Starstruck at Arashiyama’s Iwatayama Monkey Park

TImber boat at Arashiyama

It feels a little like we’ve entered a movie set. Mystically pretty mountain landscapes form a backdrop to an emerald green river, broken only by the Togetsukyo “Moon Crossing” Bridge. A timber boat punts along the river. This is Arashiyama, a zen-like tourist haven in the western outskirts of Kyoto.

Ancient temples, otherworldly bamboo groves and an occasional bicycle or rickshaw passing by complete the very pretty picture.


Of course, there are also dozens of traditional ryokans, an awful lot of tofu… and a mob of mischievous monkeys that we decide to go in search of.

Togetsukyo “Moon Crossing” Bridge at Arishyiama

The search takes all of two minutes. We simply walk across the pretty old timber bridge to the south side of town, then a few hundred metres until we reach a bright orange Torii gate and shrine that marks the entry to Iwatayama Monkey Park.

Entry to Arashiyama Monkey Park

I’m fairly certain the shrine is there to pray for the energy to walk all the way up the mountain to see the perky primates. You see, the steep uphill walk to monkey park takes around 732 years. This may be a little closer to twenty minutes for folk not being forced to carry small whiny offspring whose delicate constitutions suddenly mean they are incapable of walking – I’m looking at you, Sugarpuff.

Kind of like an anti-zoo, Iwatayama Monkey Park’s 120 Japanese resident macaques all walk free while the visiting humans remain behind bars… Well, they do if they want to feed them. As Raffles and Sugarpuff most definitely do. In fact they feed them so much that I think a few of the monkeys are planning on signing up to Jenny Craig after our visit.

But the good news is that we won’t have to, as we have lost at least seven or eight kilos just reaching them on the steep uphill hike.  Once we reach the top and find someone with a defibrillator to restart my heart, we spy a large sign telling us not to look the monkeys in the eye.

Japanese Macaque at Arashiyama’s Iwatayama Monkey Park

Wait, what? Are these precious primates the long lost descendants of Medusa and a horny, myopic Cercopes? Or are they so famous they have a “no eye contact clause” written into their contracts along with demands for 800 bananas,a a chilled magnum of peanut-infused Cristal and a dozen butt-scented candles to be placed in their dressing trees? Prima freaking donnas, the bloody lot of them.

Maybe Arashiyama is a movie set? I mean, there are overly rouged celebrity monkeys preparing for a dip in the spa.

Japanese Macaque at Arashiyama’s Iwatayama Monkey Park

Some pensively soaking up the stunning views over Kyoto.

monkey park

There are monkey child stars working on perfecting their best “Blue Steel”.

Arashiyama’s Iwatayama Monkey

A few with so much swagger that they must be part of some kind of monkey Rat Pack.

MOnkey rat pack at Arishyiama Monkey park

Others are busy working under the instruction of a Director.

Macaque at Arishyiama Money park

And a few just stumbling about clumsily like they’ve been already been knocking back the Cristal.

Japanese Macaque at Arashiyama’s Iwatayama Monkey Park

But, unless you’re harassing them for an autograph, the famous macaques pay visitors scant attention. With the exception of when you’re brandishing a handful of fruit in the feeding cage. Then it’s on like Monkey Kong.

feeding the macaques at Arashiyama’s Iwatayama Monkey Park

Our kids adore the antics of the funky monkeys on this particular mountaintop. But, as cute as they are, it’s not monkey magic if you get bitten by one of the little buggers. They are, after all, wild animals. While it is well worth the visit, we keep Raffles and Sugarpuff at a safe distance. I’d go as far as suggesting visitors carry kids under two-years of age in a backpack or carrier. If the wee demo of wanton savagery they put on at feeding time is anything to go by, these are not the kind of monkeys you’d want to meet in a dark alley.

Oh, and incidentally I feel it’s important to mention that that feeding is accompanied by the not so haunting strains of the Can Can. Because Japan.

Speaking of haunting strains, I’ll leave the final word on Iwatayama Monkey Park to this pair of nutters…


11 Comments on Starstruck at Arashiyama’s Iwatayama Monkey Park

  1. Christine
    January 15, 2016 at 7:39 pm (8 years ago)

    Those monkeys look stunning! We saw snow monkeys on our Japan trip a while back and I remember how vicious they were too.

      January 15, 2016 at 9:22 pm (8 years ago)

      I’m always loathe to recommend Monkey Park’s to people with kids but this place was well set up with the people cage and a lot of staff. Happily these monkeys spared their viciousness for each other when they were fighting over lunch.

  2. Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella
    January 15, 2016 at 9:00 pm (8 years ago)

    Stunning photos of the monkey Aleney!! And I had to laugh at the no eye contact clause and the butt scented candles! 😀

      January 15, 2016 at 9:24 pm (8 years ago)

      Thanks Lorraine. Nothing shouts “celebrity rider” quite like a butt-scented candle 😉

  3. Kirsty @ My Home Truths
    January 15, 2016 at 9:52 pm (8 years ago)

    The baby monkey definitely had me with it’s perfected blue steel look….

      January 19, 2016 at 7:44 pm (8 years ago)

      Derek Zoolander better watch out 😉

  4. Mr Eatsworld
    January 19, 2016 at 10:02 am (8 years ago)

    Anyone that didn’t watch the video at the end should go back and give it a look. Monkey magic indeed…

      January 19, 2016 at 7:44 pm (8 years ago)

      Not that you’re in any way biased, right? 🙂

  5. Mary @ Green Global Travel
    January 23, 2016 at 3:18 pm (8 years ago)

    It’s amazing to be in a setting like that where animals can roam free comfortably. Great pictures of the monkeys!

  6. Malinda @mybrownpaperpackages
    February 9, 2016 at 10:26 am (8 years ago)

    While I know this post is about monkeys, I wanted to ask about a different type of monkey 🙂 I’m planning a trip to Japan and am concerned about my 3yo monkey who seems to have developed a case of the ‘but-mum-i-have-tired-legs’ and wanting to be carried. What do you think – should I suck it up and start working out to build up my muscle strength; take a cheapo umbrella stroller or …?

      February 9, 2016 at 10:34 am (8 years ago)

      Stroller! So very stroller. We left Miss 4’s behind thinking she’d be too big for the ‘but-mum-i-have-tired-legs’ and our first few days were an endless barrage of whining. We ended up buying an el cheapo one and from that moment on everyone was happy and everybody had a much better time. Plus it gave us something to stow things in and on so we had less to carry.


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Hey, I’m Aleney! A mum, award-winning travel writer, magazine editor and gallivanting glutton. He’s Raff, the “boy” in boyeatsworld, and a fearless foodie, adventurer and eco-warrior. Along with his all-singing, all-dancing, all-adventurous sister, Sugarpuff, we’re exploring the world’s colour, culture and cuisine on a food safari for the junior set.

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