The various environments of Japan offer a wealth of chances for wildlife viewing. Important Wildlife Watching Areas This diversity can be observed from a window, on foot or by using another means of transportation, or even from an outdoor hot spring. The southwestern islands of Iriomote, Ishigaki, Okinawa, and Amami-shima provide particularly good opportunity to search for extraordinary insect life, including a variety of endemic species, as well as endemic amphibians and reptiles, as well as a number of endemic birds. With the highest peak, Mt. Miyanoura (1,936 m), between the Japan Alps (up to 3,193 m [Kita-dake] and the high peaks of Taiwan (up to 3,952 m [Yushan]), the mountainous island of Yaku-shima, 75 km south of the southernmost Kyushu, offers a tremendous range of habitats supporting an unexpected array of species.
On the same island, an astounding variety of insect life can be found in this floral paradise, including southern tropical species at sea level and northern species in forests at higher elevations. Additionally, it is home to some of the world’s oldest trees, including the Yaku Sugi, or Yakushima Cedar, one of which, the Jmon Sugi, is said to be older than 7,200 years. The Yakushima Azalea, which is unique to the island, can be seen by going deep into the mountains on the same island where Japan’s southernmost Japanese Macaques and one of the southernmost groups of Japanese Deer reside.
The Kirishima-Kinkwan National Park, which is located in Kyshu and is a component of the Japanese Geoparks Network, is an isolated volcanic range with magnificent natural features. Along with crater lakes, waterfalls, rivers, and hot springs, it is home to more than 20 summits, including Kirishima’s highest peak, Mt. Karakuni (1,700 m), and sacred Takachiho-no-Mine (1,574 m), which is mentioned in Japan’s creation story. The panorama in Kirishima includes Mt. Shinmoe, which erupted spectacularly in January 2011 for the first time in around 300 years. One of the most active volcanoes in the world, Sakura-jima (1,117 m), may be seen to the south, standing in the midst of Kink Bay. Kink Bay is the only remaining portion of the vast Aira Caldera, which was created by a powerful eruption some 30,000 years ago.
The location of Kyushu, its proximity to the warm, north-flowing Kuroshio ocean current, and its abundant rainfall—which is said to reach an astounding 400 cm annually—provide a rich environment for plant life, including the rare Kirishima endemic Kirishima Crab Apple, which blooms in early May, and the island endemic Kyushu Azalea. Numerous plants there have Japanese names that contain the word “Kirishima,” including Kirishima Thistle (also known as Kirishimahikod), Kyushu Azalea (also known as Miyamakirishima), and Fragrant Witch Hazel (also known as Kirishimamizuki).
The well-known crane wintering grounds at Arasaki, on the coast close to Izumi City, are to the northwest of Kirishima. Each winter, from November through February, almost 15,000 cranes of four migratory species, primarily Hooded and White-naped Cranes, congregate dramatically, attracting birdwatchers from all over the world. The Ariake Inland Sea’s marshes are located even further north. These offer crucial Saunders’s Gull wintering grounds as well as resting and feeding areas for a variety of East Asian shorebird species.
From Tsushima (off Kyushu) in the southwest to Rebun and Rishiri (off Hokkaido) in the north, small islands in the Sea of Japan serve as migratory traps for birds and birdwatchers alike because practically any migrant bird from East Asia can come there in the spring or fall. Too many places exist for animal viewing on Honshu, the largest island in Japan. A variety of common and endemic mammal species, such as the Japanese Badger and Japanese Giant Flying Squirrel, as well as endemic and migratory bird species, such as the highly sought-after Copper Pheasant and Yellow Bunting, can all be found in close proximity to Tokyo in the forests surrounding Mount Fuji and the woodlands in the Karuizawa and Tateshina regions. The Asiatic Black Bear, Japanese Serow, and the sole remaining population of Rock Ptarmigan in Japan all have significant populations in the three Japanese Alps ranges.
Huge numbers of wintering waterfowl are supported by a variety of wetlands and river mouths throughout Honshu, from those in the southwest to those in the north. However, few are as well-known as the gathering at Izu-numa and Uchi-numa, a pair of interconnected lakes in the alluvial plain of the Hasama River in Miyagi Prefecture that hardly ever freeze in the winter. The lake is covered in a stunning carpet of lotus blossoms in August, and during the late fall, winter, and early spring, huge flocks of Greater White-fronted Geese numbering in the tens of thousands congregate here to rest and graze, drawing birdwatchers from all over the world to see them. Few sights are more moving than watching clouds of birds fly away at dawn or come back at dusk.
Hokkaido’s wintertime wildlife attractions are now so well-known that it attracts photographers from all over the world. They capture shots of Red-crowned Cranes dancing in front of magnificent swarms of Steller’s Eagles on sea ice, long-furred Red Foxes scavenging for voles across snow-covered meadows, and herds of Japanese Deer in the woods. Additionally, they come across flocks of graceful Whooper Swans gliding through ice and mist drifts. Visitors should take a boat ride out to the ice edge during the winter months when sea ice covers Hokkaido’s northern coasts and the Nemuro Strait to see eagles hunting.
The winter months of late November to early March provide excellent opportunities for wildlife and bird watching. Brown Bears can be spotted along the Shiretoko Peninsula’s coasts in the spring, summer, and fall. Orca and Northern Minke Whales can also be observed offshore. Thousands of migratory Short-tailed Shearwaters also cover the ocean as they make their lengthy trek from antipodean islands to the Bering Sea.
Hokkaido’s summer months provide excellent opportunity to see wildflowers on the island’s mountains, but the Daisetsu range in particular. The Northern Pika, Siberian Chipmunks, and seasonal visitors like the Siberian Rubythroat can all be spotted in the summer. The Akan-Mash National Park’s woods and calderas are breathtaking in any season and serve as a constant reminder that there is always more to discover the more closely one examines any given place.