If you’re planning a trip to Japan to see the snow monkeys, you’re probably picturing them in winter. Seeing those blessed little Japanese macaques sitting in hot springs keeping their nether regions warm with ice and snow around them is very cute. But what you may not realise is you can also see these same creatures (or at least their more sensible relatives) in the luxury of warmer climes at Arashiyama Monkey Park.
In May, the snow monkeys are more relaxed as the don’t have to fight for the hottest tub (the losers get left out to shiver in the cold).
When the weather is warmer, these monkeys are free roam and enjoy a mountain park with a view.
Arashiyama is the second most popular tourist destination in Kyoto.
Located in western Kyoto, it’s a small town at the base of the Arashiyama Mountains. Arashiyama is about 30 minutes from central Kyoto.
Arashiyama has many attractions, including famous temples and shrines. One of the highlights is the well-known Bamboo Grove Walk.
There’s also a lovely boat ride along the Hozu-Gawa River. But if you love seeing wildlife, Monkey Park is the place to go.
ARASHIYAMA MONKEY PARK IWATAYAMA
The entrance to Arashiyama Monkey Park is near the left bank of the Oi River, next to the Togetsu-kyo Bridge. It’s located across from the town’s bustling main street.
It’s at the base of beautiful Mt. Arashiyama, where for a modest fee (less than AU$10 per adult) you can enter the environs of the macaques of Mt. Arashiyama.
The ticket office (and Western toilet) is located next to a small shrine at the foot of the hill. You can also receive a blessing before hiking to the top of the hill.
MONKEY WORK OUT
Be warned, the climb is a little steep and certainly gets the heart rate going. But if you take your time, it takes a leisurely 25 to 30 minutes.
Going slow also allows you time to read and absorb the information on the signs on the hike up.
How you conduct yourself whilst in the presence of such magnificent creatures is very important for your safety and for their protection. And don’t be fooled when you reach the ‘rest station’ or playground.
We were so excited by seeing three monkeys running around we took about 100 photos, not realising we weren’t quite at the top yet!
The rest stop has a small hut, Japanese toilets and a little park with slides and swings for you (and the monkeys!) to use.
But this is just the teaser. If you keep going another five minutes further, you abruptly reach the top of the mountain and suddenly the viewing platform is upon you.
Not only is there an amazing vista of Kyoto but there are monkeys EVERYWHERE!
I went crazy at seeing a group of macaques sitting under a sun umbrella and chair, shooting off photos with gay abandon.
Then as my focus slowly shifted away I suddenly saw another hundred or more, just sitting, grooming or slowly wandering around.
We were there in May, early spring. Since there had been much earlier popular ‘activity’ amongst the males and females in the troops, many babies were also to be seen, some happily wandering and playing, others still too small, clinging to their mums.
They all seemed highly accustomed to visitors and were quite nonchalant about our presence. They carried about their business like we weren’t there.
There was no ‘cheeky’ macaque behaviour that some tourist attractions warn you about, such as stealing things from your pockets or bags.
These extended families were very chilled and well behaved.
FEEDING THE MONKEYS
As for feeding the monkeys, the Monkey Park has an unusual arrangement. An old slightly run down house or visitor’s lodge overlooks the magnificent view from the viewing platform.
Inside there are keepers and a small shop to purchase food for the monkeys, as well as drinks and snacks for your human troop.
The idea is to feed the macaques from inside the barred windows of the house whilst they come to the windows on the outside.
It’s bizarre seeing monkeys with begging hands through windows whilst the humans are on the inside.
I could have spent all day there just observing these macaques go about their daily business.
What an experience and a photographer’s dream, as you can see, and well worth the hike!
Irene Isaacson visited Japan at her own expense.
While in Japan, have you considered visiting the islands of Shikoku? It’s a lesser-known region of Japan you’ll love.
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