Year of the Monkey – Following monkeys around Japan

If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll probably have noticed that a few of my adventures heavily involve animals of some kind. And, since this is the year of the monkey in Japan, I’m going to tell you all about the best monkey experiences I’ve had in this amazing country.

Arashiyama Monkey Sanctuary

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High on a mountain, overlooking the sweeping city of Kyoto is the Arashiyama monkey sanctuary. It began its life as a research facility and to this day, still does some incredible work surrounding monkeys. The furry creatures here are free to roam wherever they chose – not a cage in sight.

The walk up the mountain takes around 20-30 minutes depending on walking speeds, but is well worth it. I went up for the first time in the middle of summer, and it was swelteringly hot. I definitely don’t recommend it. This is one activity that should be reserved for spring/autumn. Halfway up the mountain we were greeted with some relief though – in the form of a giant fan. It was spritzing water and pushing out some super-refreshing cool air.

You can even have the chance to feed the monkeys. At the top of the mountain, there is a small wooden hut, with windows made of wire mesh. In here, you can purchase some nuts, or apple chunks to feed these cheeky creatures. The monkeys will actually cling to the outside of the wire mesh and push their hands through in anticipation. Its great fun to be so close and be able to interact, safely, with so many monkeys!

Jigokudani Monkey Park

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Further north, in Nagano prefecture, is one of the most amazing natural sights I have ever seen. Amidst the snow covered hills and forests is the Jigokudani Monkey Park. This is the famous site of the hot springs monkeys. The tale goes that one day, a monkey fell into one of the natural hot spring baths here, and enjoyed it so much, they visited again and again. When the other monkeys noticed, they followed suit, and now the hot springs are frequented by a whole family of monkeys, every day of the year.

Certainly a spot for the budding photographer – the monkeys make excellent subjects. I felt like David Attenborough walking around the park, it really seemed liked I was peeking into a world that no-one knew about. The landscapes were stunning, and the monkeys were so relaxed; you could get really close to them, and they had no cares at all!

Kabukiya Tavern

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The most unique experience on this list is Kabukiya Tavern in Utsunomiya, near Tokyo. This is actually a traditional Japanese restaurant with a twist. They actually have monkey waiters! Now, don’t worry, the monkeys don’t serve food or drinks, just hot towels. Then, after everyone has eaten, they will climb all over you for picture time! The evening is topped off with a performance from the oldest monkey in the family, full of tricks, twists, and hilarious routines! The site has been visited many times by animal welfare officials to ensure the monkeys are treated well, and the owners have a real affection for these animals.

There was one rather…interesting part of the monkey performance that I won’t tell you about on here, just incase. No spoilers! The night was great fun. The food here is amazing. I definitely recommend getting the gyoza – the city is famous for it, and rightly so. Follow this up with the BBQ, and wash it down with some good beer!

What have your favourite animal adventures been around the world? Have any of them included monkeys? Let me know in the comments below!

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DINING IN TOKYO

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