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Arashiyama Monkey Park
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More Fun Than A Barrel (or Mountain) Full of Monkeys!
Okinawa City, Japan
March 23, 2010
Best of IgoUgo
Right outside central Kyoto lies the Arashiyama area. It is relatively easy getting there from Kyoto Station using a handy bus/train combination.After an extensive Google search of things to do in Kyoto (that I haven't done already), I decided I ...
Right outside central Kyoto lies the Arashiyama area. It is relatively easy getting there from Kyoto Station using a handy bus/train combination.
After an extensive Google search of things to do in Kyoto (that I haven't done already), I decided I wanted to see the monkey park. Who doesn't love the crazy antics of our simian cousins? I've never met a monkey I didn't like, so I figured the Arashiyama Monkey Park should be on our to-do list.
After the bus/train commute to Arashiyama and a delicious udon lunch at a local restaurant, we crossed the infamous "Moon Crossing Bridge" towards the mountains and quickly found an old weathered sign bearing the image of a friendly smiling monkey. The monkey pointed us in the right direction. After a small pathway, we found a forgettable humble booth, where a lady collected the 600 yen entrance fee from each of us. We continued up the dirt trail which turned into an unfriendly set of stairs.
After climbing stairs and working up a sweat, we were relieved to see the trail return to its dirt path form - albeit a winding one. The path snaked around further before finally turning into a series of hairpin turns. A few benches were strategically placed for those of us who weren't quite "in shape" like we thought we were! After a quick rest to catch our breath, we continued on the hairpin pattern and soon stopped in our tracks - the shrill screech of monkeys alerted us that they were nearby - and in large numbers. Judging from the sounds of their shrieks, they were not happy! We continued on cautiously.
Along the path to the top of the mountain, there are various signs displayed in both Japanese and English. A few monkey facts are mixed in with warnings to not agitate the monkeys: Do not stare at the monkeys. Do not look the monkeys in the eye. Do not touch the monkeys. Do not feed the monkeys. Seeing these signs made me wonder what I had gotten myself into. As we continued further up the trail, we were again halted in our tracks. 2 wild monkeys had made themselves comfortable in the middle of our path not 5 meters ahead. It was the decidedly preferred spot for them to pick nits and sunbathe. What do we do?? We were given explicit instructions not to look at the monkeys or touch the monkeys. How do I get around the monkeys on the narrow path without looking at them to make sure I didn't bump into one? Should we wait? The monkeys looked comfortable and didn't give me the impression that they were going anywhere anytime soon. Ever so cautiously, we decided to go around the path-hogging monkeys. I managed to squeeze by them without bumping into them and they continued on their nit-picking, sunbathing business. I breathed a sigh of relief. Judging from their previous screams, I had envisioned myself accidentally disturbing a monkey and having it jump on my face, feverishly clawing at my eyeballs while screaming. Luckily, I had managed to avoid this.
Another 10 meters later, we encountered the same monkey-blocking situation, only there were far more monkeys to weave around this time! A few of them gave us the "Be careful" glance, and so we heeded their warning. We admired the beautiful view of Kyoto while trying not to step on any monkey feet in our peripheral vision.
We successfully made it to the top of the mountain, to a large flat "resting area", where a commune of roughly 100 monkeys were hanging out. We were greeted by a Japanese man who guided us to a big wooden house with chicken wire over the open windows. Once inside, monkeys clamored to watch the only visitors to the house. And then I figured out why. For sale inside this house were small bags of apples and peanuts. The price was a mere 100 yen (roughly $1.22 USD). I purchased a bag of sliced apples from the friendly lady behind the counter. My actions did not go unnoticed by a few monkeys, who were now rattling the chicken wire with anticipation. When I approached the monkey-strewn chicken wire, I giggled. One monkey calmly grasped the chicken wire with his feet and one hand, while he reached into the house with his free hand and flexed his fingers at me. As shown in the directions, I placed a piece of apple into my hand and offered it to the monkey. He grabbed the piece of apple, crammed it in his mouth, and outstretched his hand once again before he had even swallowed the first piece of apple. We repeated this process twice more before I spotted a hungry looking adorable baby monkey. The monkey clung to the chicken wire and outstretched his hand. I again offered the apple slice, only to be startled by another loud monkey shriek. Out of nowhere, a much bigger monkey swooped in and stole the apple from the baby! The baby ran off frightened, but soon decided to try again. Feeling bad for the baby monkey, I readied yet another piece of apple to offer. Without missing a beat, the same monkey swooped in screaming and stole the apple intended for the baby. This time the defeated baby found a short post to sit on and pouted. He did not return to the window. Just as I was beginning to wonder if the poor baby monkey ever got enough to eat, a Japanese man started howling outside - just like a monkey. He had a large bucket full of dry monkey food - and with each howl he let out, droves of monkeys clamored to him. Feeding time! We decided to exit the small house we were in and make our escape while the monkeys were distracted. The man threw the food on the ground, scattering handfuls to make sure each monkey could get some. (To include the baby monkey, twice denied apples.) I was relieved to see the baby would eat. As we began to make our way to the path down the mountain, another monkey fight broke out. 2 monkeys began chasing each other around the area, and one ran straight into my leg! Unfazed, the monkey decided to continue his pursuit rather than curse the person who got in his way. (Lucky for me!)
The monkey park was a great experience. It was not an overly-crowded attraction (we were the only 2 visitors in the monkey-feeding house), and it's the humans that are "caged" rather than the monkeys. It's fun to see wild monkeys in their natural habitat and in such large numbers. The close interaction makes for an unforgettable trip. Although the monkeys' cute exterior may be appealing for small children, the Arashiyama Monkey Park is not recommended for small children that cannot yet understand that the monkeys don't want to be pet. It is very apparent that these monkeys - while visited by humans daily - are still very wild. With the exception of the "feeding house", there is nothing that keeps the monkeys from humans, and encounters will be (very) close. Also, the hike to the top of the mountain is quite demanding physically, with a combination of stairs and steep inclines.
If you're a fit fan of monkeys, Arashiyama Monkey Park is a must-do!