Visiting the Iwatayama Monkey Park in Kyoto
The Iwatayama Monkey Park
A guest post by Paula
I hung out with monkeys in Japan and years later it still remains one of the highlights of my life. The Iwatayama Monkey Park in Kyoto wasn't even something I knew existed until my third trip to Japan and even then it was sort of a last-minute addition. The park is situated off the Katsura River in one of the most beautiful areas I have ever seen (I still get goosebumps thinking about it) and you have to take a bit of a hefty uphill hike to get to the park.
(Aside Not About Monkeys: it's not surprising that there would be what amounts to a wildlife preserve in the middle of one of Japans biggest cities for tourism, Japan has an amazing balance of urban cities adjacent to quiet parks and natural monuments. It's one of my favorite things about Japan and it offers a way to relax and disconnect from everyday life without having to travel very far at all. Many of the parks also have historic landmarks and looking at something that was built in the year 800 BCE is indescribable!)
Back to monkeys. The park itself isn't really a park in the traditional sense, most of it is made of the incredible hilly landscape that you hike on your way to the monkey house at the top. I was pretty startled when nearing the top I realized there were monkeys *everywhere* in the trees around me. I love primates, I adore monkeys but suddenly being surrounded by wild animals who have the ability to stare at you with the intensity of a human is...overwhelming. As I finished the climb, still surrounded by staring, jumping, vocalizing monkeys I thought I was in heaven. And then I reached the top.
The monkey house is at the top of the hill surrounded by employees, signs about how to behave (don't make eye contact with the monkeys! it makes them feel threatened and they behave aggressively! god!) and yes, more monkeys. There are hundreds and they are everywhere. On the roof of the monkey house, on the chain link walls of the monkey house, in the trees, on the ground and just sort of roaming around.
I spent a lot of time outside of the monkey house even after my travel buds went inside and one of the park employees noticed me sitting on some steps just watching and started chatting with me about the various personalities. He noticed that one of the older monkeys was sitting next to me just chilling and commented that it was very unusual, especially for that specific monkey. Yes, dear reader, I am a friend to monkeys, the most aloof monkeys - they love me and I them and we will be Monkey Besties forever.
Also, yes, my Monkey Bestie had a baby with them and my heart was basically exploding.
I did eventually go inside the monkey house which is very chaotic, mildly upsetting and terribly educational in a School of Hard Knocks way. I purchased some apples to feed the monkeys through the fence walls and guys, let me tell you. Monkeys. Like. Food. I have no idea how these guys weren't totally overweight but they ate more apples than I ever could in one sitting. The monkeys reached their funny little human-like hands through the fence and I gave them apple slices. They all fight for the fruit, the older ones knock the smaller ones down (upsetting!) and they were continually reaching for more...monkeys gonna monk you guys!
Honestly, this is my least favorite part of the experience because while I love interacting with them and I love being so close to them it just felt sad and heartbreaking. Maybe I anthropomorphize monkeys more than other animals but it just seemed unfair and wrong to have power over creatures that looked at me with eyes like my own.