Top Ten Cutest Japanese Wild Animals
Japan seems to have created many of its cutest fictional creatures based on its own native animals. The Harvest Moon games introduced me to some of their more usual creatures, such as wild boars and squirrels. So while Australia is a country where every native species will probably kill you, Japan seems like a country where every native species looks like it wants a hug.
However, always remember that when traveling, wild animals are still wild animals no matter how cute they might be. Do not forget to approach them with caution, remember it's not usually a good idea to feed them, and if you can leave them alone altogether, that's the safest bet.
With that out of the way so I don't get sued, here are my favorite ten cute Japanese wild critters!
10. Snow Monkey
Up in mountainous ski resort areas in Japan, these snow monkeys, also known as Japanese macaques, like to play in the onsen, natural hot springs, to keep warm in the winter. They're peaceful and don't seem to really mind humans watching them or taking pictures of them, so they've become a kind of tourist attraction of their own over time. They have these innocent and carefree, but at the same time very human-like, personalities. You're probably unlikely to find such peaceful primates anywhere. An onsen bath a day takes the angry away?
9. Sika Deer
Abundant in Japan but found throughout eastern Asia, this deer's name comes from "shika" the Japanese word for deer, and in Japan it is known as "Nihonjika" or Japan deer. In China, this deer was farmed for its velvet antlers, which were used in traditional Chinese medicine, but the practice was never imported to Japan. One reason I love these animals is because they are one of few species of deer which retain their spots into maturity, although some do not have spots. Much like the snow monkeys, in Nara in particular these deer seem pretty chill around humans.
They are imported as prize game animals in other countries due to their cleverness and stealth when hunted. In Japan, the population is somewhat out of control, because its only predator, wolves, went extinct in Japan around 100 years ago. In the Nara Prefecture, the deer are very common and sometimes wander casually into areas inhabited by humans. In Shinto they are sacred, seen as messengers from the Shinto gods, and are often called a national treasure of Japan. (Source: Wikipedia)
8. Ezo Naki Usagi
Ezo is a historical name for the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, which is home to many cute wintery critters. So the name of this little guy means "Hokkaido crying rabbit". It's a kind of lagomorph (rabbit family) animal called a Pika, and might have been the inspiration for the famous Pokemon, Pikachu. It lives in the mountains of Hokkaido and makes its home burrowing in rocky crevices. It gets the "crying" part of its name from its distinct high-pitched calls, as you can hear in the following video.
7. Shima Enaga
Also called the "long-tailed tit" (hehehe), this bird is also a Hokkaido native. Although this species of bird is found in many parts of the world, the Japanese kind is particularly cute due to having an all-white head, while other subspecies of this bird have stripes and eyebrow patterns on their heads. According to Wikipedia, members of this species who do not successfully breed sometimes end up as "helpers" to a related successfully mated pair, helping take care of their offspring. Isn't that endearing?
6. Red Fox
The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is not unique to Japan by any means, having a range that includes most of the Northern Hemisphere, as well as being an invasive species in Australia. There are two subspecies in Japan: Vulpes vulpes japonica, found throughout Japan, and Vulpes vulpes schrencki found on Hokkaido. In Japan, the fox attains mystical status as a kitsune spirit, capable sometimes of assuming human form. The kitsune fox spirits were associated with the Shinto god of rice, Inari, who is sometimes also depicted in fox form.
5. Red Squirrel
Although this guy's habitat ranges from as far west as the British Isles all the way east to Japan, I still included it on this list because I love the cute long ears distinguishing it from the squirrels we have here in America.
4. Ezo Fukuro
"Ezo" meaning "Hokkaido" and "fukuro" being the Japanese word for owl, this owl, also known as the Ural owl, lives in Hokkaido and Russia, stretching West into Scandanavia as well. It's calls are written as "Hoh-hoh, Guruk Hoh-hoh", making me wonder if perhaps they named the little owl-like Pokemon Hoothoot "Ho-Ho-" in Japanese for this reason. It is not considered threatened or endangered, but might be hard to spot in the snowy forests it inhabits.
3. Tsushima Leopard Cat and Iriomote Cat
Both the Iriomote Cat and Tsushima Leopard Cat are subspecies of the same species, leopard cats. These cats are small, about house-cat sized, and their range stretches across southeast Asia. However, in Japan, they're only found on the islands of Iriomote and Tsushima. While the leopard cat in general isn't threatened or endangered, the Japanese subspecies of these cats are in more trouble, with the Tsushima leopard cat being endangered. In China, leopard cats are threatened by the fur trade. In anime, these cats are part of the inspiration for the characters and plot of the manga-turned-anime Tokyo Mew Mew.
Also called the Japanese Raccoon Dog, this animal shows up in a lot of Japanese folklore, art, anime, manga, and video games, such as the shopkeeper in the Animal Crossing series. Although it resembles a raccoon, so the word "tanuki" is often translated as raccoon, they are not the same as the North American raccoon. In most Japanese tales, the tanuki are playful tricksters, often deceiving humans to try and make them look foolish.
1. Ezo Momonga
Also known as the Nihon Momonga, it's name means Hokkaido (or Japan) dwarf flying squirrel. There is a bigger flying squirrel in Japan, but I love the little guy for his big, round, cute eyes. It almost looks like something that came out of a manga or Japanese video game. This critter can be found all over Japan and likes to live in little nooks inside trees.
Conclusion and Honorable Mentions
There are many other animals I liked that didn't quite make the cut, such as the brown bear, weasel, stoat/ermine, wild boar, etc. Some of these I just think of as too mundane, living in North America as well as Japan, others I didn't think were as cute as some of the ones which made the list. But, suffice to say, Japan is home to an abundance of amazingly cute wild animals.