro Marshlands.

Besides, for many nature lovers, the Shiretoko Peninsula is a must-see destination, where they can meet deer, brown bears, foxes, whales, eagles, sea lions, dolphins and varieties of birds. 

2) Yakushima Island

Virgin forest and river streams on Yakushima Island. Photo Credit: Takeshi Kuboki at Flickr.

Whether you are dreaming of a holiday to Yakushima Island because you have loved watching the animated movie Princess Mononoke (1997), directed by Hayao Miyazaki of Studio Ghibli, or when you think it is the perfect time to escape, just go there and witness the ancient forest and water.

Its unique ecosystem and breathtaking nature are especially there to hunt for!

The island has a diversity of flora and fauna. If trekking is in your blood, this is one of the best trekking spots in Japan that I could recommend, where you could take a trip to fulfill your ultimate desire.

When you take a walk in the forest along the trails, you can listen to the wonderful sounds of the forest, and I guarantee that you would love it!

A giant cedar tree in the park. Photo Credit: Kabacchi at Flickr.

Yakushima, an unspoiled paradise in Kagoshima prefecture, designated a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site in 1993, is commonly home to over 1000 years old Yaku cedars, Yakushima macaque, tanuki, and yaku deer.

Many people also visit the island to see beautiful beaches, loggerhead turtles, and those awesome looking coral reefs.

The beautiful trails on the island take you on a journey to many hidden discoveries that include Jomonsugi (a giant cedar tree estimated 2000 to 7200 years old), Shiratani Unsuikyo, waterfalls, and many more.

I have to admit that this is an extremely gorgeous place to see the wildlife and every year, many people visit it just to enjoy trekking.

 3) Nara Park

Nara Park deer during fall season. Photo Credit: tonko43 at Flickr.

Every time, to see something pretty and adorable related to wildlife, you don’t need to walk through the jungle.  It seems very easy to find it in some places around Japan.

One of such places is Nara Park, located in the Kansai region in Nara city. Seriously, it will blow your mind with its iconic, friendly deer.

This is a similar place like this which I have decided to feature here later in this post. Nara itself is known for its historic Buddhist temples and of course the deer that roam around the park. They are definitely the symbol of the city.

They are following her! Photo Credit: m-louis .® at Flickr.

Visiting Nara Park from either Kyoto or Osaka is quite easy.

And many people prefer visiting it as part of a side trip from those places. The park is a huge one, comprising temples & shrines, and traditional Japanese gardens.

Therefore, half a day is recommended to explore it from A to Z.

You have to manage your time properly so that you enjoy the trip not just meeting with the deer but also with other great attractions inside the park.

Deer roaming underneath the sakura trees at Nara Park. Photo Credit: fortherock at Flickr.

The deer (about 1200) in the park are super cute and adorable. As you buy crackers from the sellers to feed them, some deer would already surround you.

No fear, just relax and make friends with them though you always have to be careful while feeding them.

When you move from one place to another, they are also going to follow you. In fact, feeding the deer has become a very popular thing to do in the park.

Whatever you think of them, they freely roam around the park and are said to be sacred animals.

4) Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park

Beach on the Taketomi Island, Okinawa. Photo Credit: Guwashi999 at Flickr.

Renowned for its beautiful white sandy beaches, primeval subtropical forest, and the blue ocean with coral reefs, Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park is a “must-see destination” for all in Okinawa Prefecture.

The area of the park consists of several islands both large and small such as Taketomi Island, Kohama Island, Kuroshima Island, Ishigaki Island, Iriomote Island, and so on.

Iriomote Island’s Coral Reefs! Photo Credit: Kzaral at Flickr.

Exploring the marine wildlife across the national park is an amazing journey. The landscapes and wildlife you see there are so unique that it’s quite hard to believe they really exist until you discover them with your own eyes.

For example, the mangrove forest on the Iriomote Island and the coral reef of Hoshizuna Beach.

Iriomote’s abundant marine nature including the mangrove, waterfalls, rivers, beaches, and walking trails are not just the prettiest things you would love to discover whenever you take a trip to this amazing national park.

Rather you would also like to explore the sights of Taketomi Island’s well preserved small village and the fascinating streets.

5) Miyajima (Itsukushima)

The Great Torii of Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima Island. Photo Credit: inefekt69 at Flickr.

