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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. 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)

Jen is also known as J.W. Lynne, a best selling author of eleven novels. Click on any of the titles below to see the book on Amazon!

THE UNKNOWN: Eight kids learn the shocking reason why they were kidnapped.

ABOVE THE SKY: A girl lives in a world where touching her soulmate is forbidden.

: A teen is locked in a bunker to take a simulated trip to the moon.

KID DOCS: An experimental program turns kids into doctors.

WILD ANIMAL SCHOOL: A girl falls in love with a boy at an exotic animal ranch.

WHAT HE DIDN'T TELL ME: A traumatized girl meets a boy with a horrible secret.

IF I TELL: A teen wonders if her father is a serial killer.

Besides reading books and dreaming up stories to write, Jen's favorite activities are singing along to musical theater soundtracks and hiking in California's beautiful parks.

**Jen's books are available on Kindle Unlimited.**

Find more reviews of Jen's adventures in Japan here.