Japanese Macaques in Kamba Falls
Today, I will talk about Kamba Falls and its resident monkey population in Maniwa city, Okayama. I had the good fortune of being able to visit here a two weeks ago. There are a few places in Japan famous for Japanese Macaques but I chose Kamba falls because it is less intrusive and more sustainable than other spots. It is also not well known to foreign tourists yet so it is not overcrowded like Arashiyama (famous for its bamboo forest and troop of monkeys)or Joshinetsu-Kogen National Park(this a park where monkeys bath in hot springs). There are about 160 monkeys in Kamba falls that can be often seen hanging around the walkway to the waterfall. They come down from the mountains in search of food. The monkeys are not stressed or aggressive as the park is not usually overcrowded and visitors are forbidden to feed them. Before I talk about Kamba falls, I think it is important to give a Japanese Macaques 101 lesson so you can learn about the species it`s significance to Japanese society.
Japan is home to the Japanese Macaque or Nihon zaru(Japanese monkey) in Japanese. This is a only species of monkey that can found in Japan.Japanese Macaques are abundant in most areas of Japan and are the only species of primates other than humans that can live in cold climates. Just like Canadians, they thrive in freezing temperatures but Japanese Macaques have not invented hockey yet but it`s only a matter of time. Their ability to live in areas that receive heavy snowfall is why they are often referred to as Snow Monkeys. One of my favorite things about them is that they have been shown to have “culture”. One troop on Koshima island in Miyazaki washes sweet potatoes in the ocean while the monkeys in Joshinetsu-Kogen National Park bath in hot springs. Now we just have to wait for them to start rival sports franchises and argue about who makes the best pizza. I have seen monkeys several times in Japan, both in the wild such as when I am hiking and in tourist areas where they known to congregate. . As they are aggressive, it’s best to view them from a distance. When I visited Arashiyama in Kyoto, which is famous for its beautiful bamboo forest, I was able to view and feed monkeys at the top of a mountain. Tourists were able to view and feed the monkeys from a fenced-in enclosure. I enjoyed it that time but looking back, I don’t think it is wise for humans to feed wild animals. First, they will rely on humans for food and second, they can become aggressive when they are not fed. I recommend viewing animals from a distance and making as little as possible impact on wildlife and their habitat. There are areas like Kamba Falls that I think do a great job of limiting stressful interaction while also providing an avenue for visitors to see Japanese Macaque in their natural habitat.
Japanese Macaques are an important part of Japanese culture, in fact, they are ubiquitous with the word monkey(saru) in Japan. Like rabbits in western culture, Japanese Macaques are known for being promiscuous. A person who is obsessed with sex might be referred to as a Nihon zaru. Japanese Macaques are also present in Japanese folktales such as Momotaro and the Crab and the Monkey. As animals are sacred in Japanese religion, representations of monkeys can often be seen at Japanese shrines and temples. The most notable example is at the famous Tōshō-gū shrine in Nikkō, Tochigi where there is is a colorful carving called the Three Wise Monkeys that represents the proverb”see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil . Monkeys have left their mark on the language, they are a common subject of idioms. There is the idiom; Ken’en no naka meaning literally “dog and monkey relationship” but its English equivalent would be ” Like cats and dogs” in English, both referring to people that can not get along. There is also Saru mo ki kara ochiru ” Even monkeys fall from trees” which means even the most skilled occasionally makes mistakes. Japanese Macaques are an enduring part of Japanese culture from folktales to language. Japanese Macaques can not be found in the wild anywhere else so I really recommend seeing them as I believe wildlife and nature are big part of what makes a place unique. As inhabitants of Japan`s forests and mountains, they have profoundly impacted Japanese society from ancient times to the modern era.
One last thing, I have a funny anecdote about Japanese Macaques. My fiancé’s family lives near a mountain and during the wintertime, the local troop was low on food so they broke into their house and stole all their fruit. All while her father was taking a nap, surprisingly the sound of a group of monkeys ransacking their home did not disturb his slumber. Personally, if a troop of Monkeys broke into my house while I was there, I would be beyond thrilled, it would be the best day of my life. But I would be disappointed that If I did not have good fruit to offer them. I always have bananas on my microwave, just in case, I have any simian guests.
The monkeys of Kamba falls
In the north of Okayama prefecture in Maniwa city , there is a stunning waterfall called Kamba Falls. It is 110 meters high and 20 meters wide. It is ranked as one of Japan`s most beautiful waterfalls. It is especially picturesque during fall when the leaves change color. Kamba Falls is part of a park that is well maintained and easy to walk for even the most non-athletic people. I was able to do it and I once got an email from my local Chinese restaurant asking if I was okay because a week passed since I last ate there. The waterfall is about a ten minute walk from the entrance. There is a 300 yen entrance fee for adults and 150 yen for elementary and Junior Highschool students. The ones who don`t have to pay this fee are 160 monkeys that make their way down from the mountains when food is scarce(I imagine they have a season pass of some sort). The troop are fed and studied by Osaka University which has a facility outside of the park. The monkeys can be seen lounging about, grooming, playing, and writing the complete works of Shakespeare. Visitors are forbidden to feed , touch or get close to the Macaques. Since they are not being fed, the monkeys are not aggressive and are generally indifferent to people. This is a stark contrast, to the monkeys in Arashiyama that can be fed fruit by people and exhibit severe food aggression as a result. It is not uncommon for monkeys to fight each other for food or to go after tourists in search of food. I fed them when I went in 2016 and I regret it because I now know the negative impact that it can have. When it comes to wild animals, we should have a minimal impact as possible to avoid altering their natural behaviors, causing stress, or causing them to be dependent on tourists with food. The problem with the last part is that when tourists don’t come (like during the pandemic) the animals can starve to death as they relied on them as a source of food. The macaques are not always at Kamba Falls, when food is plentiful they stay in the mountains. The best time to see them is from December to March. You can check the live webcam the morning of your trip to see if they are there that day. I will attach a link to the live webcam below. If they are not there by 9 am, they likely will not come that day. Unfortunately, when I went they were not there. But Kamba Falls is really beautiful and worth visiting even if it`s furry inhabitants decide not to make an appearance when you come. Maniwa city has two other animal centric attractions, that you can combine with Kamba falls for a weekend or longer trip. There are the Japanese Giant Salamanders in hotspring area of Yubara which I have already written a post about. And then there are Jersey Cows that roam the heavenly Hiruzen Highlands, the scenery reminds of the Sound of Music.I recently went to Hiruzen Highlands and I will write a post about it in the near future.
Kamba falls Information
Admission: 300 yen
There are no pets allowed and no eating or drinking in the park. Do not feed the monkeys. Also do not get too close, as they could see you as threat and attack you. Avoid eye contact as they take it as a sign of aggression. There are wheelchairs that can be freely borrowed from the souvenir shop near the parking lot. The path is paved to the waterfall but it can be a bit steep at times so you will need another to person to assist you uphill
How to get there: It is an 1 1/2 hours by car from Okayama city. It is also easily accessible from Tottori prefecture by car.
Here is a web cam to see whether or not the monkeys are there.
Here is the Kamba fall’s website.It is in Japanese so please use google translate if you can not read Japanese.
If you have any questions about Kamba Falls, feel free to reach out and ask me! I will help the best I can.