Guides & Stories

Guide to Birdwatching in Japan’s National Parks

Japan is a wonderland for travelers looking to immerse themselves in nature and spot beautiful birds. Grab a pair of binoculars and dive into the fascinating world of birding in the parks.

The environments of the national parks—mountains, forests, wetlands, grasslands, waterways and tidal flats—provide optimal habitats for a variety of birds. Approximately 723 bird species have been identified in Japan, 17 of which are endemic. With so many opportunities for spotting these beautiful creatures around the country, you can’t go wrong whichever national park you choose to visit. What’s more is that you don’t need a lot of equipment or gear—just a pair of binoculars or a camera (preferably with a long lens) will do. Birding is also a great activity for outdoor social distancing if you wish to avoid crowds.

There are several bird sanctuaries, forests, and nature trails that are dedicated to birdwatching in the parks, including the Karuizawa National Wild Bird Sanctuary Forest in Joshin’etsukogen National Park, which spans Nagano, Niigata and Gunma, and the Miike Wild Bird Forest (near the Miike Crater Lake) in Kirishima-Kinkowan National Park, within Miyazaki and Kagoshima, among many others.

Learn about Japan’s multitude of native and migratory birds and discover the best spots for birdwatching in the parks below, from northern Hokkaido to the southern isles of Okinawa.

Okinawa Rail


Around half of Japan’s bird species can be found in Hokkaido, many of which migrate from Siberia during the winter. In Shiretoko National Park, migratory birds such as Steller's sea eagle visit the park's shores during this season. Visitors can join various wildlife tours in the park, such as a sea eagle and winter wildlife tour, to see Steller's sea eagles and white-tailed eagles. The waters around the Shiretoko Peninsula are usually covered in drift ice this time of year, which makes a spectacular backdrop for watching these majestic raptors.

Steller's sea eagle

In Hokkaido’s Akan-Mashu National Park, visitors can spot a large variety of birds, including great spotted nutcrackers, red-flanked bluetails, grey herons, long-tailed tits and black woodpeckers. The black woodpecker is the largest species of woodpecker in Japan and can be found all over Hokkaido. They are entirely black with a red crown, and in Akan-Mashu National Park, they inhabit needleleaf forests of Sakhalin fir and Ezo spruce, and also mixed forest. Join a birdwatching hike on Mount Mokoto for a chance to learn about the park’s birds and other wildlife with a trained guide, or a canoeing tour on the headwaters of the Kushiro River to spot many birds that are drawn to water, like wagtails, Mandarin ducks, common mergansers and kingfishers. Visitors to the park may also see Steller’s sea eagles and white-tailed eagles on the park’s rivers and lakes. 
Red-crowned cranes are the stars of Kushiroshitsugen National Park, where they thrive in the park's pristine wetlands. These large, elegant cranes have impressive wingspans, and are among the world’s rarest cranes—about half of the world’s population inhabits Hokkaido, mainly in the eastern section, in the Kushiroshitsugen Wetland. The birds were once thought to be extinct, but conservation efforts have boosted their numbers to around 1,900. Learn more about them at the Kushiroshitsugen Wildlife Center or the Onnenai Visitor Center before setting out on walks through the wetlands, where you may have a chance to spot them. They are most active in late winter during the mating season, when they can be observed performing elegant courtship dances.

Red-crowned cranes


The parks on Japan’s main island of Honshu are a paradise for hundreds of bird species. The Tsuta Bird Sanctuary Nature Trail in Tohoku’s Towada-Hachimantai National Park makes a great spot to see ruddy kingfishers and other migratory birds. The 3-kilometer (approx.) trail winds through a beautiful beech forest, passing by six serene ponds that attract a variety of waterfowl, including Mandarin ducks.
The Karuizawa National Wild Bird Sanctuary Forest in Joshin’etsukogen National Park is a highly accessible area for birdwatching, located around 1 hour from Tokyo by bullet train, with several well-maintained trails and rest houses. This protected forest covers around 100 hectares with many types of trees, including a variety of broad-leaved trees and needle-bearing larches. A visit to the sanctuary offers the chance to spot around 80 different species, including endemic copper pheasants, Japanese wagtails and Japanese green woodpeckers, and migratory birds like yellow buntings, narcissus flycatchers, and blue-and-white flycatchers.
If you’re planning to hike in the Japanese Alps, you might come across the rare rock ptarmigan, a plump, pheasant-like bird with spotted plumage that inhabits alpine areas around 2,500 meters or higher. Mount Hiuchi in Myoko-Togakushi renzan National Park is its northernmost habitat in Japan. The bird species is a survivor of the Ice Age and a designated Special Natural Monument.

