Japan – made up of four large islands and thousands of tiny ones – is home to extraordinary and diverse wildlife that makes its home in snowy mountains, subtropical forests, oceans and cities.

Here are 12 stunning images of the animals and landscapes characteristic of this unique part of earth.

1. Snow monkeys 

The largest of Japan’s islands, Honshu is home to 100 million people living in an area a sixth of the size of France. Much wildlife thrives here too, and snow monkeys (Macaca fuscata) are one resident able to cope with the extreme climate of the island’s mountains. When the temperature drops down to an average of -10C in winter, groups of the Japanese macaques gather to bathe in hot springs to stay warm.

2. Sika deer

Unusual visitors to be found at Todaiji temple in the city of Nara, are sika deer. The bold characters arrive from the nearby Nara park and beg tourists for the special crackers sold at the landmark.

3. "Snow monsters"

On Mount Zao in northern Honshu, “snow monsters” can be found. These bizarre formations are actually trees covered in heavy snow, bending and straining into strange shapes. At certain times during winter the statuesque “monsters” are illuminated with coloured artificial lights, enhancing their magical and unique appearance.

4. Rice terraces

Traditional rice terraces, which can be found built into Honshu’s hills and mountains, are an important part of Japan’s culture and history. On these lush tiered fields, farmers must work hard to drain away water and harvest their crop. The terraced systems, which tend to be built on volcanic landscapes, have been under strain since the introduction of more modern production methods at flat rice fields. However a number of farmers maintain the traditional way of working.

5. Yakushima’s macaques

Japan’s southwest is made up of many tiny islands and the country’s third largest, Kyushu. A population of about 10,000 macaques, including this baby pictured above, is found on the forested island of Yakushima while deer; green turtles; the endangered Ishikawa frog and the elusive Iriomote cat are among the other animals found around the semitropical group of islands.

6. Green turtles

A green turtle is caught on camera as it swims near the island of Yonaguni. It’s thought that these highly migratory sea turtles might float around the ocean after hatching before they start to migrate between foraging and breeding grounds.

7. Atlas moth


Also found on the southwest islands is the incredible Atlas moth (Attacus atlas), like this one, pictured above just after it emerged from a cocoon. Among the biggest of all moths and butterflies, the largest recorded wing span for one of these resplendent insects is 26.2cm (10.3 inches).

8. Steller's sea eagles

In winter Steller’s sea eagles (Haliaeetus pelagicus) migrate to Japan from their breeding grounds in eastern Russia. These huge, majestic birds, which can be seen on the island of Hokkaido, have a wing span of up to 2.5m (8ft). To feed, they swoop and snatch fish, especially cod, that they spot from their water’s edge perches.

9. Brown bears

The wildlife and weather of Hokkaido is distinct from the rest of Japan. Brown bears arrived on the island from the Siberian mainland during the last glacial period (colloquially referred to as "ice age"). Here, a mother and cub are pictured in the Shiretoko Peninsula, north-east Hokkaido.

10. Red-crowned crane

A resident population of about 900 cranes are among the spectacular wildlife found in Hokkaido. Here, an individual is engaged in a dancing ritual. The cranes (Grus japonensis) bow, jump, run and may toss grass as part of the behaviour which is associated with building bonds between pairs and relieving aggression.

11. Flower fields

From spring to autumn Hokkaido bursts into glorious rainbow-like colour with fields of cultivated flowers. Rows of copious, fragrant lavender draw in tourists, while sunflowers, tulips and cherry trees make spectacular sights at different times of year.

12. Whooper swans

Whooper swans migrate to the beautiful Lake Kussharo in winter. The water body was formed following an eruption of the Kussharo volcano about 300,000 years ago, and the swans gather around the hot springs which keep parts of the lake free from ice.

UK viewers can tune into the new series 'Japan: Earth’s Enchanted Islands', which begins on BBC Two on Monday 8 June at 21:00 BST

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