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Five Animals Unique To Japan

Five Unique Japanese Animals You'll Want to Learn About

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Five Unique Japanese Animals You'll Want to Learn About

Japan is home to some truly amazing animals, both beautiful and not-so-beautiful. While many are not native, there are some that are only found in the island country. Five of these animals are the green pheasant, Iriomote cat, Japanese mountain leech, Ryukyu tip-nosed frog, and Japanese macaque. Some of these are found only on a particular island, while others are found throughout the country.

Green pheasant

Informally called the Japanese pheasant, the green pheasant (Phasianus versicolor) is the national bird of the country. The most popular game bird, green pheasants are endemic to all of the islands except Yezo. They are named for the dark green feathers on the rooster’s breast and mantle. While sighting a green pheasant is no uncommon event, sighting an albino of the species was of great significance in Imperial times. According to the eighth-century Nihongi text, this event indicated the Kami’s pleasure with the Emperor.

Iriomote cat

Only discovered by the outside world in 1965 and critically endangered with fewer than 250 adults in the wild, the Iriomote cat (Prionailurus bengalensis iriomotensis)) is a subspecies of the Asian leopard cat that lives only on the island of Iriomote. With mainly dark grey and light brown fur, this cat has dark brown spots on its sides and cheeks. Due to its shining amber eyes, one of the colloquial names for the cat is that which has flashing eyes.” While they are mainly terrestrial, Iriomote cats will also climb trees and even swim in water. Their diet, because there are no competing large carnivores, is widely varied, but consists mainly of birds and small mammals. Unlike most cats, the Iriomote cat does not break the spine of its prey to kill it; instead, it holds the prey in its mouth until the small animal stops moving.


Most leeches are found in bodies of water, but the yamabiru or Japanese mountain leech (Haemadipsa zeylanicaaa) is adapted to live on land. Crawling like an inchworm or climbing in trees, these jawed leeches will somersault through the air to attack unsuspecting people. These giant leeches can also eat earthworm’s whole. With five eyes and chemoreceptors on its head, the Yamabiruu can easily find its prey. This leech is also known for hiding out in shoes because of the reflective warmth that is produced and with the hope that the source of the warmth will return.

Ryukyu tip-nosed frog

Only living on the northern main island of Okinawa, the Ryukyu tip-nosed frog (Odorrana Narina) differs from other frogs in that its nostrils are at the tip of its face. With super long legs and a thin body, this frog is an amazing jumper. The Ryukyu tip-nosed frog lives in the tropical or subtropical lowland forests, but its habitat is diminishing due to the building of dams and roads on the island.

Japanese macaque

The northern-most living non-human primate, the Japanese macaque (Macaca fuscata)) can be found on the islands of Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu, as well as some smaller islands. Weighing on average 19 pounds (females) to 25 pounds (males), the Japanese macaque has a brown or greyish coat with pink face and posterior. Adapted to cold weather, this macaque’s coat grows thicker as the temperature decreases. Living in matrilineal groups, females remain their entire life with the same troop while the males move out before they become sexually active. These macaques have some unusual behaviors, including washing their food before eating it and rolling snowballs for entertainment. They can even be found bathing in hot springs, such as the Hakodate's natural hot spring on the island of Hokkaido, Japan. Japanese macaques have even been known to have varying accents depending on the region they live in. The three wise monkeys, who warn people to see, hear, and speak no evil, were originally depicted as Japanese macaques, and it has been depicted in many Japanese fairytales.

There are not many species of animal found only in the island country, but those that belong to this category can be intriguing to visitros and residents alike. These five species are just a few examples of the unusual creatures that can adapt to life separated from the mainland. As the population of the country rises and more habitat is lost, these animals may be next to become extinct.

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