Year of the Monkey

We visited Arashiyama Monkey Park in Kyoto during our Japan trip last fall. The park is a sanctuary where you can observe and feed Japanese macaques. It was much more fun than I anticipated. I think maybe because of their similarities to us, it's very mesmerizing and entertaining to observe the antics of monkeys. The park ended up in our itinerary by chance, as our ryokan is across the river from the mountain on which the park is located.

I don't recall how we narrowed down and eventually chose the ryokan we stayed at in Kyoto, but the Arashiyama area turned out to be a great location. Once we started to check Google Maps for things to do nearby, we found a lot of things to see and do nearby, including the monkey park on Arashiyama Mountain. The area seemed to be a popular destination for travelers within Japan too. There were lots of families, student groups and university-aged youths. 

It's a bit of a hike up the mountain to get to the viewing platform and visitor centre. There's a small station near the base of the station where you pay the entrance fee. They also give you a large plastic bag if they see you have some loose items, to keep a naughty monkey from filching it from your person.

The walk up was particularly hard that day. We had a nice relaxing night at the ryokan and an enormous full course Japanese breakfast so we were fully energized, but it was very hot and humid. The tour guide at the Imperial Palace (the next day) had mentioned that the weather was surprisingly warm and sunny. The temperature was already quite high at around 10 in the morning and the elevation rise is nothing to scoff at. Tiring walk but very worth it once you get to the top.

The top had a small plateau with the visitor centre and viewing platform towards the city. There was also a small man-made pond. You can buy chopped up apple pieces to feed the monkeys from within the visitor center. They instruct you to only feed them from within the building, next to the wire mesh windows. You are told to put the apples on flat outstretched hands. The monkeys will climb onto the wire mesh and reach out to grab the apple pieces.

We arrived earlier than the rest of the tourist and school crowd, so we had a little alone time with the monkeys. Once more people start showing up, the feeding area was full of monkeys. The "monkey keepers" also did a demonstration of sorts and some educational talks for a group of elementary kids that arrived. 

The age and size of the monkeys varied and everyone was, of course, excited to feed the baby monkeys. However they were slower and more timid, so often had their apples stolen by the larger monkeys. 

The park is private according to Wikipedia but it also seems to serve as a research centre of sorts. They have posters in the visitor centre that show the matriarch and her line of off-springs, with their names and birth dates. 

In addition to the apples from the visitors, the monkeys are fed chestnuts, yams and other vegetables. You can watch a feeding at around noon time, or if you happen to be lucky (or unlucky?) they also feed the monkeys for school groups. 

The park is quite easy to get to. Cross the bridge spanning the Katsura River to a tourist area of shops, restaurants, boat rides and inns. Take a right turn after cross the bridge and walk along the river side and there will be a sign pointing to the monkey park entrance. The park is open from 9 in the morning until 4 or 5 pm, depending on the season. It's 550 yen for an adult and 250 yen for children.

This is a good place to go for just an hour or a little bit longer. It was extremely entertaining watching the macaques and the park's good for getting lots of pictures. As with all monkeys, avoid staring them in the eyes, keep track of all your personal belongings and do not get too close. And of course don't touch them.

We must have bought 4 or 5 bags of apples in total to feed them. The apples are 100 yen each with a good number of pieces per bag.

Park Website:

Any season would be good to visit, as long as it is not raining. The mountain top gives a good view of the river and changing leaves in late fall, but that is also a busy time for tourists both from within and outside Japan.

Cat-lady for an hour

I recently returned from a trip to Japan! I've been wanting to visit for years but never quite had the right timing or opportunity. There are tons of photos and stories to share, but I thought I would divide-and-conquer in small, nonlinear-timeline bits. (You'll have to put up with some not so in focus iPhone photos for this post.)

First of then is... cat cafe! We chose one in Akihabara called "Cat Cafe nyanny". It was located back from a main street in a very nondescript narrow concrete building. We climbed up to the fourth floor where the cafe was located. The building and the inside of the cat cafe looked very much like a residential building. There was also a bunny cafe and some sort of a maid cafe with posters of girls in pajamas (and a sign that read "We are NOT a sex shop!!"). 

Once we ringed the doorbell, the proprietress came out to explain the pricing and the rules. There are some signs posted in English as well. We had to wash our hands and apply hand sanitizer. It was 1000 yen for the first hour and they make a note of when you "check-in". Then you're free to wander around and try to pet the cats or simply take photos of them for however long you want.

