Attention animal lovers! Today is a good day to learn the vocabulary for animals in Japanese! Probably, you have seen pictures of wild monkeys bathing in hot springs, ceramic raccoon dogs in front of restaurants, and the fictional animal Pikachu from a Japanese video game series. All of them are symbols of Japanese animals.
When learning a new language, we never forget to learn what animals are called, right?
In this lesson, we will learn common animal names in Japanese and get familiar with Japanese culture associated with animals. Let’s extend your Japanese vocabulary with us!
- 1 Japanese Word for Animals
- 2 Common Japanese Animal Names
- 3 Other Common Animals in Japanese
- 4 Japanese Culture and Grammar Related to Animals
- 4.1 Writing Animal Names in Japanese
- 4.2 Common Radicals for Animal Name
- 4.3 Hard to Read Animal Names in Japanese
- 4.4 Japanese Words for Baby Animals
- 4.5 Animals with an Extra Word
- 4.6 How to Count Animals in Japanese
- 4.7 Typical Japanese Animal Sounds
- 4.8 Animal Symbolize Longevity and Good Fortune
- 4.9 Idioms with Japanese Animal Names
- 4.10 Japanese Folklore with Animals
- 5 Wrap up
Japanese Word for Animals
The Japanese word どうぶつ (doubutsu | 動物 | animal) means ‘moving thing,’ and it generally includes mammals, reptiles, birds, fish, and any organisms.
However, どうぶつ (doubutsu) implies non-human beings in Japanese daily conversation.
- どうぶつ (doubutsu | 動物 | animal)
- しょくぶつ (shokubutsu | 植物 | plant)
- どうしょくぶつ (dou shoku butsu | 動植物 | animals and plants, flora and fauna)
- すきなどうぶつはなんですか？ (suki na doubutsu wa nan desu ka? | 好きな動物は何ですか？ | Do you have any favorite animals?)
- わたしはどうぶつアレルギーです。(watashi wa doubutsu arrefugii desu. | 私は動物アレルギーです。| I am allergic to animals.)
Other Related Words
- どうぶつえん (doubutsu en | 動物園 | zoo)
- どうぶつびょういん (doubutsu byouin | 動物病院 | animal hospital)
- ペット (petto | Pet)
- やせいどうぶつ (yasei doubutsu | 野生動物 | wild animal)
- けもの (kemono | 獣 | beast, animal, creature)
- せいぶつ (seibutsu | 生物 | life form, creature, organism)
- いきもの (iki mono | 生き物 | living thing, creature, living nature)
- ペットをかっていますか？ (petto wo katte imasu ka? | ペットを飼っていますか？ | Do you have pets?)
- にほんにはいろいろなやせいどうぶつがいます。 (nihon ni wa iroiro na yasei doubutsu ga imasu. | 日本には色々な野生動物がいます。| There are various wild animals in Japan.)
Common Japanese Animal Names
Learning the Japanese names for animals not only enhances your appreciation of the country’s diverse wildlife but also gives you an insight into the language and culture. Let’s dive deep into the world of Japanese animals.
Japan’s Unique Wildlife
Japan is home to about 130 endemic species, including Japanese monkeys and goat antelopes. In particular, Hokkaido, the Sado Islands, the Ogasawara Islands, and the Ryukyu Islands are rich storehouses of different animals and plants that have evolved uniquely.
- ニホンカモシカ (Nihon kamoshika | 日本カモシカ、日本氈鹿 | Japanese serow, Japanese goat-antelope)
- ニホンザル (Nihon zaru | 日本猿 | Japanese macaque, snow monkey)
- キタキツネ (Kita kitsune | 北狐 | Ezo red fox, Sakhalin fox)
- ニホンヤマネ (Yamane | 山鼠、冬眠鼠 | Japanese dormouse)
- ムササビ (Musasabi | 鼯鼠、鼺鼠 | Japanese giant flying squirrel)
- エゾヒグマ (Ezo higuma | 蝦夷羆 | Ezo brown bear, Russian grizzly bear)
- ニホンツキノワグマ (Nihon tsuki no waguma | 日本月の輪熊 | Japanese black bear)
- ヤンバルクイナ (Yanbarukuina | 山原水鶏 | Okinawa rail)
- イリオモテヤマネコ (Iriomote yamaneko | 西表山猫 | Iriomote cat)
Wild Animals in Japan
Japan might be well-known for its urban areas like Tokyo and Osaka. Yet, approximately 75 percent of the land is mountainous areas, and two-thirds of the country is forest areas.
