We visit Japan’s monkey prison19 December, 2012 by Chad
The main two sights that we had planned out today were the Japan Monkey Center in the mountains along the northern edge of Aichi and Nagoya’s aquarium to the south, which came highly recommended by just about everyone who has ever visited Nagoya.
It was our first morning waking up in Nagoya. The effects of going out continuously every day was starting to take its toll so we woke up and set out later than usual again, feeling quite well rested after. The energy would prove useful soon. Remembering now that most attractions in Japan close on mondays, we realized that we only had today and the day after tomorrow to settle what ever sights we wanted to visit in Nagoya, since we’d be setting off for Tokyo on tuesday evening.
We thought that we’d try tackling the Monkey Center first, and then returning to the city later to catch the aquarium. Like other attractions they both closed by 5 PM, so we’d have a hard time fitting in both.
The Japan Monkey Center was another site featured in one of the David Attenborough documentaries that Randy had watched. Apparently many monkeys were kept here for study. Mr Attenborough was seen eating sweet potatoes with the monkeys here in his documentary, but beyond that there wasn’t much information about the place either.
At least one English blog claimed to have a good time there though so we decided to take a look. Hopefully it’d help to take Randy’s mind off the Arashiyama monkeys that he had been missing since we’d left Kyoto.
Despite being on the other side of the prefecture, it took us under an hour to get to Inuyama where the park was located. There was some confusion since the train carriages actually broke off into two separate train lines upon reaching the city, but the conductor helped point out that we were on the right carriage.
Inuyama Station was unmanned, so there wasn’t anyone at the station to help us. There was a fair adjustment machine but it was locked. Instead, like the couple, we had to press a button here for assistance, which put us on a line with a staff somewhere else. Explaining our situation to him, he asked us to show him our one day passes. How we wondered.
He urged us to put our tickets on the tray here, where a tiny hidden camera was installed above. After confirming our tickets, the fare adjustment machine was unlocked. Amused, we paid the difference and continued on.
It was mostly a residential area outside, though a highway passed over a large river to the north leading with another mountain range there. Looked quite interesting.
We ended up making a big loop around the station, past some stairs that lead straight to the train tracks in an effort to find perhaps a convenience store of some sort in the area but it was much too deserted here. You know you’re seriously out of place in Japan when there isn’t one in the neighborhood.
The Monkey Center was to our east, but the uphill climb there ended up being really steep. One sign pointed out that it was just another 200 meters away, but it was sort of scary that the same sign estimated that it would take 25 minutes to get there. A few cars past by, we the only ones foolish enough to make the climb by foot.
Even though there was little information about the area, it’s not possible to get lost since there is only one path up the mountain. Nontheless, we were glad to eventually see a rollercoaster track sticking out from the dense forest and over the road.
The woman at the counter explained that the Monkey Center was actually part of the Japan Monkey Park, a cross between a zoo and theme park. To reach the center, we’d need to purchase a ticket for the rest of the park as well. Entrance was 1,600 yen, 3 to 5 times what you’d expect to pay for other zoos in Japan! We purchased our tickets and she pointed us in the direction, the Japan Monkey Center was at the far end of the park.
From the signs, the overall area looked quite big. The Monkey Park seemed to be split in 3 parts. Near the entrance there were a bunch of high speed coasters, one of which we had seen earlier on our way up. The zoo was at the other end. But most of the park in between housed children rides.
We had actually purchased the cheapest entry option for the park. There were other tickets which included a one day pass for the children rides and a more expensive one that covered the coasters as well. The place was filled entirely with families who had drove over to spend some family time together.
Compared to the theme parks found around Tokyo or even Osaka, the children at Nagoya were definitely losing out. Many of the rides here looked quite old or small. All of them had a monkey theme going on. It’s still not nearly as bad as growing up in Singapore though, where the closest thing to a theme park growing up was the horror that was Haw Par Villa.
We looked around the food stands around the park, stopping at the second one to get something to eat. It was already 11 AM and we had skipped breakfast. Prices here were about any other theme park, expensive. Bought a hotdog and some clam chowder. Neither was any good. Interestingly, chorizos tend to be the default when it comes to sausages in Japan, don’t believe I’ve seen any franks here ever.
