Iwatayama Monkey Park is a gathering place of Japanese Macaque monkeys in Kyoto, Japan. This post features my photos from the park, plus tips for visiting this unique location, and a review of whether it’s worth the time and money. (Last updated September 2, 2017.)
This monkey park in Kyoto is extremely cheap to visit (~$5), so whether it’s worth it to visit Iwatayama Monkey Park in Kyoto is mostly a question of time. If it’s your first time visiting Kyoto, chances are you will not allocate enough time there (we didn’t).
Kyoto is a shockingly amazing place, and given the amount of time it takes to get up to the mountain and down from it means that you won’t be able to do other things in Kyoto if you do the monkey park. It’s time to see (but not touch) some monkeys…
But first, some background. Iwatayama Monkey Park is located on Mount Arashiyama, which is in the Arashiyama district of Kyoto. This is a somewhat rural, albeit touristy district in the western outskirts of Kyoto.
In essence, Arashiyama is a place to get in touch with nature, and it’s a popular location during Japan’s cherry blossom and fall color seasons. Aside from the Monkey Park, Arashiyama is perhaps best known for the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, which is absolutely stunning and a must-visit (in my opinion).
Kyoto is a large city in Japan, but it’s also a beautiful and seemingly remote setting. This photo taken at the base of the monkey kingdom shows the remote side of Arashiyama.
Known as both ‘Arashiyama Monkey Park’ and ‘Iwatayama Monkey Park’, Kyoto’s Monkey Park is easy to find with signage indicating where it’s located.
Once you find the park, purchase your tickets, and start the hike up the mountain.
“This monkey park is not only a monkey.”
Right from the get-go, it’s clear Iwatayama Monkey Park is not some meticulously designed zoo for monkeys.
English-speaking visitors are a small minority of visitors to Tokyo, and I’d hazard a guess that they’re even less common in Kyoto.
Still, I’m pretty glad this sign is bilingual, as I was saying to myself, “dang, I wonder what monkeys eat?!” only like 7 minutes before we saw this sign.
It’s about a 30 minute walk up to the main area of the monkey park. This monkey had gone rogue and was chilling in a tree way off the path.
Other resources you’ll find might scare you away from Iwatayama Monkey Park due to the intensity of the hike, but it’s really not bad at all. Much of the path is paved and has stairs, and although there’s an incline, it’s only mild at worst. Most importantly, at no point is this even a remotely dangerous hike.
My mind is in the gutter, but I giggled when I saw this sign. Does it seem dirty to anyone else?
When we got up to the top, this was the first monkey we saw. Not realizing that the place was literally infested with monkeys, I took like 200 photos of him.
He looks pretty excited about me taking his photo, no?
This is where the action was at. If you walked up to the edge here, a monkey would immediately approach you with its hand out. I waved at one, and it became irate with me.
I guess I made a monkey-world faux pas by not giving him food. He quickly moved on.
For some reason, the macaque hung out on the roof and watched for new visitors to approach. These monkeys were basically panhandlers.
There are rules for the macaque park. You can sort of read them behind this one. The main one is do not look the monkeys in the eye. You’re also not supposed to feed them outside the feeding room, nor should you touch them.
Like the average ignorant American, I looked this monkey in the eyes.
He lunged at me (I could’ve totally taken him) and was swatted away by a monkey park employee with a broom. I was (presumably) reprimanded in Japanese.
This monkey seemed like he was in charge, just watching over all with a dissatisfied look on his face. I named him Caesar.
Most of the macaque, like this one, seemed friendly. He kept reaching out, but I don’t think it was for food. I think he just wanted to hold our hands. Most of the macaque were very sweet and docile.
Sarah took this with her cell phone, it shows how the park is sort of an example of ecotone.
By and large, these monkeys seemed lazy. Cute, but lazy.
Please, do not touch this. I assume the monkey just knows to sit by this sign.
Here’s the view of Kyoto from the Iwatayama Monkey Park. Not only is it a fun park, but it has a great view.
Since originally publishing this post, we’ve returned to Iwatayama Monkey Park because we enjoyed the experience so much. These photos are from our subsequent visits.
I like the above shot–I call it “Three Wise Monkeys.” 😉
Here’s another look illustrating the view Iwatayama Monkey Park has over Kyoto. This is one of a few points of interest in Kyoto that we recommend that has a great view of the city.
On this particular day we visited, a storm was approaching. Note that Iwatayama Monkey Park will close when there is heavy rain or snowfall.
I’m not sure if this is out of necessity (due to the path up becoming slippery) or because people are less likely to visit during these conditions. Either way, something to keep in mind. We’d recommend doing Iwatayama Monkey Park when the weather is nice and visibility is good.
Be mindful that the monkeys are at least semi-wild, can be irrational, and are prone to outbursts. Think of them as petulant children.
Even though I was not looking the above monkey in the eyes, he became irate as I started taking his photo. Every time my shutter clicked, he’d open his mouth wider, until eventually starting to make noises and pound the ground. I was using a telephoto lens and was not even remotely near him for that photo, but he still did not appreciate it.
Feeding the monkeys is definitely an interesting experience. If you look at the paper below my arm, you’ll see instructions are provided.
Basically, you don’t want to tease the creatures or agitate them. I’d recommend buying the crackers to do this. They are cheap, and it’s a fun way to connect with the monkeys.
Some of these macaque are absolutely gorgeous. The one above reminds me of the iconic ones you see bathing in onsen at Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano, Japan.
While Arashiyama Monkey Park is not as well-known as the one in Nagano, it is much more convenient to most tourists, so there’s that.
Here’s Sarah with the monkey photo-bomb!
One thing I think people will probably wonder about Iwatayama Monkey Park is whether or not the monkeys are ethically treated. I think it’s fair to say that these monkeys are only technically wild, while in reality pretty much inhabitants of the park.
For what it’s worth, these monkeys did not strike me as domesticated. It is likely that they are dependent upon handouts for sustenance, but this is not a sophisticated operation that has somehow trapped the monkeys there. It’s more an opportunistic venture: someone realized the monkeys liked it up there, so they put in a toll booth and feeding station for tourists.
By and large, this section of the Arashiyama mountains and Iwatayama Monkey Park are undeveloped. The monkeys roam freely between the area of the mountain untarnished by tourists, and the feeding area and pond. The monkeys are allowed to come and go as they please, and there are workers in Iwatayama Monkey Park who ensure that the creatures are treated with respect. Ultimately, my impression is that this is an ethical park.
As to whether Iwatayama Monkey Park is worth it? Yes, absolutely. That probably goes without saying since we’ve visited Iwatayama Monkey Park, and plan to return again this winter. We would rank this among the top 5 things to do in Kyoto, and the cornerstone of your second day in Kyoto (after spending the first day focused primarily in and around the Higashiyama District). For us, the Monkey Park scores big points as a change of pace option, as most of the main draws in Kyoto are temples and shrines. Between this and the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, this area has compelling offerings for visitors to Kyoto. Iwatayama Monkey Park combines a fun hike up a Japanese mountain with monkeys at a reasonable price. What’s not to love?
If you’re planning a visit to Kyoto, Japan, please check out my other posts about Kyoto for ideas of things to do (or not do) while there. Kyoto has a lot of things to see and do, so I also highly recommend the Lonely Planet Kyoto Guide to help better develop an efficient plan while there.
Have you visited Iwatayama Monkey Park in Kyoto? What did you think of the experience? Did you think of the hike to access the park? Is it something you’d recommend to first-timers? Any interest in macaque monkeys? What about the Kyoto monkey park? Please share your thoughts or any questions you might have in the comments below!