According to experts, there are about 160 species of wild animals やせいどうぶつ (yasei doubutsu | 野生動物), 600 species of wild birds やちょう (yachou | 野鳥), and 32,000 insects throughout the country.
Common Wild Animals
- しか (shika | 鹿 | deer)
- いのしし (inoshishi | 猪 | wild boar)
- たぬき (tanuki | 狸 | raccoon dog)
- きつね (kitsune | 狐 | fox)
- りす (risu | 栗鼠 | squirrel)
- うさぎ (usagi | 兎 | rabbit)
- てん (Ten | 貂 | Marten)
- さる (saru | 猿 | monkey)
- くま (kuma | 熊 | bear)
Other Common Animals in Japanese
From cats and dogs to cows and horses, they play a big role in Japanese culture. We’ve listed the common ones to help your Japanese language skills.
Pets in Japan
Like many countries, dogs and cats are the most common animals for pets in Japan.
The しばいぬ or しばけん (Shiba Inu, Shiba Ken | 柴犬 | Brushwood Dog ) and あきたけん (Akita Ken | 秋田犬 | Akita Dog) are popular Japanese breeds, as well as the にほんねこ (Nihon Neko | 日本猫 | Japanese Cat).
- いぬ (Inu | 犬 | Dog)
- ねこ (Neko | 猫 | Cat)
- ハムスター (Hamusutaa | Hamster)
- インコ (Inko | 鸚哥、音呼 | Parrots)
- めだか (Medaka | 目高、鱂 | Oryzias)
- きんぎょ (Kingyo | 金魚 | Goldfish)
- ねったいぎょ (Nettaigyo | 熱帯魚 | Tropical fish)
- かめ (Kame | 亀 | Turtle)
- とかげ (Tokage | 蜥蜴、石竜子 | Lizard)
Farm Animals in Japanese
Farm animals are called かちく (Kachiku | 家畜 | Livestock, Domestic animal) in Japanese.
Japanese beef cattle わぎゅう (Wagyuu | 和牛 | Japanese Beef) is well-known in the Western world, but Japan also produces fresh and quality ぶたにく (Buta niku | 豚肉 | Pork) and とりにく (Tori niku | 鶏肉 | Chicken).
- うし (Ushi | 牛 | Cow, Cattle)
- ぶた (Buta | 豚 | Pig)
- にわとり (Niwatori | 鶏 | Chicken)
- かも (Kamo | 鴨 | Duck)
- うま (Uma | 馬 | Horse)
- やぎ (Yagi | 山羊 | Goat)
- ひつじ (Hitsuji | 羊 | Sheep)
- はち (Hachi | 蜂 | Bee)
Aquatic Life in Japanese
Japan is an island country surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and three seas.
Also, a lot of rainfall takes place in Japan, so the country is home to various animals.
- さかな (Sakana | 魚 | Fish)
- いるか (Iruka | 海豚、鯆 | Dolphin)
- くじら (Kujira | 鯨、鯢 | Whale)
- イソギンチャク (Isoginchaku | 磯巾着 | Sea anemone)
- たこ (Tako | 蛸 | Octopus)
- いか (Ika | 烏賊 | Squid)
- えび (Ebi | 海老、蝦 | Shrimp)
- かに (Kani | 蟹、蠏 | Crab)
- うなぎ (Unagi | 鰻 | Eel)
- あゆ (Ayu | 鮎 | Sweetfish)
- かえる (Kaeru | 蛙 | Frog)
Birds in Japanese
Not only the national bird きじ (Kiji | 雉 | Green pheasant), many birds breed in Japan, and numerous migratory birds arrive and leave Japan.
- すずめ (Suzume | 雀 | Sparrow)
- はと (Hato | 鳩 | Pigeon)
- あひる (Ahiru | 鶩、家鴨、鴨 | Domestic duck)
- からす (Karasu | 鴉、烏| Crow)
- つばめ (Tsubame | 燕 | Swallow)
- うぐいす (Uguisu | 鴬 | Bush warbler)
- ふくろう (Fukurou | 梟 | Owl)
- たんちょう (Tanchou | 丹頂 | Red-crowned crane)
Insects in Japanese
In Japan, insects are considered a seasonal feature. It often appears in Japanese poetry, novels, and アニメ (Anime | animation) using words and sounds.