Eri got curry rice which set her back 800 yen and some over fried chicken bits. Randy probably had the most luck with the giant sausage and croquettes he had. He commented that they weren’t as good as the combini’s but at least were cheap at 100 yen each only.
We found the Monkey Center not far away. It was fairly empty there. There were a bunch of children messing around at the entrance, the fact that they had to entertain themselves here should had been a sign of things to come.
Things were pretty bleak in the Monkey Center. It promised free roaming monkeys, and while some were indeed allowed to roam within enclosed areas, the majority of the creatures were kept behind bars. Like other zoos in Japan, many of those kept in cages were solitary.
One enclosure was in the form of a giant playground for the siamangs inside. There’s a crane ride for a closer look at the monkeys climbing on the bars. We opted to skip this as there was a queue and there weren’t any monkeys actually playing on the bars.
Beside, parts of the ground were painted and marked as a danger zone. These were parts where you could potentially get monkey poop falling on you. Umbrellas were provided for the truly worried.
Beside another rest stop we found the enclosure for Japanese macaques. Not sure how the many people there could stand eating there since the place smelled quite terribly of monkey feces.
This area was the one featured in the David Attenborough documentary. Apparently during the colder times of the year a fire is started in the pit below and the monkeys have learned to barbeque the sweet potatoes that they are given. This afternoon, all of them were just sitting around.
Randy had a hard time believing that these were the same species that we had seen in Kyoto. He mentioned that they were not as intelligent and more primal in comparison.
There’s a small tent beside the enclosure where you can get some food to try feeding the monkeys yourself. Just tiny cups with a little bit of pellet feed inside. Quite depressing. Most of the monkeys didn’t even want it at all. Though there was one mother who was exploiting her kid to get people to throw feed at her. Her baby looked large enough to be on its own. She didn’t give it any of the feed she got.
Beside here was one of the two only free roaming enclosures in the park. This one contained squirrel monkeys, the other being for lemurs.
The tiny squirrel monkeys darted around the enclosure. It looked like they were scavenging for things. The monkeys ignored both human presence and each other. Kind of like deranged hobos.
On top of a small hill at the center of the zoo was what was probably one of the defining exhibits at the zoo, though not in a good way. From below it looks like any other circular enclosure that walls off a bunch of baboons. A machine had been set here at the front. One Japanese guy was repeatedly pulling the bar sticking out from under it for the longest time.
Turned out that the bar was a dispenser of sorts. When a visitor pulled the bar it would retract into the wall on the inside of the enclosure, a monkey could then pull the bar back out and he’d be rewarded with some pellet feed. The largest monkey sat there hogging the machine to himself.
The full extent of the situation could be seen from above. A horde of unkempt monkeys were fit inside this one enclosure. It looked that Panama prison from Prison Break, except with monkeys. The inmates here all spotted the same appropriate buzz cut.
A visitor center is located at the back of the zoo. There’s a small souvenir shop selling all sorts of monkey plushes, classrooms for school visits and rest rooms here. The fact that there was an extensive collection of taxidermied primates in the exhibition area next to the souvenir shop was rather creepy.
A small sign beside the visitor center pointed towards more primates and the promise of gorillas. We followed the narrow path uphill behind the center where we found many more rows lined up with cages filled with monkeys.
It was feeding time, so one of the zoo keepers started tossing pellets into the cages with his palm, making sure to keep his distance and digits outside of the bars. Guess he didn’t want to get shanked.
The second enclosure which we could enter contained lots of lemurs. These were probably the tamest animals we’d see today. Most of the lemurs were content with just basking in the sun, though one of them paraded next to the visitors, enjoying the attention.
We looped around the area without finding the gorillas. Backtracking, we found another downhill path leading to a section we had previously missed. Some distance from here, in another separate section was the “Afrika Center” where we found one really lonely looking chimpazee and a small lowland gorilla. Apart from being one of the smaller types of gorillas and not quite what we pictured, it was also fast asleep.
Beside, there was an empty cage marked “human”, where you could test out how it would feel behind bars. It proved quite a hit with the children, though probably not so with creationists.
