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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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)