Illustration by Dawn Cooper

1. Cherry blossom, Mount Yoshino, near Nara


Cherry blossom and Mount Fuji © Amana Images Inc / Getty

Cherry trees were first planted on the north slope of Mount Yoshino more than 1,300 years ago; today some 30,000 trees bloom here. Peak blossom season is early to mid April.

2. Japanese macaque, Jigokudani, near Nagano

Japanese Macaque or Snow Monkey female sitting at the edge of a thermal hotspring spa pool (Macaca fuscata). Jigokudani Yean-Koen National Park, Japan. February 2013.

Japananese macaque © Anup Shah / Getty

During the freezing winters of central Honshu island, the famous ‘snow monkeys’ of Jigokudani Monkey Park warm themselves in its natural thermal baths.

3. Red-crowned crane, Kushiro Wetland Centre


Red-crowned crane © Piterpan / Getty

Visit Hokkaido in February and March to watch the courtship displays of these elegant birds. The species was hunted to the brink of extinction at the end of the 19th century, but Kushiro’s resident population now numbers an estimated 1,000 individuals.

4. Steller’s sea eagle, Nemuro Peninsula


Steller's sea eagle © Manuel Romaris / Getty

Weighing up to 9kg, this is one of the world’s largest eagles, easy to identify thanks to its bright yellow bill. In early February, these eagles gather on the pack ice off the Nemuro Peninsula of Hokkaido to feed on Pacific cod.

5. Sperm whale, Usa Bay, Shikoku


Sperm whale © Alexander Safonov / Getty

Join a whale-watching trip from the south coast of Shikoku between May and August for the chance to spot sperm and Bryde’s whales, plus various dolphin species.

6. Iriomote Cat, Iriomote-jima

A popular destination for kayaking, snorkelling and hiking, the far southern island of Iriomote is home to the Critically Endangered Iriomote cat, a subspecies of the leopard cat.