On the way back we passed by a petting zoo. Entry inside was another 200 yen, so the rest weren’t too keen about it. You don’t get to pet monkeys here, but instead there are some rabbits, mice, reptiles, insects and someone’s chihuahua. We were fascinated by the guinea pig guarding the cash box at the entry. It kept completely still on top of the counter the entire time.
It was already almost 3 PM by this time so we decided to postpone the aquarium trip until tuesday. This trip to the Japan Monkey Park ended up being a disappointing experience, though still an experience. At least now you’ve got an English language reference to the area. Though the verdict is still no.
We wouldn’t recommend Japan Monkey Park at Inuyama to any readers looking to see monkeys. The only plus is that is duals as both a zoo and a theme park for children, but doesn’t do the job of either very well. Spare your kids the disappointment and bring them to some proper theme parks elsewhere instead.
We looked around the park for some other possible exit back down the mountain but there was none. Fortunately, the trip back downhill to Inuyama Station was a lot easier and we had all the time to spare without any concrete plans for the rest of the day. Definitely felt a bit responsible and bad about bringing the rest to the Monkey Park today, but it was a lesson well learned. If we could had done it any differently, it would had been to just go to the aquarium.
Taking a Meitetsu train back to Nagoya Station, we’d spent the rest of the afternoon and evening shopping there. Had my revenge with the Tokyu Hands outlet. Randy and I actually spotted some real nice Takeo Kikuchi bags here and we were both in need of some new ones, but we foolishly decided to wait on till perhaps Tokyo to get them.
Returned to the Bic Camera too, where Randy purchased a mini wireless router, smaller than even a pack of cigarettes. You could plug it into any LAN cable and it’d instantly provide a wireless connection for smart phones. Our previous hotel had been one of the only I’ve seen to actually provide a router in each room, others just provide a LAN cable. Randy ended up being really satisfied with the miniature router. It cost just 3000 yen and would be quite useful in future travels too.
Now that we had the time, also explored the rest of the large Bic Camera outlet. There was even a toy section on one of the upper floors. We looked at some of the Kamen Rider merchandise and even got to test out the new 3DS LL (3DS XL elsewhere) system. The screens were amazingly large. Was really tempted to get one right there, if not for the whole region lock thing.
Went back to hotel early this day. Dinner was a mixture of various things we picked up from below the Takashimaya department store. There are always a ton of attractive dishes, snacks and desserts below the departmental stores in Japan. It probably wasn’t such a good idea to visit here on an empty stomach, but we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to try out these stuff otherwise.
Randy and I picked up some of this salad from the Takashimaya. The store looked really popular with the health conscious types but it was also really attractive with its piles of brightly colored salad. Something you learn from taking photos of food, is that everything looks more delicious under a red tinted light.
But for salads its different. The bright fluorescent lamps made the salad colors really stand out, so we ended up being tempted into getting some.We didn’t read the sign carefully and thought that the salad cost 400 yen a pack, but instead it was 400 yen for 100 grams! Each pack was slightly above 200 grams so we ended up with some pretty expensive salad.
This was the greenest salad I’ve ever seen, a mixture of potato, edamame and lots of avocado. It was really thick and filling, was quite full by the time was halfway through.
Eri and I got some of these large sushi rolls. They were about 200 yen a piece. Not too bad. Generous chunks of fish were wrapped in the vinegared rice. Didn’t notice that the squid was wrapped in the “funky” shiso leaf though, so that kind of spoiled what would had been one of my favorite pieces.
Finally, I also picked up some oden from the Lawson on the way up to our hotel. The rest had been raving about Lawson’s oden ever since they first tried some in Osaka. Randy had been getting some nearly every evening since. Picked up an egg, radish and sausage as per their recommendation. It averages out to about 100 yen a piece.
The sausage (120 yen) wasn’t too nice, as you’d expect from any sausage soaked in soup for as long. But the same treatment meant that the daikon radish (75 yen) and egg (85 yen) were absolutely delicious. Could see why they’d been buying it so regularly. Definitely going to grab more in the future too.
Tomorrow, we’ll be flying Passpo!Planning your holiday? We recommend visiting Agoda for a full list of hotels with early bird specials.