There are two levels and three rooms: the main downstairs one with manga bookshelves and the main desk, one Japanese style room upstairs, and one bedroom-like room upstairs. You can buy some treats to feed the cats (but only once!). We got the "special treat" for 500 yen that consisted of a small plastic container of dried squid and fish products. The cats, until then politely disinterested, suddenly swarmed. There are a few cats with a collar on that they asked you to not feed for health reasons. The poor cats were trying really hard to get some snacks while we could only hold it out of their reach.

Maybe it felt a bit strange because we were the only people there at that time of the day, but it really felt like it was just a residential apartment that was converted into this building of fluffy animal cafes and that one weird cuddling cafe. 

I also experienced first-hand that annoying reverse back arch thing cats do when they don't want to be petted by you. So frustrating when your hand just barely glances the 2 mm of air above the cat. The cafe had some toys lying around for you to try and entice the cats with but they mostly just ignored me.

In all it was pretty fun and the cats were all really adorable. Cats don't cooperate very much, so it will be a lot of chasing them down for photos or pets. Unless you have food. I actually took many more photos but the majority were blurry. 

Cat Cafe Nyanny [ - Japanese Store Blog] [ -English]

Macro Food

Our plan to eat at 15East (as recommended by my cousin) failed because of the long delay on our flight into New York. Our first meal was sushi take out (yay for technology!) delivered to our hotel because we were famished and tired.

Scroll to the very bottom for restaurant information.

We had lots of delicious food in New York, so much so that we didn't really get to try street food like we intended. Not all the food had pictures taken, either because of lighting or I was too preoccupied with eating. (Or I didn't want to pull out my camera and take food pictures at my first meal with someone.)

Our first proper meal was brunch at Colicchio & Sons as chosen by my cousin, the expert foodie. They had some delicious buns with chorizo butter. Yes, the butter had chunks of sausage in it. (The only way butter could possibly be better.) We had some pizza as appetizers and our entire table ended up ordering for entrée either soft-shelled crab or pan fried skate. Everything was delicious.

Thankfully my cousin understands my need to document everything for posterity. Everyone else just put up with my food photo taking.

My new camera lens, as you can see, is amazing for taking food porn. I still haven't quite gotten the hang of focusing with it though.

For dinner we went to Quality Meats, my cousin's favourite steak restaurant in New York. No pictures of the deliciously huge porterhouse steak because lighting was near non-existent inside. They make their own steak sauce right in front of you, with a little mortar and pestle.

The next day's lunch was at Les Halles in the financial district, chosen solely for its association at one time with Anthony Bourdain. The deviled eggs above are the best I have ever eaten. Deliciously creamy. We had some decidedly French food: duck confit and moules-frites. The salad with the duck confit had little bits of fried potatoes in it and the most delicious vinaigrette ever.

We had a light dinner of croissant sandwiches that night at Le Pain Quotidien's Central Park location. We were both I think still digesting the steak from the earlier night.

The next day we met my boyfriend's extended family for brunch and dinner. Brunch was at Le Philosophe, a cute little French with very delicious food. They had an appetizer of fresh small radishes with coarse sea salt and Dijon mustard butter that was amazing. It looked a little strange at first but tasted superbly fresh and tangy. I ate a croque madame because I felt hungry (didn't end up finishing it though, because as it turned out I wasn't that hungry) and wanted to eat something with an egg.

Dinner was at Ninja New York. The theme appeared to be as much fire and dry ice, as the theatrical stereotype of ninjas. The steak was really good, the sushi was really good, the edamame came with blue led lights and dry ice, and there's a cocktail which comes with a rubber shuriken. Also magic tricks. At some point I stopped taking pictures because I had to concentrate on finishing the ungodly amount of food.

15East (

We didn't actually eat here, but I thought I'd include it anyways because it came highly recommended by my cousin. Pricy but to be expected for a fancy Japanese restaurant with a Michelin Star located in New York. According to my cousin, the thing to do is to phone in and reserve a spot at the counter for omakase. Online says omakase is $140 per person.

Colicchio & Sons (

Nice chic restaurant with the sort of renovated factory look that's popular nowadays. Although it New York it's more likely because there's simply a lot of very old buildings. The food is excellent and decently priced, about $25 average for a lunch entrée. The décor is nice, service is good, and food is a good mix of bar-food style staples with a twist. So pizza with bacon, but also with peas and béchamel sauce. Pan fried fish, except it's skate. It's also located next to one of the entrances to Chelsea Market which makes it easy to work into your tourist plan.

