Sadly no, Arashiyama (嵐山) does not mean “Monkey Mountain”. Rather, it is the joint “Arashi”, meaning “storm” (incidentally also the name of Japan’s biggest Boy Band) and “Yama”, meaning “Mountain”. I had very little knowledge about Arashiyama, but having never been it seemed like the perfect excursion for a Thursday morning.
The town is a mecca of tourist attractions, including the very famous Sagano bamboo forest, Kameyama koen, and last but (definitely) not least, the Iwatayama “Monkey Park”.
The journey is no small feat, as visitors need to climb some extensive steps upwards on the side of a mountain. Throughout the ascent, informative signs are posted to humour and prepare visitors for their encounter with the park’s furry inhabitants.The three rules of the Monkey Park are as follows:
1. Don’t feed the monkeys
2. Don’t touch the monkeys
3. Don’t stare at the monkeys (it makes them feel embarrassed)
Rules number one and two are dismissed when located in the special monkey-feeding building which has large-gapped screens in place of windows. Monkeys calmly hang off the building and reach through the screens, holding their palms in patient (and a somewhat bored) request for food. Clutching my 100 Yen bag of fruit chunks I cautiously placed a piece of apple in an outstretched hand, expecting the monkey to snatch it up. Years of being fed this way have taught the monkeys that they have nothing to fear from camera-wheeling tourists and the monkey practically rolled his eyes at me.
The third rule (don’t stare at the monkeys) was the hardest to keep. I’m not sure how embarrassed they really did feel as they strolled around the mountaintop, occasionally blocking the walking paths as visitors (OK, me) edged around them.
Monkeys aren’t the only reason to come to Monkey Park (although you might expect as such). The height of the park is higher than that of Kyoto tower (131 Metres), offering a sprawling view of the city below. The climb (although potentially challenging) passes through some pretty beautiful scenery.
After the Monkey Park, we spent some time wandering the bodies of water, taking in the bright sky and mountains. Although Kyoto is not chaotic by any means, Arashiyama is most definitely a welcome relief of fresh air and picturesque surroundings.