Coot at Lake Kawaguchi

The foothills of Mount Fuji and the Fuji Five Lakes area are excellent places to observe birds in the Kanto area. The types of birds you can see vary depending on the season, but it's possible to see ducks, herons, cormorants, wagtails and pheasants on hikes and cycling tours around the area. Visit the Wild Bird Sanctuary Forest near the Hakone Visitor Center on the banks of Lake Ashinoko for the chance to observe woodpeckers, bush warblers and numerous other birds. Birdwatching is particularly good in winter (thanks to the bare trees) and during the breeding season in spring.
For serious bird watchers, the Izu Islands in Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park are home to many species and subspecies that are rarely seen anywhere else Japan, including the Izu robin, the Izu thrush, the Iijima leaf warbler, Pleske's grasshopper-warbler and Owston's tit. These birds mainly inhabit the islands' diverse subtropical forests. Miyakejima and Hachijojima islands, located around 6 to 10 hours from Tokyo by ferry respectively (flights are also available), are particularly great for birdwatching for their diversity. The best time for viewing is during the summer months.


On the southernmost of Japan’s four main islands, Kyushu, the Miike Wild Bird Forest (near Miike Crater Lake) in Kirishima-Kinkowan National Park is a paradise for birds. It is home to 151 different species, including the ruddy kingfisher, a striking bird with vivid orange plumage and a long beak, along with the blue-and-white flycatcher, narcissus flycatcher and fairy pitta. Spend a few hours at the birdwatching cabin, located at a popular drinking area for the birds, and you’re sure to be bathed in birdsong and spot some surprising avian creatures.

Along the park’s Shigetomi Beach tidal flats, visitors can spot western ospreys and common kingfishers, snipes and various types of plovers year-round while exploring the diverse ecosystem of Kinkowan Bay at low tide. In autumn, look out for whimbrels wading in the flats, poking through the mud with their long, thin beaks. From October to May, black-faced spoonbills make an appearance, an endangered species in this area.


Okinawa Rail

Japan’s southern isles offer even more rare birds. In Yambaru National Park, visitors who hike along the Hiji Waterfall Nature Trail and other areas of the park have the possibility of spotting Ryukyu robins, endemic to the Ryukyu Islands, and endangered Pryer’s woodpeckers, the prefectural bird of Okinawa. The Okinawa rail, a flightless bird that was only discovered in 1981, also inhabits Yambaru. Visit the Okinawa Rail Learning Center to learn more about them and observe some of the rails in captivity behind protective glass. The islands of Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park, Japan’s southernmost national park, are important breeding grounds for the crested serpent eagle. You can learn more about them and other endemic animals at the Iriomote Wildlife Center.


Tips for birdwatching in Japan

Birdwatching requires some patience, advanced planning, sensitivity and awareness of the natural environment (and binoculars!). Here are some things to be aware of while observing birds in the parks:

  • Be patient 
  • Try not to make noise
  • Be prepared for the weather—bring warm clothing and rain gear
  • Find a good spot: sheltered areas out of the wind, “edges” where habitats change from one type to another (such as between a forest and a field), and water (a magnet for birds) all make good places for birdwatching.
  • Keep a safe distance from the birds and don’t disrupt their habitats in any way
  • Do not feed the birds (it is subject to regulations under the Natural Parks Law)
  • Do not chase the birds
  • Stay away from birds’ nests
  • Do not use the flash on your camera or strobe lights
  • While in national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, stay on the paths, trails and boardwalks
  • Do not trespass on private property
  • Be considerate when choosing a shooting location, especially during crowded times    

Enjoying more of Japan’s wildlife

Birdwatching is an excellent way to dip your beak into wildlife watching in the parks. For more information on Japan’s wild animals, ways to learn about them, and details on how to experience wildlife sustainably on guided tours, visit our wildlife tours page.

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