The official name of Miyajima is Itsukushima. This is a mysterious island of Japan where visitors can enjoy breathtaking outdoor landscapes, temples, shrines, deer, and plants of different kinds.

On the island, hiking and trekking is quite a popular outdoor activity.

The Great Torii of the Itsukushima Shrine is the symbol of it. The island itself is known as a sacred place where the God dwells and the deer you meet there once were worshiped as messengers of the gods.

Miyajima Ropeway. Photo Credit: Aussie Assault at Flickr.

You know what? Coming to Miyajima is almost like visiting another planet.

The whole island is a real charm for wildlife explorers. They are offered to discover so many things including the rare plants and animals of various species.

The trails that lead to the summit of Mount Misen are pretty marvelous as you will encounter endless beautiful surroundings along the way.

Here, the fall colors in autumn, and cherry blossoms in the spring are truly awe-inspiring things to experience.

Deer on the island. Photo Credit: Héctor de Pereda at Flickr.

Meeting with tanuki (raccoon dog) is not as easy as it seems. In fact, the Sika deer that has inhabited the island for centuries is friendliest of all.

The difference is that the deer of Miyajima roam freely among human beings, while on the other hand, tanuki are meant to be wild. However, if you have luck you could spot some!

Spend two days and a night there and enjoy everything it offers you.

6) Jigokudani Monkey Park

It is so cold out there for these two Japanese macaques! Photo Credit: SITS Girls at Flickr.

Nagano’s winter is harsh and very extreme. Founded in 1964, and located in the Yokoyu River valley that flows down from Shiga Kogen, Jigokudani Monkey Park is one of the great places in Central Japan to discover for wildlife explorers.

Often it is hard to survive the winter for those cute monkeys and that’s why groups of monkeys come down here from the mountains around the Jigokudani Yaen-koen and soak their bodies in the natural hot springs.

Hot water comes out from the earth’s surface all the time making it possible for the monkeys to survive the cold winter.

It is true, Jigokudani Monkey Park is the land of Japanese macaques or popularly known as snow monkeys. They are the wonders of winter nature in Nagano prefecture. The monkeys that inhabit the park are wild and not afraid of your appearance.

In general, you see them at a zoo, but you can’t expect to see them in the wild because they live in a deep mountainous forest where it is quite difficult to access!

So, the best way to observe their natural habitat is the Jigokudani Monkey Park.

7) Kushiro-shitsugen National Park

Graceful Japanese Cranes in Kushiro, Hokkaido. Photo Credit: Alastair Rae at Flickr.

People actually visit this national park for one big reason, and that’s for watching one of the endangered species cranes in the world, known as the Japanese crane or Red-crowned crane.

You probably have seen them at a zoo, but time has come to see them in the wild right here in Kushiro.

To someone it is a dream to watch them dancing in the winter. Unlike other parts of Hokkaido, it receives the smallest amount of snowfall each year.

And it makes it easy and safe for visitors roaming around the park and ultimately they enjoy bird watching, nature viewing, and walking along the designated trails.

The Tancho Observation Center, Otowa Bridge, Tsurui Ito Tancho Sanctuary, and Tsurumidai are the prime locations to spot these graceful cranes. In winter, many photographers and bird watchers visit these awesome spots and admire the beautiful surroundings.

In addition, you should pay a visit to the Akan International Crane Center. It is a museum devoted to the breeding and research of the Japanese crane.

You would be amazed the time you enter the building as it provides resourceful information on the Japanese crane history and ecology.

8) Shiretoko National Park

Lake and Shiretoko Mountains in the background. Photo Credit: irasally at Flickr.

Located on the Shiretoko Peninsula in the north-eastern part of Hokkaido, Shiretoko National Park is said to be the last unexplored area of Japan.

Its richly diverse wildlife, picturesque natural landscapes, volcanic activity, mystic lakes, hiking trails, beautiful waterfalls, and marine life have been considered to be the best of all throughout Japan.

Due to its invaluable ecosystem and biodiversity, the area of the peninsula has been added to UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 2005.

Steller’s sea eagle! Photo Credit: aaroncorey at Flickr.

The surrounding areas in the peninsula are often regarded as one of the safest places on earth for endangered animals and wild birds both native and migratory.