- てんとうむし (Tentou mushi | 天道虫 | Ladybug)
- ほたる (Hotaru | 蛍 | Firefly)
- とんぼ (Tonbo | 蜻蛉 | Dragonfly)
- せみ (Semi | 蝉 | Cicada)
- こおろぎ (Koorogi | 蟋蟀、蛬 | Cricket)
- ちょう (Chou | 蝶 | Butterfly)
- かぶとむし (Kamuto mushi | 甲虫、兜虫 | Japanese rhinoceros beetle)
- くわがたむし (Kuwagata mushi | 鍬形虫 | Stag beetle)
- か (Ka | 蚊 | Mosquito)
Japanese Culture and Grammar Related to Animals
Discover more about everything from writing the names of animals in Japanese to idiomatic expressions involving animals and even fascinating animal folklore.
Writing Animal Names in Japanese
In general, Japanese people often write Japanese animal words in ひらがな (Hiragana | 平仮名) and カタカナ (Katakana | 片仮名) instead of かんじ (Kanji | 漢字 | Chinese Character), since the Kanji can easily get complicated.
Many written Japanese animal names contain ぶしゅ (Bushu | 部首 | radical) that represent animals or body parts. Certainly, this knowledge will help you to learn Japanese faster.
Common Radicals for Animal Name
In Kanji, radicals are important components that help learners recognize and memorize characters and their meanings. Some common ones include:
- けものへん (Kemono hen | 犭 | ‘Beast’) → 狐 (Fox), 猫 (Cat), 狸 (Raccoon dog)
- とり (Tori | 鳥 | ‘Bird’ ) → 鶏 (Chiken), 鳩 (Pigeon), 鴉 (Crow)
- いのこ (Inoko | 豕 | ‘Pig’) → 豚 (Pig), 象 (Elephant), 海豚 (Dolphin)
- むじな、むじなへん (Mujina, Mujina hen | 豸 | ‘badger’) → 豹 (Leopard), 貂 (Marten)
- うおへん、さかなへん (Uo hen, Sakana hen | 魚 | ‘Fish’) → 鮭 (Salmon), 鮪 (Tuna)
- むし、むしへん、(Mushi, Mushi hen | 虫 | ‘insect’ or ‘worm’) → 蝶 (Butterfly), 蛸 (Octopus)
- ひとあし、にんにょう (Hitoashi, Ninnyou | 儿 | ‘Legs’) → 兎 (Rabbit), 虎 (Tiger), 蛇 (Snake)
Also, it’s not uncommon to have a few variations of Kanji for an animal.
- くらげ (Kurage | 水母、海月、水月、蚱 | Jellyfish)
- かわせみ (Kawasemi | 翡翠、翡翆、魚狗、川蟬 | Kingfisher)
Hard to Read Animal Names in Japanese
When learning a new animal word in Japanese, memorizing its Kanji is necessary.
However, there are many animal names in Kanji that even native speakers can’t read or write precisely.
- 栗鼠 (Risu | リス、りす | Squirrel)
- 蝙蝠 (Koumori | コウモリ、こうもり | Bat)
- 鰐 (Wani | ワニ、わに | Crocodile)
- 波布、飯匙倩 (Habu | ハブ、はぶ | Habu) *A venomous snakes in the Ryukyu Islands
- 麒麟 (Kirin | キリン、きりん | Giraffe) *Also, a divine beast from ancient China
Japanese Words for Baby Animals
By attaching the Kanji 子 (Ko | こ | Child, Infant) on top of the animal word, you can make a word for an animal baby.
- いぬ (Inu | 犬 | Dog) → こいぬ (Ko inu | 子犬 | Baby dog, Puppy)
- ねこ (Neko | 猫 | Cat) → こねこ (Ko neko | 子猫 | Baby cat, Kitten)
- ぞう (Zou | 象 | Elephant) → こぞう (Ko zou | 小象 | Baby elephant, Calf)
- にわとり → ひよこ (Hiyoko | 雛 | Chick)
- とり → ひな (Hina | 雛 | Baby bird, Chick)
Note: this rule only applies to certain words and not every animal.
Animals with an Extra Word
Here are some examples of animals with descriptive words.
