The first thing we did in Kyoto was spend the day out in Arashiyama. It’s a lovely area in the northwest outskirts of Kyoto and is most famous for its Monkey Park and bamboo grove. David loves monkeys, so the Monkey Park was a must. However, if you’re looking for “wild monkeys” this won’t be it. As long as you have clear expectations, you can have an enjoyable experience.
Arashiyama is a beautiful little area, and it’s a popular tourist destination. Much of the town is geared toward day trippers. There are plenty of signs for the Monkey Park, so meander through and enjoy the little shops on your way to the mountain.
Okay, I say “mountain” but it’s really not that bad. You do start at the bottom of a hill, through a Shinto shrine. There’s a little ticket booth to pay the entrance fee and get a little pamphlet describing the park and listing out the rules. Admission is free for kids under 4, 250 JPY for kids 4-15, and 550 JPY for adults (conversion rate 100 JPY = about 1 USD).
Next is a hike up a somewhat steep hill. It can be rough, specially if you take it too fast. Better wear some comfortable shoes and take your time! There are a some benches along the way to stop and rest, and informational placards to read. It takes about 15 minutes or so to make your way up. You’ll know you’re getting closer when you start seeing the monkeys, which are Japanese macaques, along the trail. It was a bit of a surprise the first time we noticed one–we didn’t expect them out and about, and so close to us.
Then you’ll pass by a playground. Kids play here, and so do the monkeys! Make sure you don’t touch the monkeys (or the children, really, unless they’re yours). Even though they’re within easy reach, they are not tame, and should be treated with respect.
The end of the trail is a wide viewing platform with a building. The platform looks out over the sprawl that is Kyoto. It’s a pretty great if distant view. The building is a feeding area–you can buy apples or nuts for 100 JPY and head over to an area surrounded by wire mesh. Monkeys hang out on the outside and will take the food from your fingers. I didn’t feel the need to do this or spend too much time inside… there are plenty of monkeys to watch outside. Still, kids might find it fun.
Everywhere along the top of the hill you can see monkeys alone, in pairs, or in families. It’s really cool to be able to watch them do their thing. Like I said, they’re not exactly in the wild–they are used to people, and used to being fed. However, they’re not pets, and this park is their home and sanctuary.
For less than 6 dollars a person, we got a nice hike, a lovely view of the city, and monkeys. All in all, a pretty good deal, and a good way to spend a few hours in Kyoto.
For more information, check out the excellent Arashiyama Monkey Park website.