Iwatayama Monkey Park in Kyoto

With only one free afternoon whilst in Kyoto I had a decision to make – a Japanese fashion show or an afternoon exploring the city; well there was another choice.

My good friend Annabel, the blogger behind Get in the Hot Spot, loves monkeys and of course she’d tracked down a place to see wild Japanese macaque monkeys just outside of the city, and conveniently located right near the Arashiyama bamboo groves which we were visiting that morning.

Finding the monkey park from Arashiyama is easy with thanks to all the monkey signs that they have from the Togetsukyo Bridge leading across the river and to the entrance of the park.

Sign at Iwatayama Monkey Park in Kyoto, Japan

After paying an entrance fee, ¥500 (about AU$6.70) for adults and ¥250 (AU$3.10) for children, we began the walk through the park to reach the peak of the mountain to see the Japanese macaque monkeys but what we had been told was a beautiful view over Kyoto.

The walk is short – probably only about 15-20 minutes depending on your fitness level – but because it was uphill we were pretty quickly stripping off our thick winter jackets and sweating from the walk, and you’ll meet monkeys along the walk which will give you a good chance to catch your breath whilst watching these little creatures.

Grumpy Monkey at Iwatayama Monkey Park in Kyoto, Japan

Monkeys cleaning themselves at Iwatayama Monkey Park in Kyoto, Japan
Shy monkey at Iwatayama Monkey Park in Kyoto, Japan

Monkey at Iwatayama Monkey Park in Kyoto, Japan

Having never seen monkeys in the wild I was amused and curious by them, and their habits. With their red faces and butts, as well as incessant grooming habits, it sounds silly to reflect but each one had a personality – from the angry one who scared the other monkeys away to get to the food, or the divas who kept cleaning themselves – and I could have spent hours sitting there watching them interact much like people watching on the streets of any city.
Monkey with sign at lookout at Iwatayama Monkey Park in Kyoto, Japan
At 160 metres above sea level the mountain overlooks the city of Kyoto, which is flanked by mountains on either side; From the view you can see most of the major points in the city including Kyoto Tower and Kiyomizu-dera Temple.
The view from Iwatayama Monkey Park
The hut atop the hill at Iwatayama Monkey Park Hut
Aside from the view at the top of the mountain is a cabin where you can buy snacks and drinks – but cannot take outside because the monkeys will try to take the food from you! – learn more about the monkeys in the park, and talk with park rangers who are happy to answer any questions you may have.
There are a few rules whilst within the monkey park, the chief rule being don’t look the monkeys in the eye because they will see it as a territorial threat and act aggressively (trust me, I did it without thinking when in the hut and the monkey I looked at went nuts!)
Monkeys relaxing at Iwatayama Monkey Park
Baby monkey eating at Iwatayama Monkey Park in Kyoto, Japan
Baby monkey at Iwatayama Monkey Park eating
Aside from lazing around, the monkeys also seem to love to eat. At the time that Annabel and I arrived at the top of the mountain was just in time for lunch which is quite a spectacle.
The ranger comes out shaking a bucket of food whilst circus-style music begins to play. Monkeys begin appearing out of nowhere and going nuts whilst the ranger scatters food all around the area in front of the hut.
I found it strange that the park would do this when they so heavily promote that the monkeys were in a natural environment. Whilst inside the hut you are able buy food for ¥100 and feed the monkeys through caged windows – for your protection – but it’s a little bit sad to see the little creatures hanging off the bars and sticking their hands out knowing that by doing this they have the best chance of getting extra food.
I found that there were a few of the adult male monkeys who scared off the younger or female monkeys so that they would be given the visitors food over the other monkeys.
It was an interesting experience to be the one behind the caged bars. Having visited zoos and aquariums before I was so accustomed to being the one looking in instead of having it be the opposite way around. Reflecting on this thought made me feel quite claustrophobic so I quickly fed the monkeys before escaping back outside to marvel at the view of the city.
Monkey at Iwatayama Monkey Park in Kyoto, Japan wanting food
Annabel feeding a monkey at the Iwatayama Monkey Park in Kyoto, Japan
Monkeys with apple at Iwatayama Monkey Park in Kyoto, Japan

Have you seen animals in the wild? Would you do it again?



Iwatayama Monkey Park

8 Arashiyama Genrokuyama-cho,
Nishikyo-ku, Kyoto 616-0007

Opening hours: 9am – 4:30/5:30pm depending on season

Getting there: Closest train is Hankyu Arashiyama station (5minute walk) or the JR Saga-Arashiyama station (15 minute walk). You can also get there by bus. For more information please see their website.

Website: Iwatayama Monkey Park (in English)

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  • Reply
    October 22, 2012 at 1:13 pm

    I live in India, and we have wild grey langurs and rhesus macaques here. Once, I thought monkeys were cute and adorable (and the little ones of both species, I confess, still remain so). The adults, however – those are an entirely different kettle of fish. The rhesus especially are aggressive and have attacked several students and staff at the campus we live at; they can distinguish women and men and are particularly aggressive towards women. We don’t feed them or try to encourage them in any way (in fact, we’ve hired langurwallahs – men who have semi-tamed grey langurs, and the langurs and rhesus try to avoid territory overlap), but they are still present, aggressive, and a threat.

    I’m glad you had a more positive experience – but after a couple months of constant exposure, wild monkeys particularly lose their appeal and turn into a threat and a pest, like whitetail deer in the US and kangas in Australia.

  • Reply
    October 22, 2012 at 10:12 pm

    Oh wow, thanks for taking the time to educate me Darcey! I knew that they could be a little aggressive but didn’t know to what extent.

    Kangaroos, and koalas for that matter, never get dull in Australia 😉 I’m born and raised Aussie and they’re still amazing animals… maybe I should go and live out bush because the story might be different then!

  • Reply
    October 23, 2012 at 12:54 am

    Wow after reading your article and then the comments… I’m not sure how I feel about monkeys lol.

    • Reply
      October 24, 2012 at 5:10 am

      Just don’t look them in the eyes or carry food and you’ll be alright, Hogga! 🙂

  • Reply
    Shalu Sharma
    October 27, 2012 at 6:58 am

    The monkey park seems like a good place to go to. I think kids will love it. Do I need to be careful when eating bananas?

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