If you love monkeys, Japan is a great place to see them both in the wild and in captivity. The Japanese macaque, also known as the snow monkey, is commonly found in rural areas of Japan. There are several parks and zoos that feature Japanese macaque, including the Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano and the Iwatayama Monkey Park in Kyoto. However, for a unique monkey experience, I would head to Inuyama in Aichi.
Not too far from Nagoya, there is the Japan Monkey Park, which includes both a centre and a park. From the parking or bus stops, you can see signs going to one or the other. You can go to one, the other, or both. It is up to you, but for me, the centre was an amazing experience.
The park is a theme park with rides and activities. While it can provide plenty of entertainment for families, the centre was my favourite. We spent an entire day wandering around the centre complex. The centre is an amazing museum and zoo showcasing many different primates from all over the world. In fact, it boasts that it has the larges number of non-human primate species in the world with a whopping 66 species. While it is certainly a zoo, there are many spacious open air habitats, monkey walkways, and enclosures, including a various wild zones where you can walk inside the habitat.
Before the day I went to the Japan Monkey Centre, I had never seen a lemur. If I had, it was probably cowering in the corner of a super tiny habitat and barely visible. In any case, no lemurs had ever caught my attention until I visited the centre. I was immediately drawn to the mini-habitat near the entrance of the park. There are several trees and bushes for lemurs to enjoy. A few were lounging on the higher branches while a few young lemurs played below. Due to the open nature of the habitat, every so often, we’d see a furry little hand reach out and grab some grass from along the habitat. Sometimes the grabby little fellow would strain for a particular strand of grass, not unlike me when I’ve dropped my phone off the side of the bed.
Upon reading the signs, I realised there were more lemurs to see in other parts of the park. Most of these lemurs were kept within their habitats by moats. When asked, the park staff stated that lemurs were not particularly fond of water, so the moats were more than enough to keep the lemurs within their boundaries. It was nice to have an unobstructed view of the animals and not have to stare at them through a plexiglass wall or wire fence.
In Wao Land, you can actually enter the enclosure and walk around with the lemurs. There is a staff person there to answer questions and to make sure nobody touches or harasses the lemurs. Otherwise, these little lemurs run around and brush by you without a care in the world. On that particular day, we were lucky to see two baby lemurs out with their mothers. One even took his first jump on the rope course, though he promptly fell off and seemed to be a little shaken by the experience.
Most of the monkeys did not have the same sort of freedom the lemurs enjoyed, though the inside enclosures and habitats didn’t seem to be over-crowded at all. The Japanese Yaku-macaques, Anubis baboons, and Geoffroy’s spider monkeys had a bit more freedom than others. The spider monkeys had an overhead “skyway” where they could cross a good portion of the park. There were plenty of warning signs for falling excrement. The baboons had a sort of castle built in the centre of a bowl shaped pen, with plenty of security space between the baboons and visitors.
The Japanese Yaku-macaques had an entire valley to themselves, mostly composed of repurposed garbage cans and picnic tables built into a tower. This Monkey Valley was right across from Squirrel Monkey Island, an island where you could walk among Bolivian squirrel monkeys freely. They also had a certain amount of freedom on the island, but since the island was small, they mostly stayed in the trees to avoid people.
For only 600 yen for adults, the price of admission to the centre is unbeatable. The amusement park admission is over twice that amount for the most basic price, so if you need to choose, the best option is going to the centre. The centre admission includes admission to all but the domestic animal petting zoo, which seemed slightly out of place. For an additional 200 yen, you could pet a beagle named Hotate, a goat, a turtle, and a few other random domestic animals. Having a beagle of our own, we felt that we could skip that particular attraction.
So if you are ever in Central Japan, definitely check out the world’s most diverse monkey park. Just remember to watch for falling monkey excrement and breathe through your mouth while walking around the indoor open pens of the South American House.
For more information: http://www.japanmonkeycentre.org