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.
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.
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.
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.
Some pensively soaking up the stunning views over Kyoto.
There are monkey child stars working on perfecting their best “Blue Steel”.
A few with so much swagger that they must be part of some kind of monkey Rat Pack.
Others are busy working under the instruction of a Director.
And a few just stumbling about clumsily like they’ve been already been knocking back the Cristal.
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.
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…