Two Words: Monkey Park

This photo caught our monkey friend with his mouth open, since he was yelling something about expecting a really big banana for having to pose with these two idiots.

Now, anyone who knows me is certainly aware of my affinity for all things simian. Everything is better when you add monkeys, right? So imagine my surprise and delight when, upon exiting the train at Arashiyama station just outside Kyoto, I spot a large, colorful advertisement for the “Arashiyama Monkey Park”, adorned with cartoon drawings of various cherubic monkeys obviously enjoying themselves and beckoning me to join them. The ensuing conversation with my wife went something like this:

“Where should we go for lunch? How about that zaru-soba place?”

“Monkey park.”

“We’ll see that if we have time after the other stuff. Should we go to the shrine first?”

“Monkey park.”

[Various threats and admonishments in Japanese]

Mon-kii-paa-ku!

Hai, hai.

“Monkey park!”

Actually, we did do a bunch of other stuff in Arashiyama first, such as having lunch at Arashiyama Yoshimura, a really good soba place with long lines and a great view of the river, and a ride on the “romantic train”, advertised as some sort of old style locomotive that would take us on a scenic tour of the mountainside. We debated whether the proper onomatopoeia for a steam locomotive is the English “choo choo” (of course), or the Japanese “shushu popo shushu popo” (which cracks me up whenever I hear it); however we both lost the argument when it turned out the train was powered by a noisy diesel engine rather than steam. Still, it was a nice (if brief) ride and we got to wave at the river rafters way down below.

By mid-afternoon I’d managed to secure the Monkey Park’s place on our itinerary, and we followed the vague directions on a small sign in town to the park’s entrance. This took us to a tiny kiosk next to a small, shady shrine by the river. We bought two tickets at the vending machine for ¥520 each and handed them to the woman in the kiosk, who gave us two small fans with monkey pictures on them and bid us in the direction of a trail heading up the hill. What followed was probably a half-hour hike up a fairly steep incline, punctuated by teaser signs explaining the origin of the nihon-zaru (Japanese macaque) and admonishing visitors not to show them any food or stare at them in the eyes. But there were no monkeys in sight to be fed or stared at, only a seemingly endless path up the mountain.

Monkey instructions

I dug the graphics on the monkey instruction pamphlet that we received with our tickets. DO NOT TOUCH THE MONKEYS! DO NOT LOOK AT THE MONKEYS! DO NOT GIVE THE MONKEYS AN APPLE!

Just as I was starting to think that our 1040 yen had been lost to some kind of tourist trap ploy, we reached a clearing at the top of the trail and I spotted two furry creatures sitting in the grass next to a swing set. I approached quietly and verified that yes, indeed, there were in fact two Japanese monkeys sitting right in front of me, not three yards away and with no nasty fences or cages to get in the way!

Monkeys on the grass

Monkeys everywhere, just sitting there like they owned the place!

I looked around a bit more and realized that we were, in fact, surrounded by monkeys. They peered at us from the trees, from a ridge further up the hill, even from atop a slide running down to where we stood. As we carefully proceeded up the trail towards a larger clearing I tried taking photos while avoiding eye contact with the monkeys; when I failed to do so in one case and got a bit too close, I was indeed rebuked in a fit of lunging and teeth baring. But for the most part the monkeys barely acknowledged our existence, as I suppose one should expect of monkeys living in a place where admission tickets are sold to dumbass humans just to hike up and gawk at them.

Monkeys with rdo

I really wanted some grubs picked off my back, but this was about as close as I could get to the action.

Our monkey interaction took a considerable upturn as we approached the large clearing on top of the hill, where we were beckoned inside a small building by the monkey park staff. Inside there was a refreshing cooler, a place to sit, and a woman selling snacks. She sold human snacks like beer and chips, but more importantly she also sold monkey snacks—baggies of peanuts and chopped eggplant for ¥100. The monkeys were climbing all over the outside of the building, looking in through the panoramic grated windows. I suddenly became a subject of great monkey interest upon buying a bag of peanuts. Following the directions on the signs, I took a peanut from the bag, kept the rest of the bag out of sight, and held the peanut near one of the windows. Instantly, one of the monkeys came over, snatched it, stuffed it into his mouth, and shot his hand right back out towards mine, evidently waiting for the next one and what the hell was taking so long anyway huh?

Monkey feeding

This was a lucky photo, since the monkeys are pretty quick to snatch up the food that’s offered. Notice that he never breaks eye contact…

I spent the next few minutes gleefully distributing my bag of peanuts in the most equitable way I could, although I must admit that I may have tended to favor the little monkeys. This was both because of the inherent appeal of little baby monkeys, as well as in compensation for the fact that the big monkeys tended to use the little ones as bait. Either the big monkey would just rip the peanut out of the little monkey’s hands before he could get it into his mouth, or a big monkey would wait out of sight for me to feed a little monkey, and then bound up to the same spot, knocking the little guy out of the way and poised to receive the next offering.

Monkey with baby

This mama monkey was pretty good at using her kid as bait for treats!

I went through two or three bags of peanuts in this way, entranced by the monkeys’ jockeying and antics. We then headed back outside; it was coming close to sunset, and even more monkeys, especially babies, were outside in the cooler air grooming one another. After trying and failing to get a good shot of a monkey next to my wife, one of the staff offered to hold the camera, at which point the nearest monkey instantly stopped, faced the camera, and I could have sworn said “cheese”. After taking the picture, the staff guy gave the monkey a treat and explained to us that all the monkeys know that they’ll get a reward if they pose for a picture when one of the staff is holding a camera. Brilliant!

