Forget the Three Wise Monkeys of Toshogu Shrine, if you are looking for a place to experience real monkeys, why not check out our top three sites. Whether you are in Nagano, Kyoto, or in the mountains of Tokyo, there are monkeys, and they are everywhere:
Jigokudani Monkey Park
(image by flickr.com)
Jigokudani Monkey Park is located in the beautiful Yokoyugawa Valley in northern Nagano Prefecture. At an altitude of 850m and surrounded by steep cliffs which are covered in plenty of snow in winter, the area is so desolate that it has been referred to as being “hellish” due to the spewing steam from the fountains. The wild macaques have been living here in this mountain area since long ago, but with the felling of the forests, their natural habitat was eroded and damage was done to their diet which brought the monkeys to the verge of extinction. To save them, the first director of the park, Sogo Hara, actually tried feeding the monkeys, and from the development of an environment where Man and monkeys could co-exist, the beginnings of the park were seeded. Since the park’s opening in 1964, it has gone through its ups and downs but it has become a popular spot for people from around the world as a paradise where wild monkeys can be seen up close.
Macaques soaking away in an onsen Due to the artificial feeding, the rich lifestyle at the monkey park where the worries of famine have disappeared has given way to a lot of free time for the macaques. One day, a nearby open-air bath used by humans became accessible to baby monkeys which started the story of “The Onsen Monkeys”. As with Man, the soothing phenomenon of the bath spread around to the other macaques and it was passed down the generations so that a hot spring environment for Japanese macaques, the only one of its kind in the world, was born. The appearance of the monkeys enjoying a spa in the harsh snowscape of winter and in a dreamy state of mind is enough to captivate anyone. Incidentally, the hair and sweat glands of the monkeys have been formed such that they don’t get a chill once they leave the bath. Also, there are plenty of leisure activities such as onsen, winter sports and highland trekking in the surrounding areas. And besides the winter scenery, the area is also surrounded by the beautiful highland scenery of summer, so get your fill of holiday by spending a relaxing time with the monkeys.
Admission: Adult: ¥ 500 / Child: ¥ 250
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Jigokudani Monkey Park
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Jigokudani Monkey Park
- Tours of Jigokudani Monkey Park
Arashiyama Monkey Park
(image by flickr.com)
A monkey park in the popular Kyoto tourist area?! Let’s introduce a hidden place where you won’t just be charmed by wild monkeys but will also enjoy hiking. Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama is a wild monkey park of 6000 sq. m. at Iwatayama in Arashiyama. Currently, there are 120 macaque monkeys residing here. The mountain top where the monkeys congregate is a 15-20 min. walk from the observation level. The path is beautifully maintained, so you can even climb up with your children. There is an exhilarating feeling hiking along the woods. One big difference with the usual zoos is the feeling of distance from the monkeys. At the mountaintop high ground, there are no cages or fences, so the monkeys are right there hovering about. If you are very careful, you can even watch them close up. There is no other place where you can approach wild monkeys this close. Several times a day, park staff come and feed them, so wait around for those times when you want to see a lot of monkeys. At the rest facility on the mountain top, you can also feed them with apples, peanuts, etc. for 100 yen a bag. It’s interesting that here the monkeys are outside while the humans are in the cage. You can enjoy yourself here in any season, but the monkeys’ mating season is from fall to winter so it’s great to see the many monkey babies born in the spring.
After playing a lot with the monkeys, enjoy the great panoramic view from the mountain top. Since there are no tall buildings in the area surrounding the park, you can see across right up to Mt. Hiei. In particular, the view is the best during the seasons of cherry blossoms and fall foliage. There are also coin-operated binoculars so you can use them when you want to get a closer look at the city. At times, the monkeys will come and use them so if you wait around, they may switch with you.
Admission: Adult: ¥ 550 / Child: ¥ 250
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Arashiyama Monkey Park
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Arashiyama Monkey Park
- Tours of Arashiyama Monkey Park
Mt. Takao is popular as a mountain which can be accessed easily from the city center. At an altitude of 599m, it is located within a national park and boasts beauty throughout all four seasons. Starting with its flora and fauna such as prized birds and giant flying squirrels, you can camp and hold BBQs there; the area is under strict protection with measures such as not being allowed to bring in any vehicles. There are trekking courses on the mountain that fit your stamina and schedule, a cable car and easy hiking trails which use a lift. Plus, there is a monkey park where you can see cute Japanese macaques, Yaso Park where about 300 varieties of mountain wildflowers bloom, and a café/restaurant called Kitchen Musasabi where you can have a meal while viewing the landscape from 500m up. There is plenty to enjoy on Mt. Takao.
Mt. Takao has a strong image of being a holiday resort, but long ago in the year 744, the mountain was opened as sacred ground for Shugendo with its high number of miracles. Yakuoin Temple, located halfway up the mountain, is worshiped as a prayer temple protecting the entire Kanto region. The monks practice within the nature of Mt. Takao, and for any person who wishes, he/she has the opportunity to take part in meditation under a waterfall at Biwa Waterfall and Hebitaki Falls on the mountain. And on Mt. Takao, the legend of the Tengu to ward off misfortune and invite happiness is believed by many people. At Yakuoin, you can enjoy a healthy vegetarian meal using seasonal ingredients. We hope you can experience the joy of the blessings of nature on Mt. Takao.
The view of Mt. Fuji from the top of Mt. Takao is a wonderful place which has been selected as one of the Top 100 Scenes to View Mt. Fuji in the Kanto Region. The view of the setting sun behind Mt. Fuji, especially on the fine days of December, has been called “Diamond Fuji”, and the sight of the sun seemingly being absorbed into the crater of Mt. Fuji is magical and dramatic.
Admission: Adult: ¥ 420 / Child: ¥ 210