You wouldn’t think the workaday city of Oita on the shores of Beppu Bay – a stone’s throw from neighboring Beppu City – would be the ideal home for Japanese macaques. But with numerous mountains just a mile (or less) inland, the red-faced simians so often considered one of the symbol’s of Japan have been settled in the area quite happily for years.
A few decades ago, however, the local macaques began laying waste to farmer’s fields and foraging for food in neighborhood trash cans. A city official decided to alleviate the problem by luring the monkeys to the mountain with a whistle and food. His plan worked and Mt Takasaki (or Takasakiyama) has been home to around 1200-1500 Japanese macaques ever since.
Just like its more famous counterpart in Kyoto, the Mt Takasaki monkey park doesn’t function like a zoo. There are no fences or boundaries, no off-limits areas for the macaques. Human visitors are cautioned to keep their distance, avoid aggressive behavior and refrain from touching or feeding the monkeys. In exchange, they are given the opportunity to observe these animals up close. Three distinct troupes of monkeys populate the mountain and descend from the peak to eat, groom and play on the equipment the park staff has constructed.
The main bulk of the action takes place a short walk up the hill from the main park entrance. Staff will offer you the chance to ride a mini-monorail to the top for an extra fee, but if you’re in good shape and don’t mind a five-minute climb, I suggest you pass. At the top, most visitors cluster around the simian play area where a variety of swings, slides, ladders and obstacles keep the park’s residents entertained for hours. Japanese staff usually keep up a running commentary (Japanese only though) on specific monkeys and their particular habits. There’s no obligation to hang around and listen, so feel free to wander the grounds and observe the monkeys on your own. While the above-mentioned rules are in place for the safety of all parties involved, hardly any of the monkeys display any fear of humans and you’ll often be able to get quite close to them. Even the babies show complete comfort with all of the crowds, though I’d still get out of the way if an irate Mama comes running over. (And do remember this is not a petting zoo – neither monkeys nor staff will be amused by your efforts.)
Feeding occurs several times a day around the central play area. If you miss the announcement, just watch the monkeys. It’s a mad rush for dinner when the feed is scattered.
Takasakiyama monkey park is open daily from 8:30am to 5:00pm, though the ticket booth shuts down at 4:30pm. If you come in the morning, consider a visit to the neighboring aquarium, just across the highway at the bottom of the mountain.