Monkeys in the window

The guy on the left just climbed out of a lake, and the one on the left wasn’t even trying…

Unfortunately, the setting sun indicated that it was time for us to go home, so I took one last circle around the top of the hill and grudgingly headed back down the trail. I shall return, monkey park monkeys!

Baby monkey in tree

Climb that branch, little guy!

Verdict on the Arashiyama Monkey Park: Outstanding! Once I knew what waited up top, I wouldn’t have thought twice about paying double or triple to enter (it’s less than $5 US). Also, the snack booth at the top admirably foregoes a tempting opportunity to gouge visitors on the monkey peanuts. Now, keep in mind that I really like monkeys, but even my wife seemed to think it was an enjoyable experience, and she couldn’t care less. The park has a website and even a blog (both in Japanese). Reading the blog makes me feel like there are real people running the park who genuinely care about it being a nice place, not just a tourist stop. My only reservation about recommending it to first-timers is to be aware that the hike up to the top is a bit more than a casual stroll—bring some water if it’s hot out.

The easiest way to get there is to take the Hankyu railway to Hankyu Arashiyama station from Kyoto, and then walk toward the big Togetsubashi Bridge (IIRC, you exit the station and go straight along a road, go through a small park, cross a bridge, and you’ll come up on another park alongside the big river with the Togetsubashi Bridge nearby). If you walk up to the nearest side of the Togetsubashi Bridge, cross the street, and head down the road that goes along the river away from the bridge, in a hundred yards or so you will come to a set of stairs on the left that leads up to the entrance kiosk. There are several monkey signs around the bridge area with arrows leading you in the right direction.

13 Responses to “Two Words: Monkey Park”

  1. Pat says:

    Holy. Cow.

    Best. Monkey park. Evar.

    Oh, welcome home you two!

  2. Other Pat says:

    Does that sign indicate a ban on monkey telepathy?

  3. Poppa Dave says:

    Great story. Momma and I want to go, too.

  4. Sha says:

    Why am I the only one who gets attacked at the monkey park? Guess the Japanese monkeys are less aggressive than their Taiwanese bretheren. (although I think we did both make eye contact and offer them food without the benefit of a fence — wish someone had given me a helpful safety pamphlet!)

  5. cece says:

    I love the monkeys too. And your write-up is such a gas. I am laughing at my seat in a coffee shop + when people look over, they see monkeys. Hmmm. cece

  6. hi, there are some wonderful picture here! i was just wondering if u new any websites were i could actually buy a monkey? thanks

  7. S.Deniyce Perez says:

    i found this web i dont kno, but i hope u find wat u r looking 4.

    http://www.ehow.com/how_2089243_buy-monkey.html – 61k -

  8. Misa says:

    ahhh that’s so crazy! I just went there last Decemeber, one of the best time evaaa!! So glad to see you had a good time too :) Here are my photos from it:
    http://blog.missmisa.com/?p=62

  9. Cute Picture of the Monkey in the tree, but it’s to bad I can’t see the rest. Ah well…

  10. […] I desperately want to get back to Tokyo, and not just for Disneyland! I want to wander the streets of Harajuku again, maybe pick up a few copies of the Gothic and Lolita Bible. I want to hop on the Shinkansen down to Kyoto, go back to Arashiyama Monkey Park. I want to see some of the Tokyo neighborhoods I missed, like Akihabara, where the electronics stores reign supreme and you can have lunch served to you by cosplay wait staff. And yes of course, I want another spin on that Winnie the Pooh ride, another picture of my dear son in front of the Castle, another chance to hear Rex pilot the Star Speeder 3000 in Japanese. […]

  11. Richard coleman says:

    I love monkeys, im gonna get one some day.

  12. Sara says:

    Thanks for the great (and funny) report. My family and I are going to Arashiyama tomorrow, and our list of Things To Do has now been expanded. The last monkey area I visited was a temple in Thailand, and the monkeys there were all over us. It wasn’t really appealing because they were pretty wretched looking.

  13. MonkeyH8r says:

    While I stay away from monkeys as I just hate them, but I love apes, (too much time in therapy there for me, ). I have observed a mother baboon throw her infant at a hyena to save herself. An ape will stand between the predator and the infant. Baboons and macaques the opposite. I have seen several infanticides of the males killing the infants. They bite off the hands and tear their guts out, assuring a long painful death. Vervets will go so far trying to protect the baby, but if the male charges her, she leaves it behind to its fate. A lone male will kill any infant it can get a hold of, trying to make mama go in heat sooner. If food or water in scarce, the whole troop will run off leaving the infants behind. The little ones can’t keep up and die from dehydration, or become easy prey.
    One morning we heard a huge monkey fight nearby, and arrived after it was done. A mama laid dead and the infant was still clamped to her. The female of the winning troop walked past and picked up the infant. It latched right on to her. Behind her the alpha male had saw this going on and came up behind and grabbed the infant. They were doing a tug of war with this about 4 day old vervet. We yelled and I shot my gun in the air, and that made them drop her and run off. We got to her and she had both arms bit off, and one foot remaining. Her intestines were coming out her anus. All we could do was put her out of her agony and bury her. A baby macaque has a less than 40% chance of survival in the wild.
    The native people that live around them hate them. We found a group of farmers catching monkeys, ramming a barbed sticker bush branch up their ass and letting them go to die, after suffering over 4 to 5 days. They said it drove the troop away, but I could not see any difference. I started inventing a sound horn that scares the hell out of them because it’s so loud, and in the hearing range that seem to be really annoying to them. Since its’ solar powered, it is very easy to install. We are testing it out in S. Africa and India with some pretty good results.
    I am surprised at how many people like myself hate monkeys, I thought it was just me.
    BK, Colorado, S Africa, and India.

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