Monkey business in Kyoto

Monkey face.
Monkey face.

Arashiyama is a lovely outer district of Kyoto to which people have been coming for a relaxing time by the water for around 1400 years. The centre-piece is a river-fed lake surrounded by verdant hills. And on one of those hills is the Iwatayama Monkey Park.

The Monkey Park is home to Japanese Macaque’s, which are small monkeys with bare, expressive faces. For the first part of the visit as you climb up to the top of the hill all you see are repeated warnings not to feed the monkeys, not to touch the monkeys, and, above all, not to look the monkeys in the eye. You know when someone tells you not to think of something, and so that’s all you can think of? Well being told not to look the monkeys in the eyes is exactly like that, you’re lost between a desperate desire to test the rule and a complete confusion about where else to look – you are there to look at the monkeys after all.

It turned out that the monkeys didn’t seem to be particularly perturbed by being looked at. They showed no aggression towards humans, although there was quite a bit of rough-housing between themselves. As it is Spring there were quite a few baby monkeys and they were testing their boundaries until brought into line by the adults. The monkeys were lovely to watch, especially against the backdrop of distant Kyoto and on a glorious sunny day.

There’s the opportunity to feed the monkeys. You go into a building with caged windows and feed them through the bars – for your own safety. We liked the fact we were caged. The monkeys remain entirely free.

After the monkey visit we descended the hill and strolled up the river. It was an entirely peaceful walk with forest on one side and deep river on the other. Occasionally a boat would meander past us. At one point, to all of our delight, we saw a huge sea eagle dive into the river just in front of us.

We finished the day by wandering around the temple complex just behind our holiday house: We’d been saving this because it was so close. It turned out to be delightful – not only pretty in itself, but filled with locals working in the gardens or just taking a stroll. Then dinner at a small local bar where no one spoke English, the people at other tables were dressed in kimonos, and the noodles were great.

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