A Luke at Japan

Japan. The land of the rising sun.  These are the voyages of Luke Summerhayes. His one-year mission; to seek out everyday life and ancient history, to explore a strange new world, to boldly (and baldly) go where every nerd has gone before!

Part 22: Iwatayama Monkey Park

On arrival at my hostel in Kyoto, one of the first things I saw was a poster about Iwatayama Monkey Park. It depicted lots of monkeys mingling with tourists on a nice little mountainside overlooking the city. I’ve always loved monkeys, so it was right on my list.

Last week, I was told about the bamboo forest, which happened to be near this monkey park. Both are on the other side of Kyoto from my hostel, so I thought my best bet was to make a day of it and walk over there.

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It turns out walking all the way across Kyoto, coming across an enormous river and having to follow along the bank until you find a bridge, and generally getting lost in Japan, takes quite a long time. I eventually arrived with just enough time to admire the beautiful river, explore the forest and get on a train home.

I knew I had to return though, so I set out one morning to take the train, grudgingly admitting I wasn’t really quick enough to walk there.

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I paid for my ticket at the bottom of the mountain and started up the path. Signs advised how to behave around the monkey, little fact boards told me about their lives and eating habits. The walk, through dense forest and beside gorgeous streams, was nice enough but I didn’t see any wildlife. I saw one sign saying that as well as macaques, wild chimps and gorillas can also be seen in the area. I wasn’t so lucky.

At the top though, my prayers were answered.

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Amusingly, later that evening I was speaking to a friend from Hiroshima and she mentioned that she laughs when people tell her they paid to see monkeys. Where she comes from, they’re an everyday sight and nuisance. On the other hand, she was amazed to learn that I get to see squirrels in the wild every day back home.

A nice open space, the best view of Kyoto I’ve seen so far, and loads of monkeys. There were babies, adults, happy ones and lazy ones. I arrived just in time to see a staff member throw out some food, and even more monkeys came pouring from the trees and hills surrounding the area.

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This isn’t a zoo or safari park; these are wild monkeys who happen to live in the area. The only thing that resembles a cage is the building people enter, to buy drinks or ice creams or little bags of treats.

I purchased some monkey nuts and took them to the grills where monkeys climbed up and poked their little hands through. Putting a nut in the palm of my hand and holding it out for the macaques to grab with their little hands, I felt really close to the creatures.

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I don’t think I’ve ever been so close to any kind of ape or monkey before. Their little hands really do look just like ours. The way they interacted, or sat and counted out their treats before eating them up a table, was very human.

I often get a little weirded out by looking at other animals and thinking about how closely or otherwise our common ancestor was. With these guys, it didn’t feel very far back at all.

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They also had big red bums which were kinda funny looking.