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I Met and Fed Wild Japanese Monkeys!

My friend and I traveled to Kyoto, Japan, to see the historic temples and shrines. While Kiyomizu Temple (Kiyomizu-dera) and Fushimi Inari Shrine were impressive, visiting the Monkey Park Iwatayama (AKA: Arashiyama Monkey Park) was also an experience that I’ll never forget.

Our Japan Rail (JR) Pass gave us a free trip on the JR Sagano line from Kyoto Station to JR Saga-Arashiyama Station, not far from the monkey park. A short walk through streets of Arashiyama, lined with upscale tourist shops and handsome, toned rickshaw drivers looking for vacationers with deep pockets, took us to Togetsukyō Bridge, stretched across beautiful Hozu River. Old-fashioned-looking boats offering sightseeing cruises lined the river banks, making for a beautiful photo-op.
After crossing the river, we made a right turn, following the arrows on monkey-shaped signs to a small shrine where, at one corner, a little booth sold tickets to Monkey Park Iwatayama. That mid-June day, the monkey park was open from 9 AM until 5:30PM (hours vary seasonally).
My friend and I purchased our tickets and then began the pleasant, approximately half-hour climb on a somewhat-steep, well-maintained trail through the forest. “Keep an eye out for monkeys,” my friend half-joked as we hiked. I was pretty sure that I didn’t have to bother yet. I had read that the monkey park is at the very top of the hill, where human visitors enter a cage and feed the wild monkeys (who never enter any cages and are free to come and go as they like) through the bars. I was pretty sure that the monkeys would all be clustered around that cage, waiting to be fed. I was wrong.

My friend was the first to spot a monkey, grooming himself near some playground equipment at a rest area. In the past, I’d seen wild monkeys swinging through the trees in Costa Rica, but most monkeys I’ve seen have been in animal parks and zoos. It was strange to see a monkey up close, roaming free. The monkey took indifferent notice of us as we continued along the trail.

At the end of our climb, we found an expansive view of the city of Kyoto from a dirt-covered hill dotted with grey, furry Japanese macaque monkeys.
Adult monkeys rested and groomed each other. Three juvenile monkeys raced around the edge of a small pond. One monkey climbed into the water and swam across where he was met by a second monkey. The second monkey walked down to the water, dipped his hands (as if he were washing them) and then walked back up and proceeded to groom the first monkey. 
A staff member directed us toward a shack with metal fencing instead of windows. A few monkeys climbed the fencing and reached their long arms inside the building. On the ground just outside the shack, I was surprised to see an unbelievably tiny, baby monkey crawling about on the dirt. He was quickly snatched up by his mother. She clutched him to her chest and deftly climbed up to a fenced window. 
I stepped inside the shack, joining a few other tourists. At a counter, a staff member sold small bags of cut apples, peanuts, and, what I think were cut sweet potatoes for 100 Yen each. Cold bottled drinks for the human visitors were also available for purchase. I bought a bag of peanuts and found the mother monkey, now nursing her baby. I offered her a peanut. She reached inside the shack and gently took it from my hand. She unshelled the nuts with her teeth and dropped them into her mouth. I offered her another. 
One by one, I passed peanuts to the mother monkey. Her baby watched us, but didn’t seem the least bit interested in acquiring one. I assume that he wasn’t ready for solid foods just yet, but he was interested in testing his climbing abilities. After he finished nursing, the little one climbed, his teeny hands and feet grasping the fencing, always staying within arm’s reach of his mother. Occasionally, his mother would reach up and, with a single hand, pluck him from the fence and bring him back to her. 
When my first bag of monkey food was empty, I bought a bag of apples and then a few more bags of apples. When the mother monkey was full, I moved on to feeding some of the other monkeys. All were surprisingly gentle as they took the food from my fingers.  
Among the handful of monkeys lining the windows, I discovered another mother with her nursing baby, this infant was a female, but was no less adventurous that the little male monkey. 
Jen's video from the monkey encounter:

I could have happily spent the rest of the day feeding the monkeys, but it was almost 5PM and we still wanted to visit Arashiyama’s Bamboo Grove. Before we left Monkey Park Iwatayama, we spent a few minutes wandering the trails above the feeding shack where we found monkeys resting, grooming, and climbing in the low trees. They seemed to be enjoying their afternoon before heading back into the mountains for the night. 
It was fun to see wild monkeys at a place where the only “cage” is for people. Monkey Park Iwatayama turned out to be a surprising highlight of my trip to Japan!

I did this in 2013 in Kyoto, Japan.

Jen (California, USA)
P.S. Inspired by my trip to Japan, I wrote a novel called Lost in Tokyo, about a girl finding herself and falling in love. Lost in Tokyo is available at Amazon.com and is FREE with Kindle Unlimited!

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Nineteen-year-old Erin is hoping that her visit to Japan with her best friend, Adam, will be life-changing. When Erin was just four years old, her mother mysteriously vanished. Erin's only clue to her mother's possible whereabouts is a hand-written itinerary for a dream trip to Japan, a trip that Erin doesn't know if her mother ever had the chance to take. Erin has decided to carry out this itinerary, believing that it might help her find her mother.

But Erin's trip won't be going according to plan.

Hours after they arrive in Tokyo, in a jet-lagged fog, Erin and Adam end up in bed together. While struggling with the tension that now dominates their once innocent friendship and the trauma stirred up from Erin's painful past, Erin and Adam visit the places on her mother's list. As they explore the wonders of Japan, Erin finds herself haunted by strange "memories" that seem to belong to her mother. Could these memories be real? If so, perhaps her mother can be found.

Praise for LOST IN TOKYO:

"Full of heartbreak, loss and finding yourself while falling in love with your best friend. I would absolutely recommend this book and I have to several people already." -- Amy, Goodreads

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"There were so many surprises I was on the edge of my seat." -- Kathryn, Goodreads

"Japan as a backdrop was such a unique story setting. It was both peaceful and exciting at the same time." -- Amanda, Goodreads

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LOST IN TOKYO provides a travel guide of wonderful things to see and do while on vacation in Japan (featuring attractions in Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara, Nikko, and Kamakura) wrapped in a coming-of-age story of healing and hope, with an unexpected ending that you'll never see coming.

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