Top 10 REAL Pokemon You Can Find in Japan! Catch 'em all for realsies

    I think everyone has wished Pokemon were real at some point in time, and being a fan of the colorful and powerful roster of pocket monsters can make it easy to forget the majesty of our mundane world’s animal kingdom. If you’ve read my kaijū article then you already know the creatures inhabiting Japan’s oceans, streams, highlands, and forests can be just as impressive as the creatures that roam its movies and television shows. However, kaijū aren’t the only iconic monsters in Japanese pop culture, and those ten beasties aren’t the only unique and amazing animals native to Japan. Check out ten more amazing critters that could pass as the real-world equivalents of the most fun and profitable (gotta buy ’em all) monsters from Japan.

    10: Giant Isopod

    Giant isopod underwater
    Source: Damien du Toit

    Pocket Equivalent: Kabuto

    Kabuto from Pokemon
    Kabuto is based off of the living fossil the horseshoe crab, however, giant isopods are also giant deep-sea crustaceans so they have more than a few things in common with this fossil Pokemon.

    The giant isopod is one of the largest arthropods in the world. They can be found all over the Pacific from Japan to the Americas, but they really have a following in Japan where people are more willing to think of them as “grotesque cute” and want to design cell-phone cases and plushies in their likeness. In the U.S. we just make horror films out of them, which makes sense, since these little guys are full-on carnivorous and can survive for four years without eating—just waiting for the perfect catch to gorge themselves on.

    9. Japanese Serow

    Serows which look like deer-like goats
    Source: Quadell

    Pocket Equivalent: Gogoat

    Gogoat from Pokemon
    These two are basically identical sans the wreathe of shrubbery. Though I don’t know how the on-average 70 pound Serow would handle being ridden around Lumiose City.

    Once thought to be a deer (but actually much closer related to cattle or goats) the Japanese serow is an iconic Japanese animal and considered a living “National Treasure of the Forest.” They were once hunted to near extinction, but their populations have sprung back up in the woodlands of Northern Honshu, thanks to some timely conservation efforts. These majestic little guys are featured on postage stamps, good luck charms, postcards, and much more. They have been known to the Japanese since prehistory and are considered so close to the Japanese identity that when in 1972 China gifted a Giant Panda to the Japanese government they reciprocated with a gift of two serows.

    8: Pika

    Pika on a rock

    Pocket Equivalent: Pikachu

    Pikachu from Pokemon
    Ahh yes, the poster-child of Pokemon. What better to compare to this tiny electrical dynamo than something that bears more than half of its name.

    Native to the rocky mountainsides of northern Europe, Asia, and the Americas, pikas are a type of lagomorph, the order that contains rabbits and hares, and are considered an early evolutionary stepping stone on the path to the long-eared, fluffy-tailed varieties that we all know and love. Some people have posited that the pika was the inspiration for Pokemon’s iconic Pikachu. While this may be true to an extent, the reality is more likely that the name is a portmanteau of two Japanese onomatopoeia, pikapika ピカピカ for electrical sparks and chuu チュー for a mouse’s squeak. Don’t tell that to fans of the pika theory though.

    7: Japanese Flying Squirrels

    Flying squirrel sitting on a branch with its skin flaps visible
    Source: Unknown

    Pocket Equivalent: Emolga

    Emolga from Pokemon
    To keep moving forward the theme of electrical rodents we have another match-up of creatures that would be almost identical if it weren’t for the lack of electrogenerative properties. C’mon scientists, get on your A-game. Eels can already conduct electricity give this power to various fluffy animals already, you have the technology!

    I have a lot of admiration for the tenacious animals like bats and flying squirrels that didn’t let being born a mammal keep them out of the skies. There are two main species of flying squirrels in Japan and parts of both were probably used as the inspiration behind this cousin of Pikachu. The Japanese giant flying squirrel or musasabi can make glides of up to 525 feet and can be over a foot long! And that’s not including their long fluffy tails which stabilize them during flight and typically about double their length. The other species is the Japanese dwarf flying squirrel or nihon momonga (Emolga’s likely name-sake) that can only reach a maximum height of eight inches. While the momonga might not be able to generate electricity, they definitely possess weaponized levels of cuteness. Just take a look here!

    6: Tanuki

    Two tanuki
    Source: 663Highland

    Pocket Equivalent: Zigzagoon

    Zigzagzoon from Pokemon
    This is the complete opposite of the usual match-up in that the tanuki will most likely be more immediately iconic than zigzagoon. Tanuki are very ubiquitous in Japan for their relationship with traditional art and folklore (and their much storied testicles. I doubt Zigzagoon has that in common with the tanuki but it definitely has the raccoon thing going for it.

    Tanuki たぬき in Japanese folklore have access to many more superpowers than your average pocket monster. They have access to possession, transformation, magical testicles, granting good luck, and high alcohol tolerance. They were even once considered sovereigns of the entire natural realm. It has even been said of the tanuki that while “the fox has seven disguises, the tanuki has eight ( 狐七化け、狸八化け).” Asserting that, although they are less malicious than kitsune, they have even more tricks up their sleeves. The real-life animal however is more similar to Zigzagoon in that it looks and acts like something between a dog, a raccoon, and a badger.