You will be overwhelmed to know that the park is home to the Hokkaido brown bears, red foxes, steller’s sea eagles, white-tailed sea eagles, sperm whales, steller’s sea lions, and black woodpeckers.

Moreover, when you take a walk through the designated nature trails you would discover a list of rare flora.

Beautiful tranquil landscape of Shiretoko Goko! Photo Credit: Mr Hicks46 at Flickr.

In summer, the Shiretoko five lakes (Shiretoko goko – part of the park), offers picturesque views of the lakes, green vegetation, and mountains in the background.

On the other hand, if you decide to explore the peninsula in the winter you can witness amazing drift ice.

Don’t travel alone in this huge national park knowing that it is located in a very remote area. You can explore the peninsula with others joining in a small group who love exploring the wilderness just like you.

9) Okunoshima

How CUTE! Photo Credit: jj-walsh at Flickr.

Known as the Rabbit Island, Okunoshima is one of the greatest wonders for wildlife aficionados. It is a dream destination for animal lovers, especially those who like bunnies.

The island is a must-see attraction for every visitor to Hiroshima, located in Takehara city. Anytime you visit Hiroshima, put Okunoshima in your travel itinerary, and it is worth a visit.

The rabbits you meet there are wild and very kawaii to look at. Indeed they are very friendly!

To make your trip unforgettable and to make friends with those cute rabbits you are suggested to buy food for them. Sliced carrots would be the best choice of all! Buy them prior to boarding the ferry.

A group of bunnies on the Rabbit island. Photo Credit: dramaqueenz at Flickr.

If we went back in time now, we would not find those cute happy bunnies there; instead we would find a miserable life of all living beings. During the Second World War, the island was used to produce poison gas.

And rabbits were brought there in order to test the effects of the poison. How awful it was! But just right after the end of the war they were freed by the workers.

Now the island is a safe place to travel to, walk and roam freely like the rabbits. In fact, the beaches on the island are stunningly awesome! You can access the island by ferry that takes about 15-20 minutes (one way).

10) Chubu Sangaku National Park

Mountains in the Japanese Alps! Photo Credit: Kikuko Nakayama at Flickr.

Travel the world through hiking! Anyway I love this idea and there is a great opportunity to explore the wildlife of Japan’s Northern Alps.

Mountain hiking is one of my favorite outdoor activities through which I can enjoy the stunning mountainous vistas.

The Chubu Sangaku National Park is located in the middle of the Hida Mountains (Japan Alps) that encompasses four prefectures: Niigata, Gifu, Toyama, and Nagano.

It is renowned for its beautiful snow-capped mountain ranges, U-shaped valleys, and alpine wildlife.

Dicentra peregrina (komakusa) – a rare flower of Japanese Alps. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The surrounding areas in the national park are particularly stunning in the fall when green leaves change to red and yellow.

Without a doubt, Japan is home to many beautiful mountains including the iconic Mount Fuji, but what you would witness in this park is absolutely mind-blowing.

In reality, it is the land of breathtaking steep mountains! With a guide, climbing Mt. Fuji is not a daunting task, but here depending on the weather conditions, the trails are often difficult to hike through and quite challenging.

Kurobe Gorge and the surrounding fall colors. Photo Credit: Jiashiang at Flickr.

Hiking is a great way to discover the wildlife in this area. You can see beautiful Japanese macaques sitting on a tree branch, freely roaming Asian black bears in search of food, flying mountain hawk-eagles/rock ptarmigan in the sky, and a glimpse of grazing Japanese serows.

Furthermore, it is lovely to see the alpine flowers that butterflies absolutely love to be around. Dicentra peregrina – native to mountains in Japan has always caught my attention.

They are such a lovely creation on earth! The area is actually a great place to see lots of exciting sightseeing attractions, such as Alpine Route, Kurobe Gorge, Hakuba, Kamikochi, Zengoronotaki Waterfall, Mount Tateyama and more.

According to my experience, these are the best places to see wildlife in Japan. Before you take a trip to one of these areas, make sure you are properly equipped with useful travel gears.

Don’t leave your camera/mobile phone in your hotel room, take it and capture the amazing moments you experience during your trip.

In the end, If you are in Kyoto and looking for a perfect day trip, visit Awajishima Monney Centre in Sumoto, Hyogo Prefecture. You will find hundreds of wild Japanese macaques (snow monkeys).

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