Get up close and personal with the monkeys in Kyoto21 April, 2013 by Chad
The Arashiyama mountain west of Kyoto is home to about 130 wild monkeys. On one side of the mountain a small nature reserve has been set up to observe and feed these monkeys. During the day, the monkeys come down to the Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama to greet visitors and to laze around at the clearing here. For a token entry fee, one can visit the park to meet and interact with the Japanese macaques up close.
Popularly referred to as snow monkeys by tourists, the Japanese macaques are the only species of primate native to Japan. While you will most definitely come across these Japanese monkeys in zoos, apart from the Jigokudani Monkey Park at Nakano, Arashiyama is one of the few places in Japan where you can actually come close to these monkeys in the wild. Japanese macaques are unique in that they are the species of monkey to live in the coldest environments and the most northern dwelling primates. They’re a highly intelligent and have adopted some unique behaviours such as bathing in hot springs.
Getting to Arashiyama
Arashiyama is a mountain a short distance to the west of Kyoto. You can access Arashiyama via local trains from Kyoto, Osaka or any of the other nearby cities. There isn’t a single direct train there, so you’ll need to be prepared to switch lines a few times to get there.
There are three stations which you can alight from. If you insist on using a rail pass, then you’d need to alight at Saga-Arashiyama station which is the furthest. There’s also the Keifuku Arashiyama Station a local tram station, which is connected to Saga-Arashiyama. If you’re traveling from elsewhere, then most likely the most convenient station to access the monkey park will be the Hankyu Arashiyama Station.
For those interested, we got to Arashiyama from Osaka by taking the Hankyu train from Minamikata near Shin-Osaka, changing at Awaji and Katsura, before finally alighting at the Hankyu Arashiyama Station. Hankyu operates their small, classic looking trains through many of the scenic areas around the Kansai region, so the ride there was quite pleasing. The entire journey took just under an hour and cost just 360 yen (SGD$4.50).
Visiting the Monkey Park
The entrance to Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama is located along the southern bank of the Hozu River, across from the main shopping streets. If you’re arriving via the Hankyu Station, then you should already be at the correct side. Otherwise, you’d need to cross over the Togetsukyou Bridge to get there. The entrance to the park is actually hidden beside a temple along the mountainside but there are signs pointing out the way there so it shouldn’t be difficult to find it, once you’ve made it this far.
Entry to the grounds costs 550 yen for adults and 250 yen for children (4-15), those younger may enter free. The opening hours vary slightly between the seasons but the park opens daily at 9 AM to around 5 PM with no fixed closing days, except for when it rains or snows very heavily. Chances are no one would want to visit in such weather, but in the rather case that you do, check if they’re open during the blizzard first on their website. I’m pretty sure it’d be interesting to visit during the winter when the mountain is coated in snow. There are blossoming sakura trees on the mountain during spring.
The wild macaques at Arashiyama roam around freely on the mountain. The Monkey Park Iwatayama is just a minuscule portion of their entire grounds. In order to attract the monkeys over for study, the park has been set up here and they offer food to them during the day.
There is an uphill climb to the 160 meter high area of the park area where most of the sociable wild monkeys hang around. For this, you’d want to come prepared for a little trekking. Rubber sandals can be borrowed from the front counter as a last resort. Along the way up, we ran into the occasional resident scurrying past, but the majority just stick around the top. As these are wild monkeys, you are cautioned against approaching or staring directly at the macaques.
Yet, Arashiyama’s monkeys are surprisingly well behaved, mostly going about their own business as if we weren’t even there. Quite the contrast to the the monkeys you’d find at tourist attractions in other parts of Asia.
There’s a wide clearing at the top. From here, you can not only get a nice aerial view of Kyoto, but it’s also where most of the monkeys hang out. The building here serves as a rest stop for visitors, as headquarters for the park’s observation work, and also where you can actually interact with the monkeys. The staff feed the monkeys but you can also purchase generously sized bags of treats for 100 yen. It’s a small price to pay for the experience.
Above, there’s another clearing where more monkeys hung out at, at least during this Autumn season, to bask in the afternoon sun. The staff there followed us around to make sure that the monkeys behaved themselves. Impressively, they were able to name and identify them individually and the monkeys responded to them.
If you’re visiting by Kyoto or Osaka, Arashiyama’s Monkey Park Iwatayama makes for a nice side trip. It ended up being one of the most enjoyable experiences. It’s great fun meeting the Japanese macaques, who were unbelievably civilised and intelligent. Being able to visit and observe the monkeys in their natural habitat is an experience unlike any other.
First few pictures are courtesy of Randy.Planning your holiday? We recommend visiting Agoda for a full list of hotels with early bird specials.