Arashiyama is a beautiful area up in the mountains west of Kyoto. It is home to several Buddhist temples, the world-famous bamboo forest, and a monkey park! It is accessible via rail from Kyoto station, although we decided to take a taxi to the monkey park from church in northern Kyoto. It was roughly $35 well-spent to cut the trip to half an hour, and get dropped off right at the monkey park entrance.
Arashiyama Monkey Park is unlike any place I have ever visited, in a good way. We have interacted with monkeys in Indonesia, but those monkeys were very naughty and stole things from tourists. You had to be very careful, or the monkeys would jump on you and steal stuff. We avoided attractions with lots of monkeys for that reason- I did not want my then-toddler to do something that bothered the monkeys and get attacked. This monkey park is home to a troupe of Japanese macaques. This park has strict rules, including not getting too close to the monkeys, pointing cameras at them, or feeding them, so the monkeys are very well-behaved.
We had all of our stuff that we brought to Japan with us, because we were heading to Osaka after Arashiyama, so we got dropped off at the entrance to the monkey park with all our junk. There was an ambiguous sign out front that talked about how stroller parking was at the entrance. We thought to ourselves, well, is this the entrance? There was no ticket booth or anyone associated with the monkey park in sight, just a sign. There was also a tall, steep staircase. We decided to take the stroller up the staircase and investigate further. Turns out, there is also a shrine up the staircase, with the monkey forest entrance off to the side, so the sign was advising people to carry their strollers up the stairs to park them. The trail up the mountain is not stroller accessible, so they require all strollers to be parked at the entrance. Bring a baby carrier/backpack if you have kiddos that can’t handle the trek up the mountain on foot! They let us leave our bags, too, so we didn’t have to carry them up the mountain! Admission rates, opening hours, and more are listed on their website.
Before seeing any monkeys, there was a nice hike up from the entrance to the top of the mountain. Not only are there monkeys at the top, but an amazing view of Kyoto! Everywhere I read said that the trees are gorgeous in autumn when the leaves turn color. Along the hiking trail, there were a few placards and a monkey quiz, so we learned more about the monkeys and the park while we took rest breaks from the climb. Three-quarters of the way up was a little park with a few pieces of playground equipment. Landon loved the zip line and the swings. For some reason, swings are hard to come by in Asia, much to Landon’s dismay.
Finally, we reached the top of the mountain. There were macaques everywhere! It was neat to see family groups grooming each other, resting together and walking around. They didn’t seem to be bothered too much by the tourists, they were just living their lives. We noticed early on that Landon was wearing the perfect outfit for our afternoon there- the exact color shirt and khaki pants that the monkey handlers also wore!
Right after we got to the top, the handlers came out with food and scattered it around the viewing area. All the monkeys came to grab food! The handlers helped make sure the monkeys did not go near the lookout platforms (so people could enjoy them).
Owen loves animals. He lights up whenever he sees the puppies by our pension, a cat, or even birds and fish. So, when we got to the top of the mountain and he saw all the monkeys, he was pretty excited! Landon was intrigued by the observation viewer, although without putting coins in, he could not see anything. Soon, he was caught up in his own imaginary game, and it took some convincing for him to come inside with us to the “feeding hut.”
When I read about the “feeding hut” I had no idea what to expect. I thought perhaps they kept a few of the monkeys in a cage for us to feed. The way it was set up was genius, and made me feel better about the whole operation. It was the reverse of caging the animals- we went into the hut, bought a bag of bananas, and then made our way to the caged windows. Monkeys that were hungry would come to the outside of the window and take food from our hands. It was really cool, and I felt better about feeding them since they get to choose when they want to eat! Landon was a little nervous at first, but then got the hang of it and had a grand time. Owen even fed the monkeys a few pieces of banana- although he also tried to sample some for himself.
Being a physical therapist, and having studied human anatomy, physiology and biomechanics, it is crazy to watch these monkeys grab food and eat it. They look like little humans in many of their movements, except they are way more coordinated than Owen. At one point, Owen was so excited he let out this excited, very loud squeal. That freaked out the monkeys and they ran away from our area of the cage. I think they felt threatened by the little shrieking thing that was about their size!
Up the hill from the main observation area and feeding hut,there was a higher observation area. There were not as many monkeys there, so we didn’t stay up the hill very long, but the views looking down on Kyoto were AMAZING. Right about the time we were getting ready to leave, there was some sort of epic monkey fight in the forest up the hill from the feeding hut . The handlers went to find the fighting monkeys to make sure that they did not cross paths with humans. I really appreciated the care that was taken to make sure the monkeys could live their lives while still being enjoyed and observed by all the tourists.
Landon signaled that he was ready to leave by sliding down a slide that went from just down the hill from the viewing area to the kid’s playground. It had a “Do Not Enter” sign on it… OOPS! He used the zipline a few times, and I took the opportunity to feed and change Owen. I had to take advantage of the open bench to sit, and relative privacy. Landon took a turn with the camera at the playground, and snapped the picture below, which shows Austin getting ready to carry Owen in the baby pack, while I’m finishing with his diaper change. I’m sure other tourists- typically students, other young people, or older adults with grown children- look at us like we are crazy for doing all that we do with our boys, but we wouldn’t have it any other way!
At first, I was hesitant to make the trek out to Arashiyama because of all there is to do and see in Kyoto city. I would highly recommend taking a half to full-day in this area. The monkey park was a definite highlight of our trip, and the monkeys were well-behaved enough that I was not worried for Landon’s safety. Stay tuned for more Arashiyama adventures!