Get Up Close with the Macaques at Kyoto's Monkey Park

Take the spotlight away from Tokyo for a while, as everyone should know that Kyoto is filled with fun, interesting, and educational things to do and see. Most visitors who come to this Prefecture often go for the landmarks and tourist spots that are already popular, such as an ancient temple, highly acclaimed garden, and popular shopping districts. However, one of the more interactive ways to get familiar with the nature scene of Japan is to get up close to one of their most endearing animals; the wild Japanese Macaque monkeys. 

How do you do this? Visit the Monkey Park Iwatayama – or as the Japanese call it, “Arashiyama Monkī Pāku”. (嵐山モンキーパーク). It is found on top of a mountain called Mt. Arashiyama. Within this 6000-square meter monkey park live upwards of 100 of those Japanese macaques (old signs around the park pin this amount at around 140 monkeys, but updates claim there are 170 of them already). 

A Review Compilation Summary of Monkey Park Iwatayama in Arashiyama, Kyoto

Instead of staying indoors and shopping or playing at the arcade, being near Arashiyama gives you a rare opportunity to go outdoors and interact with these friendly and funny snow monkeys. 

They are popularly known for soaking in hot springs outdoors during colder months, as they do in the famous Jigokudani in Nagoya. As for the monkey park itself, it isn’t at all a zoo. The best part about this commercial park is that the monkeys aren’t placed in cages, and are free to roam around. They aren’t domesticated and can react to you in surprising (and sometimes a little frightening) ways.

According to TripAdvisor, Monkey Park Iwatayama sits at 13th place among the other 1,245 things to do in Kyoto. So far, it has 1,956 reviews that have given it a star rating of 4.5 out of 5. It was also granted a Certificate of Excellence by TripAdvisor because it has consistently garnered many 5-star reviews from hundreds of visitors. 

Overall, most visitors who come to visit usually enjoy themselves, more especially if they have an affinity with animals. No matter what lifestyle you have or what age you are, spending time with these little monkeys is an experience you’ll remember.

What to Expect

When you visit, you first must buy your tickets at the base of the incline. From there, begin a hike up a slightly elevated trail that will take about 40 minutes, if you go at an easy pace. Come prepared for this, as it might be a hot (or cold) day. Wear shoes/boots that are comfortable for the journey, and bring some water and some snacks in case you get thirsty or hungry. 

A Hike

There are many signs and posts that lead the way, while also informing you about how the monkey’s temperaments are, what and where to feed them, and how to behave around them. On your way up, you may see a monkey or two who have strayed from the area where most of them congregate. If you’re lucky, you may see a deer or a few birds. 

A Map for Guidance

Part of the beauty and experience of going to the monkey park is the hike. During autumn, there is a specific segment of the forest that is recommended for those who enjoy seeing the vibrant harmony of red, yellow, and orange leaves. This information can be seen in a map that is posted along the path, showing two distinct routes you can choose to get to the top of the mountain, and what you will see depending on which route you will take. 

If you’re worried about the difficulty of the trek, it may make you feel better to know that there is a pavement that covers a lot of the trail. There are barely any tangled roots, soft soil, or unexpected rocks that you usually encounter in more advanced hikes. It can, however, get a bit tiring if you’re not used to walking much. 

Arrival – Catch a Breath

At the top of the mountain, there’s a small building that holds a room cooled by air conditioning, so you can catch your breath after that walk. Here, drinks and snacks are available for buying, and restrooms with toilets of both western and Japanese styles are available. 

Take in The Gorgeous Scene… And the Goofy Monkeys

After a quick rest, head to the rest of the park, and you'll then see how your efforts of climbing the mountain have paid off. Aside from enjoying the lively and amusing nature of the monkeys around you, you also get a spectacular view of the city. Don’t forget to bring your camera, take more than one photo.

Monkey Facts: To Do and Not To Do 

When you arrive at any monkey park, you must remember three of their cardinal rules.

  1. As much as possible, avoid making eye contact with the monkeys. These monkeys feel challenged when you look at them straight in the eye, especially the male figures of their groups. Visitors who have accidentally looked them in the eye have been launched at.
  2. Monkeys can get a little greedy and naughty if you spoil them with food outside of their feeding areas, so do not feed them outside those designated areas. You also should not touch the food that they may have dropped along the path, or have laid down anywhere. 
  3. Even if the monkey is docile and acting sweet, do not touch them. They usually dislike being touched and may snap at you if you do it. 

