Friday, April 27, 2007

Monkey Park


Don’t stare at the monkeys in the eye
Don’t touch the monkeys
Don’t feed them outside

That was the warning that they gave us before entering the Monkey Park in Arashiyama (Western Kyoto City). Monkey Park is also referred to as Monkey Mountain and is perhaps my favorite place in Kyoto. It is a wildlife preserve of sorts. Or maybe it would be better described as a small mountain on the outskirts of Kyoto City were over a 150 Japanese Monkeys live freely and humans are allowed to go see them.

What ever it is it is definitely not a zoo. The monkeys are free to roam around and do what they want. There are no cages, and I doubt that the fences they have up would stop them from leaving if they wanted to. But why would they want to?! It seems like a scene from the Twighlight Zone; at this park the humans are inside a cage and the monkeys get to look at us from the outside! Well, that’s not entirely true either. Humans are free to wander amongst the primates as well but if you want to feed them you have to go inside a caged area where you can buy fruits and vegetables to give them through the fence. This is probably a good idea since those little hairy people get kinda vicious once they see food. And where I realized why you don’t stare them in the eye. I tried that from within the safety of the cage. The rather large male’s eyebrows slowly raised, his eyes got big and he started screaming and rattling the fence. I guess its that whole sign of confrontation in the wild idea.

Upon entering the park you have to climb about 20 min before you start seeing the monkeys but then all of a sudden you realize they are everywhere and could ambush you if they felt like it. But mostly they don’t care too much about people, that is unless you get to close or break one of the 3 rules laid out before.

There are old monkeys, baby monkeys, big monkeys, little monkeys, ugly monkeys and cute monkeys and they are everywhere. One monkey looked just like my friends Sef. Another one was just licking everything in sight. One baby was racing around with his hand over his eyes tripping on everything. One bared his teeth at me and menacingly followed me for a couple minutes after I got too close taking a picture. All sorts of monkeys for all sorts of people, and all of them are funny.

I love Monkey Park and I highly recommend it to anyone who is in Kyoto! Here is the website link:

The Big Buddha & Deer

Last week my friend Kris was visiting me from California so while he was out here I wanted to show him some of the cultural sights. After experiencing the packed and hectic streets of Tokyo he was ready to see some more peaceful and slow-paced places in Kansai.

One of the places that I really wanted to show him was the Big Buddha (Daibutsu) at Todaiji in Nara City. Of course I have been there before but I wanted it to be a sort of surprise so I just told him that we were going to see a big statue of the Buddha. The surprise was going to be the size of the Buddha, and the hoards of deer roaming freely around Nara.

No matter how you try to describe the Daibutsu you can never really prepare anyone for the actual size of the statue. Its really huge and housed in an even larger temple. No matter how many times I have been there it is always a sight to see the humongous statue sitting so peacefully in that building which is roughly 1200 years old.

The day we went was also really sunny and warm and even though the cherry blossoms were long gone everywhere else there was still a few around Todaiji that were almost in full bloom. The other great thing is the hundreds of deer that hang out around the parks waiting for people to feed them deer crackers. If you hold the cracker out for them they will bow their heads until you give it to them. But they aren’t as well behaved as you might think. They chase little kids, sometimes bite, and will come up behind you and tug on your coat until you feed them. All in all they are really cute and its cool to see so many just hanging around.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Cherry Blossom Viewing (Ohanami) Part II

While this past Saturday I had the chance to see some beautiful cherry blossoms in Kyoto it wasn’t a real ohanami party. But on Sunday I meet up with a bunch of friends at the Osaka Castle Park for a full fledged ohanami party. Sunday was also overcast and it threatened to rain a few times, but it was really warm and the sakura were really going in the park which surrounds the Osaka Castle.

We had BBQs going, and a really talented musician friend brought his guitar so there was lots of fun to be had. We stayed until dusk when it finally started raining but the flowers were so beautiful and we were having so much fun that nobody seemed to mind the rain that much.

Cherry Blossom Viewing (Ohanami) Part I

The highly anticipated cherry blossom viewing season is finally upon us! In just the last week the weather has made a dramatic shift from cold and bitter winter to warm and sunny spring. Ushering in spring is my favorite part of living in Japan; cherry blossom viewing which is called ohanami in Japanese. Almost everywhere you look you can see beautiful white and pink sakura (cherry blossoms). Parks, streets, rivers, and temples are usually lined with sakura trees so for the short lived two weeks or so that they are blossoming everything looks even more gorgeous. But as much as I love the beauty of it all the real reason why I love this time of year is for the ohanami parties.

Most often held in parks, a ohanami party involves food, friends, drinks, nice weather, beautiful scenery and lots of fun. Everyone brings out a big blue tarp and lays it out on the grass underneath the cherry blossom trees with BBQ, snacks and drinks. Its totally acceptable to drink beer or anything else in the park and people often bring music and games as well. For the next couple of weeks I will be trying to enjoy the sakura and ohanami parties as much as possible and I will surely end up with hundreds of photos of the flowers and fun which I will post here for all to see!

My first opportunity came this past Saturday when I went with a friend to Maruyama Park in Kyoto City. It was a really warm day even though it was cloudy. The sakura were not in full bloom yet but there were still plenty of blossoms to see. Also just walking around Kawaramachi and Gion in Kyoto there were plenty of beautiful sites and photos to be taken everywhere you look.