Quality Meats (

Fancy restaurant with a delicious dry aged porterhouse steak and lots of side choices. Around $50 per person for steak but it is a lot of food. Their porterhouse is recommended for two but could easily feed three. They have a great selection of a modern fusion take on the classic steak sides. Case in point, their corn crème brulee. The atmosphere is great and they make the steak sauce right at your table.

Les Halles (

French brasserie style restaurant with two locations in New York. They are apparently known for their steaks but everything else is pretty good. Their bread is baked fresh and their fried potatoes are the perfect balance between crispy and soft. Average around $25 for lunch. It's a comfortable and relaxed atmosphere with delicious French food.

Le Pain Quotidien (

A chain with many locations through out the US and a lot in New York. There is one located in Central Park with outdoor seating that I highly recommend. We went to one for dinner and one for a light midday snack. They have very fresh food and especially fresh breads. (The croissant is really good.) Their style is fresh food made with fresh ingredients, and they put the focus on their daily baked breads. All the menu items have calories listed, which I thought was interesting. Good prices for lots of great fresh food with a slight French influence.

Le Philosophe (

Amazing little French diner in a quiet part of New York with cobble stone streets. Very authentically French (as in French waiters) and great food. Highly recommend their radish from the "Assiettes a Partager". Price hovering above and below $20 for brunch items.

Ninja New York (

Yes it's gimmicky but it's also fun and has pretty good food with generous portions. The prices may look a little high, but once in factor in the size of the portions and consider that it's located in New York, it's actually pretty decent. Their shtick is sudden loud yells, audience participation, fire, dry ice, more fire, and some more dry ice.  Get the Ninja Star Martini for a rubber shuriken to satisfy your inner child and outer adult. (Tastes somewhat of lychee...)

Across the sea...

This weekend we took two short day trips, to Tillicum Village and Olympic National Park. I was lazy and didn't take my camera but the pictures from my phone turned out better than expected.


Saturday we took an Argosy Cruise to Tillicum Village on Blake Island. It was about a 45 minute boat ride accompanied with narrative of native folklore and a little about the history of Seattle and Tillicum Village. The narrator and a few of the crew were Haida, not the local First Nations. However the entire style of Tillicum Village was sort of a mixing of different nations and cultures.

Our tour guide (to Olympic National Park, the day after) explained to us that totem poles were brought down by European travellers/merchants from the north and the local peoples decided they really liked the art and adopted the style.


When we got to the island we were given some clams to eat and encouraged to crush the shells underfoot to add to the pathway. The rest of the trip included a buffet with fire roasted salmon and some dance performances along with narration of mythologies and some history. It was a fun experience and I really enjoyed the storytelling and cultural performance. We had some time to walk around the island before the boat departed back for Seattle. 


The next day we woke up bright and early for a small group tour to Olympic National Park. We took a tour with Evergreen Escapes that included the full day tour, breakfast, and lunch. Our tour guide, Natasha, was super awesome. (Totally not creepy secretly taken photo below.) She has a degree in biology so she was able to speak very knowledgably on a lot of the flora and fauna of the area. It was quite a small tour, two Austrian women and an older American women were the only other people.


We got breakfast on the ferry, a short 30 minute ride. There was zucchini bread! And some very delicious pretzel bites filled with peanut butter. Lunch was really good as well, 'real food' with plates and cutlery and wine, as opposed to the expected sandwiches.


We stopped off at various locations in the park, including Hurricane Point. Natasha made a point of having us walk through a trail in the higher atmosphere and in the lower forests to showcase the difference in plants.


We managed to see quite a few animals on this trip. At least 3 or 4 deers and elks. A rabbit, a hummingbird and its nest, a banana slug, and a juvenile bald eagle. This is where my iPhone camera failed me.


We ended the trip by the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, where we sat by the beach and enjoyed some sea birds, the waves, and a lovely sunny afternoon.


The ferry was full up when we tried to return so we were encouraged to walk on instead of waiting with the tour van for an hour. We wanted to eat some seafood, but waterfront on a Sunday evening around dinner time was super busy. We did end up finding a nice place to sit and eat after walking a little further from the docks. Some warm and hearty food to end a pleasant day of walking through nature.