- おやねこ (Oya neko | 親猫 | Parent cat)
- のらねこ (Nora neko | 野良猫 | Stray cat)
- どろぼうねこ (Doroubou neko | 泥棒猫 | Thieving cat, Homewrecker)
How to Count Animals in Japanese
The Japanese language has several types of counter words.
The basic rule for counting animals in Japanese:
- For animals smaller than humans: ひき (Hiki | 匹)
- For animals larger than humans: とう (Tou | 頭)
Sometimes, the rule changes depending on the species or animal’s conditions.
- Butterfly: とう (Tou | 頭)
- Animal with hooves: てい (Tei | 蹄)
- Birds, rabbits, and animals with wings or feathers: わ (Wa | 羽)
- Landed fish as food: び (Bi | 尾), まい (Mai | 枚), ほん (Hon | 本)
- Landed squid and crab as food: はい (Hai | 杯)
Typical Japanese Animal Sounds
Japanese animal sounds are all about onomatopoeia.
Japanese people use consecutive onomatopoeia to express typical sounds like ワンワン (Wan wan | Bow-wow) and ニャーニャー (Nyaa nyaa | meow meow).
- ワン (Wan) → Dog
- ニャー (Nyaa) → Cat
- チュン (Chun) → Bird
- ヒヒーン (Hihiin) → Horse
- コケコッコー (Kokekokkoo) → Chicken
- ピヨ (Piyo) → Chick
- ガオー (Gaoo) → Lion
- モー (Moo) → Cow
Animal Symbolize Longevity and Good Fortune
The historical city Nara’s wild deer is famous together with とうだいじ (Toudaiji | 東大寺 | Todaiji Temple).
We often find animal motifs in Japanese shrines and temples that symbolize longevity or good fortune in Japan.
- かめ (Kame | 亀 | Turtle) → Longevity, Wisdom
- こい (Koi | 鯉 | Carp) → Prosperity, Courage
- つる (Tsuru | 鶴 | Crane) → Longevity, Good health, Love
- キジ (Kiji | 雉子、雉 | Japanese Pheasant) → Good Fortune, Love
- しろへび (Shiro hebi | 白蛇 | White snake) → Longevity, Prosperity, Matchmaking
- うさぎ (Usagi | 兎 | Rabbit) →Descendants prosperity
- しか (Shika | 鹿 | Deer) → Power, Longevity
In addition to animals that are believed to bring good luck, Japan also has a few that are considered to bring bad luck, such as seeing a spider at night or hearing a crow’s caw.
Idioms with Japanese Animal Names
It’s pretty common for Japanese idioms to include animal names. Here are some examples below:
- Horse:うまがあう (Uma ga au | 馬が合う | Hit it off, Get along well)
- Dog and monkey: けんえんのなか (Kenen no naka | 犬猿の仲 | Fight like cats and dogs)
- Snake: ちょうだのれつ (Chouda no retsu | 長蛇の列 | A long queue)
- Cow: ぎゅうじる (Gyuujiru | 牛耳る | to dominate)
- Mackerel: さばをよむ (Saba wo yomu | 鯖を読む | to fudge the count)
- Sea bream: くさってもたい (Kusattemo tai | 腐っても鯛 | A good horse becomes never a jade)
- Sparrow: すずめのなみだ (Suzume no namida | 雀の涙 | A drop in the bucket)
- Butterfly: ちょうよはなよ (Chou yo hana yo | 蝶よ花よ | To bring up with tender care and affection)
Japanese Folklore with Animals
If you want to deepen your understanding on Japanese culture, it’s important to learn about their mythology.
- Dog, monkey, and pheasant: ももたろう (Momotarou | 桃太郎 | The peach boy)
- Crane: つるのおんがえし (Tsuru no ongaeshi | 鶴の恩返し | The Crane of Gratitude)
- Mouse: おむすびころりん (Omusubi kororin | The rolling rice ball)
Awesome! You’ve expanded your Japanese vocabulary list with a whole new set of animal-related words!
From pets and farm animals to aquatic life, we’ve explored the diverse categories of animals found in Japan and learned a bit about the counters used for animals. Whether you’re a language learner or simply an animal lover, learning Japanese animal names can be rewarding.
P.S. If you have a cute pet いぬ (inu) or ねこ (neko), give them a belly rub for us!
がんばってください (Ganbatte kudasai)! ^^