    5: Japanese Macaque

    Japanese snow monkeys with brown bodies and red faces
    Source: Yblieb

    Pocket Equivalent: Mankey

    Mankey from Pokemon
    Mankey is essentially a distilled chibi version of the Japanese macaque: White frosty fur, fleshy pink faces/noses, and prehensile tails. I’m pretty sure Mankeys wouldn’t pass up an evening at a hot spring either.

    The Japanese macaque, sometimes colloquially called snow monkeys because of their preferred habitat, are another very iconic Japanese creature. They are one of the only primates native to Japan and the only non-human primate that can tolerate living as far north as they do. Because of this they can be found on the majority of Japanese islands with large habitat distributions in Honshū, Shikoku, and Kyushū. They also have a unique place in Japanese folklore from the zodiac, to fairy tales, to famous nicknames of Nobunaga’s samurai.

    4: Asian Black Bear

    Asian black bear
    Source: Guérin Nicolas

    Pocket Equivalent: Ursaring

    Usaring from Pokemon
    Big fluffy ursine monstrosities with symbols on the lighter patches of fur on their chest. There is almost no contesting that Ursaring was based off of these Eurasian bears.

    This is the smaller of the two bear species that inhabit the mountains of Honshū, Kyūshū and Shikoku. Despite their cuteness and their diet of mostly vegetation, they have been known to act aggressively toward humans for territorial reasons and general grouchiness. They are prominent in the folklore of the Japanese mountain highlands, where it is said the white patch on their chest fur is from a silk-wrapped amulet gifted to them by the kami of the mountains.

    3: Whale Shark

    Small whale shark surrounded by fish
    Source: Zac Wolf

    Pocket Equivalent: Kyogre

    Kyogore from Pokemon, which is a large whale with red accents
    Kyogre is a legendary Pokemon and the whale shark is a pretty legendary ocean fish. They have a very similar aesthetic, but the fact is the 14 foot Pokemon with dominion over the world’s oceans is still dwarfed by the 40 foot whale shark.

    The whale shark, though it isn’t a whale and doesn’t really look like a shark, is an absolute giant of the sea. The tremendous shark is a filter-feeder, so imagine a giant nurse shark. They are the world’s largest living species of fish and the largest non-whale animal on the planet. They have a reputation for being very friendly to SCUBA divers. That, coupled with their strangely adorable qualities, has made them something of a cuteness icon in Japan. The Osaka aquarium, Kaiyukan, and the Okinawan Churaumi Aquarium have both featured these sharks as spotlight attractions.

    2: Japanese Pheasant

    Japanese pheasant, which has a red face, green body, and long tail
    Source: Alpsdake

    Pocket Equivalent: Unfezant

    Unfezant from Pokemon
    The Japanese pheasant was absolutely the inspiration for this Pokemon. Everything from the name to the color scheme supports this. Since this pheasant is the National bird of Japan, it was probably only a matter of time until it was immortalized as a Pokemon

    At first glance, it may seems unceremonious for such a common animal to be included in a list of fantastic creatures, but that sort of thinking goes against the very nature of Pokemon. Some Pokemon are very mundane. Heck, some of them are inanimate objects! These iridescent game birds have absolutely earned their place as an iconic Japanese animal. These pheasants have coexisted with the Japanese people since ancient times. They were given as dowry or as celebratory gifts for marriage and because of this they have been used in classical Japanese poetry as a symbol of love and devotion to one’s family. A very simple, but evocative animal.

    1: Shiba Inu

    Shiba dog
    pokemon nine tails on a mountain
    While the many amazing dog breeds of Japan may be more dog than fox—and are certainly lacking a few tails. They do tend to match the storied history and majesty of this Pokemon that is based on an iconic Japanese beast of myth.

    The Shiba Inu is the smallest variety of the six original Spitz dog breeds of Japan. The larger ones being the Akita, Kishu, Hokkaido, Shikoku, and Kai Ken. Many of these breeds are considered among the very few ancient dog breeds to still exist. In Japan, this pedigree stretching from the 3rd century BC has led to the creation of domesticated creatures with agility, friendliness, and loyalty that inspires movies and manga.

    All of these dog breeds encapsulate the true nature of what Pokemon really stands for: the ability to forge a connection with an animal companion that grow with you, fight for you, and become a lifelong companion. More so than any other of the amazing animals that inhabit Japan, these dogs are not only iconic, they are also readily available to be raised and trained. If you feel like putting the time and energy into adopting one of these breeds yourself, you would find a very real way to discover the rewards of being a Pokemon trainer.

    Linnaean Taxonomy! I Choose You!

    Ash from Pokemon with his fist in front of his face

    In short, the wild kingdom of Japan has as many beautiful and engrossing animals as even the richest anime/video game universes. Japan might not have electrically charged rodents (yet), but it does have more than its fair share of spectacular wild-life.