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The wildlife in Japan is a wonder. While it might not be the first thing you think of when planning a holiday to the country, seeing snow monkey bathing in hot springs (and ignoring international onlookers quite complacently) is unique to this area. And although whales might only be passing through, encouraging the tourism trade of whale watching in time could help move Japanese culture away from whaling to a humane economy of protecting and preserving these larger than life creatures.

Marvel at Macaque

A sight unique to Japan is that of the snow monkey. These macaque live all year round in the Jigokudani Yaenkoen park which was opened in 1964 as an observation point of this primate’s way of life. The most northern-living non-human primate, it can survive temperatures of below -15°C. Feeding mostly on berries, seeds, bark and invertebrates, they have brown-grey fur, red face, hands and bottom and a short tail.

This environment in the Yokoyu River valley is especially harsh in winter yet this is when the monkey are most active and venture into the onsen (hot spring). Constructed especially for the monkey, here the 200 or so residents play, wash and sometimes even swim as a means of warming up in the winter months, returning to the safety of the forest in the evening. Don’t forget your camera on a visit here and come as early as you can as it can get very busy by midday.

Seeing under Japan’s seas

Kochi Prefecture sits facing the Pacific Ocean, making it an excellent place to spot a variety of wildlife including humpback, sperm and killer whale. Here there are pods of playful dolphin, sometimes adult and calf, swimming close to the shoreline. Whale and wildlife watching is now providing a sustainable alternative to whaling in some parts of this country although the culture is still more focused on its age-old traditions. With more tourists requesting whale watching trips, this may eventually tip the balance and this chance to appreciate these magnificent creatures up close is supporting predominantly poor fishing towns and villages.

Boat trips are very popular between February and April, and dolphin and whale swim parallel to the ships, leaping up or spouting water respectively. While nothing can be guaranteed, with a good skipper, you should expect to see the large Bryde’s whale and medium-sized false killer whale, as well as schools of white-sided and Risso’s dolphin. 

Find more inspiration to start planning your luxury holiday to Japan.