What do The Monkeys Eat?

There is a small caged area for humans that is allocated as a place to feed the monkeys. You can feed them through the wide chicken wires that separate you from the monkeys. You have the option to pay 100 yen to purchase a small bag of peanuts, biscuits, apple bits, and sweet potatoes. 

You’re permitted to hand the food to the monkeys personally – and boy will they want you to. You will see them already waiting for you to give it to them as they hang on the cage wires, their hands sticking in to grab it from you. 

Depending on the season, the monkeys have different eating habits. Though their omnivorous diets allow them to eat almost anything, the most natural diet for them for summer and autumn are different seeds, fruits, and insects (especially those chirping cicadas during the summer). As for spring and winter, they munch on tree bark and buds. During the entire year, though, the staff of the monkey park continuously feed them wheat, soybeans, and sweet potatoes thrice a day to help balance their nutrition.

Visiting Kyoto Monkey Park in Winter? Expect Rain and Slippery Paths

With winter comes a hefty layer of snow, which can make the way up to the mountain a little more slippery, muddy, and dangerous than it usually is. You may opt to reschedule your visit to a drier month or come with boots that have a heel surface with better grip. Otherwise, this is a beautiful time to come up and see the monkeys. 

Though the weather is going to be a little nippy during this period, having a panoramic view of the city all lined with snow is a once in a lifetime experience. Try using the coin-operated binoculars for a better look – you may have to share with a monkey.

How to Get to Iwatayama Monkey Park

The base of Iwatayama Monkey Park is very near both the Arashiyama station and JR Saga-Arashiyama station. Be careful with the specifics, because there are other stations named Arashiyama that may confuse you. 

In terms of walking distance, the nearest station is Arashiyama Station, as it is only 5 minutes away. In terms of convenience, some prefer using the JR-Saga Arashiyama Station (even though it’s farther by foot) because the Hankyu line has many connections and stops.

If you’re coming from Kyoto Station, for example, the JR Sagano Line will lead you to the JR Saga-Arashiyama Station. It’ll take you 240 yen to for the trip from Kyoto, which has a 17-minute travel duration. From there, you can take a bus that is numbered either 93 or 11, which brings you to Arashiyama stop. 

The address of Monkey Park Iwatayama is 61 Arashiyama Nakaoshitachō, Nishikyō-ku, Kyōto-shi, Kyōto-fu 616-0004, Japan. 

The Admission Cost of Kyoto Monkey Park: A Price Worth Paying

A person who is over 15 years old will have to pay 550 yen for an entrance ticket. Those who fit within the age range of 4 to 15 pay 250 yen. Smaller children under 4 years old don’t have to pay to get in. However, if you’re on a tour and you’re a group of at least 30, your group can avail of a discount.

The Open Hours of the Kyoto Monkey Park

Monkey Park Iwatayama is open from 9 AM until 4:30 PM from March 15 until September 30. From October 1 until March 14, it opens at 9 AM and closes at 4 PM. The ticket booths no longer accept visitors 30 minutes before they close. The entire visit, including the hike and time spent with the monkeys, should amount to about 2 hours. 

Don’t Forget to Visit the Nearby Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

The habitat of Monkey Park Iwatayama comprises mostly of bamboo (this is the natural habitat of the macaque monkey species), and tapers off into the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest; also known as the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. 

Japan is well-known for its deep culture that is interwoven with this special tree. Because of its sturdiness and strength, it is often used as a metaphor for such (and much more) in many ancient Japanese tales, legends, anecdotes, and artworks. Bamboo is also used to create different instruments, ornaments, utensils, and even construction materials.

When you visit Kyoto, you can experience walking through a parted sea of towering bamboo trees. If you merely want to take a stroll through this forest, you can do so for free. However, if you don’t feel like walking, you have the option to be pulled by a rickshaw, or rent a bicycle. Be wary – it does get quite crowded here. Nevertheless, it’s still a worthwhile place to visit. 

Why You Should Visit the Iwatayama Monkey Park

There are four main reasons why you should visit this park. First, there’s nothing much like it in most parts of the world; a park where the monkeys are free to roam and interact with people. Two, the view is fantastic and comes with an already unforgettable experience. Three, it’s very near other tourist spots (and hotel options as well) such as the bamboo forest, which is also very unique. Lastly, it’s convenient to get to, with the many routes that you can use to come here, whether by bus or train.