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.