With more than 2,000 Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, as well as gardens, palaces and scores of architecture, Kyoto is truly one of the most beautiful culturally-preserved cities in Japan. If you are tired though of all the temples and shrines, how about a nice change and getaway to a truly amazing, birds-eye view of the animal kingdom?
In the western outskirts of Kyoto, you’ll find the Iwatayama Monkey Park, home to more than 170 free-roaming Japanese macaque monkeys. Like the snow monkeys from the Jigodudani Monkey Park in Negano Prefecture, the monkeys at Iwayayama are equally non-aggressive and welcoming to visitors who want to observe them in their natural habitat. Remember though, that they are still animals and can bite if provoked.
The entrance path leading to the sanctuary is located just across the Oi River bridge in the Arashiyama area. You’ll see a vertical sign and a steep set of stairs. It takes about 35 minutes to get to the top of the mountain, so you’ll want to make sure you give yourself ample time. The monkeys tend to start heading back into the woods around 1630. The park entrance closes at this time, but you can stay later if you are at the top. During the summer, it’s very hot and humid, so hydration is key. In the winter, it’s quite cold. A sweater is an absolute must! Before you charge forward, do note this isn’t for everyone. It’s quite a hike! Even the most fit people may be gulping down water and huffing and puffing along the way. Just pace yourself and you’ll be fine! If you have mobility issues or require the use of strollers, the journey could be quite problematic as there are many stairs and have winding ascending paths. Fortunately, there are fans spraying mists of water with an occasional bench for moments to rest. Keep that camera handy. It’s quite picturesque and a lot of great moments to capture along the way. One thing is for sure, whether in the winter, spring, summer or fall, you’ll feel totally invigorated once you reach the top!
Take a deep breath and pat yourself on the back. You made it! Passing through areas of dense vegetation, you approach a plateau and the sanctuary area. No matter where you are at this point, you’ll begin to see monkeys in their natural habitat. The sanctuary allows the monkeys to roam around amongst the visitors. Remain calm and don't panic if they approach you. At best, they're curious and are just as interested in you as you are with them. You'll see warning signs to not stare directly into their eyes. They see this as a sign of aggression. If provoked, they will provoked, they will show their teeth. Before you can even blink your eyes, the entire monkey community will begin to howl. In the winter, they tend to be calmer and accepting of direct eye contact and an impromptu photoshoot.
The area has plenty of benches and areas to just sit and take it all in. Read a book, meditate, and absorb all the surroundings. There are also some koi ponds where you can observe monkeys drinking, playing with koi (such a cute thing to watch) and monkeys grooming each other. If you’re really lucky, you’ll see infant monkeys alongside their mothers. Try not to get too close, as they are naturally protective.
For those photo enthusiasts who enjoy beautiful views, check out the panoramic view of Kyoto. It’s simply stunning, especially on a day with clear skies!
There’s a whole lot of monkey business going on at the sanctuary house near the overlook. The sanctuary building has a small gift shop, refreshment store and restrooms. But what’s best is that here you can feed the monkeys. For $100 Y, you can feed them apples, peanuts or bananas. And don’t worry, they don’t refuse! But now as monkey’s revenge, the tables are turned! Now you go into the cage! They are on the outside and you are in the inside. You are prohibited from feeding them outside of the wired area within the sanctuary building. Families of monkeys will come visit and welcome your treats.
It sure is a sight to see. There are no cages on the premises. The monkeys can roam around freely. You can spend so much time just observing their interaction. Visiting the park is an adventure you’ll never forget. Make sure you plan your time accordingly as there’s a 25-minute trek back down. It’s certainly something you won’t forget.
What to Bring:
- Comfortable Shoes
- Full water bottle
- Energy bar
- Your adventurous spirit!
The Iwatayama Monkey Park is a 5-minute walk from Hanku Arashiyama Station and a 15-minute walk from RJ Saga-Arashiyama station. From Kyoto Station you can use the Sagano line to get to the JR Saga-Arishiyama Station. Walk down the scenic streets then over the bridge of the Oi River to enter the park area.
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Article by J T
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