Hidden at the top of Mount Arashiyama is a crazy little place called Iwatayama. A monkey park at the very top of the mountain, where you can find beautiful views overlooking Kyoto, while monkeys roaming freely around you.
Looking over the Oi River, Iwatayama is home to over 170 wild macaque monkeys who are less than impressed that you’ve come to visit them. They wander freely around the mountain doing whatever they please. It is their natural home.
Getting to Iwatayama Monkey Park
Iwatayama Monkey park is a 15 minute walk from JR Saga-Arashiyama train station, or just a 5 minute walk from Hankyu Arashiyama Station. The roads are packed around Arashiyama and there is often a lot of traffic on the roads, so it’s a good idea to catch the train in rather than a bus or a taxi so you’re not waiting in all that traffic.
From the station follow the cute little streets until you get to the Togetsukyo Bridge, where you can find the entrance to the park. From the ticket booth at the entrance the hike to the monkey forest is on quite an incline and can get very steep at times. The path winds through the forest and is made from both concrete stairs and regular pathways as you head to the top.
It’s meant to take only about 10 to 15 minutes to walk to the top of the mountain from the entrance to the park, but in all honesty it can feel so much longer on the way up! If you’re visiting on a hot and humid day you can become dehydrated very easily, so it’s a good idea to carry some water with you.
By the time we got to the top of the mountain we were so hot and sweaty, and that was after we’d taken several breaks on the benches along the way! Make sure you wear suitable walking shoes for the hike to make your day easier.
Once you get to the top of the mountain there are two different areas that make up the park. The outside area is where you can walk around amongst the monkeys and check out the stunning views over the city of Kyoto and the surrounding areas. Then there is the inside area, where the humans are essentially the ones in a giant cage and you can feed the monkeys through the bars.
If you’re wanting to feed the monkeys the attendants at the park will show you into what’s essentially a hut with wire fences covering the windows, where you can buy food and feed the monkeys. There’s a few different treats you can buy to feed the monkeys, with bags of apple slices, banana slices, biscuits and peanuts all available for about ¥100 each.
They monkeys have learnt that the hut is where they can find some food and will often jump up to the window to grab a few snacks off you.
We visited the Iwatayama during July and there were so many baby monkeys around the park during that time of year, which was so exciting! They were so cheeky, pulling each others tails, playing together and just generally annoying each other, just like little kids.
How to deal with wild monkeys
At the top of the mountain you will find lots of signs letting you know the right and wrong way to approach and interact with the monkeys. It’s important to remember that they are wild animals – their behaviour can often be unpredictable and you need to respect their environment.
Some of the big warnings to remember are –
- Don’t stare the monkeys in the eye
- Don’t try to touch the monkeys
- Don’t feed them outdoors
- Don’t crouch down while you’re taking photos
- Don’t take close up photos of the monkeys, you must stay at least two meters away (this is where a zoom lens comes in super handy)
Even though there are attendants at the park and the monkeys are very used to humans, they are still wild animals and can become aggressive if they feel threatened or intimidated.
Keep a respectful distance from them at all times, especially outside on the viewing platform and around any mothers carrying babies, as they can often become the most aggressive if they feel there is a threat towards their baby.
Important info about Iwatayama
To plan your visit, here’s everything you need to know about Iwatayama
Opening hours: Iwatayama is open from 9am until 5pm throughout most of the year, closing at 4pm from November to March. The park is closed on days of heavy rain or snow.
Admission: ¥550 per adult.
Address: The Iwatayama Monkey Forest can be found at 8 Arashiyama Genrokuzancho, Nishikyo Ward