When I first arrived in Shiga and was being driven to my flat in Imazu for the first time I saw something. I saw something that surprised and delighted me - it was a road sign, a warning sign, with a big picture of a cartoon monkey on it. The conversation went something like this -
Me - Monkeys! You have monkeys here??
Driver - Yes, in the woods and mountains there are monkeys.
Me - You actually see monkeys here??
Driver - Where I live you quite often see them on the road....
I don't really remember the rest of the conversation because after that I was away in a fantasy about monkeys driving cars, but....
The point is I've been looking out for monkeys ever since I arrived, with no luck. So I decided it was time to stack the deck in my favour and visit Arashiyama (on the fringes of Kyoto) and go to the monkey park. The idea of the monkey park is very simple, instead of putting the monkeys in cages they built the reserve where a big group on monkeys was already living. So the monkeys are all 'free range' but enjoy the food provided by the staff and visitors so are happy to stay around.
After sorting out the train from centeral Kyoto to Arashiyama the first thing was to find the park - I had a map. but it wasn't very clear - if only there was some small sign of where the monkeys might be. Oh - hold on a huge monkey with a hat and a spy glass, that might be it :-)
As it turned out, Arashiyama itself was a popular tourist spot, because it's such a naturally beautiful place. So Leila and I just wandered around a bit at first taking it in.
Once we crossed the river we soon found the Monkey Park itself. The viewing area, and most of the monkeys, are at the top of the hill. So first you have to climb up, and just to get you in the right mood there are plenty of warning signs about monkey viewing protocol.
Then there it was - my first Japanese monkey!
Some parents were unwisely trying to get their kids to stand as close to it as possible for a photo which seemed to freak the monkey out a bit. However instead of going into a limb rending frenzy it just slunk off into the bushes. But still - my first MONKEY! Maybe I wouldn't have been quite so impressed if I'd known that just a couple of minutes up the hill it was monkey maddness -
Monkeys on the ground
Monkeys in the trees
Monkeys chilling out
Yes, well, maybe the less said about that the better....
At the top of the hill there is an observation point with nice views over the town below and a feeding station.
The feeding satation is a small building that people go inside to feed the monkeys, who are outside, through the bars; it's quite a nice reversal of the usual zoo dynamic.
Then, having seen more monkeys than you could shake a banana at, it was time to say goodbye to the monkeys - and for the monkeys to say goodbye to us.
After a nice lunch we decided to take a walk in the bamboo groves. Again, this is somewhere I`d really like to come back to, it was quite overcast when we visted but I can really imagine how it would look with shafts of light cutting down between the bamboo stems.
By now it was beginning to get dark and it was time to head back in Kyoto, land of the eternal Kimono. No matter when you visit you`ll alway see somebody in a Kimono!!
Back at Kyoto central station the Christmas tree was now fully illuminated and shining down from on high, quite nicely reflected in the plate glass windows of the building.
The illuminations were lit outside the station too, people were scurrying everywhere, and for the first time it kind of sank in that it was almost christmas.
Heck they even had 5 or 6 year old kids playing christmas songs on electronic organs under the tree - how much more festive can you get??
Well actually, you can get more festive, and crazy! All you have to do is stand in a freezing river, half naked, singing!
Don`t ask - I have no idea! And just when you think nothing else in Japan can surprise you - you find a really classy business like this -
(Though in fact a totally innocent cafe I think!)
And on that note, Good night, God bless and a Merry Christmas one and all!!