On any list of Japan’s natural wonders, wild monkeys are right up there. And in Kyushu you can find one of the largest groups of monkeys in the world.
Takasakiyama Monkey Park, between Beppu and Oita, is home to around 1,500 wild Japanese macaques on the mountain’s slopes. The story goes that monkeys were devastating local farmers’ fields, so the animals were lured to the mountains in the 1950s by the promise of regular feeding.
Nowadays you can wander freely among the monkeys as they lounge around, play and groom each other. There are regular feeding times so you’re bound to catch one, but you don’t need to wait because there are monkeys absolutely everywhere. You’re definitely on their turf, so obey the signs and don’t feed them, stare at them or touch them—even if they come up to you and start tugging on your bag (true story)!
It’s astonishing to be allowed so close to these wonderful creatures without any kind of fencing or netting. And as Takasakiyama is less famous and more off the beaten track than Arashiyama in Kyoto or Jigokudani near Nagano, it’s not crowded and you can hang out with the monkeys in relative peace.
Entry fee is ¥510, and if you fancy catching the monorail up the hill to the main feeding area it’s ¥100 (another benefit over those other monkey parks: Takasakiyama doesn’t involve a long hike!). Watch out for the park’s last entry, which is at 4:30pm.
Getting to Takasakiyama Monkey Park
To get there from Beppu you’ll need to catch a bus. The tourist desk in Beppu Station has some very helpful maps and information, which is good as the timetable is irregular, infrequent and the bus stop changes depending on the time of day! Usually you catch the AS60 or AS61 bus from the east side of the station to Takasakiyama Shizen Dobutsen Mae stop. The journey costs around ¥400 and takes 10 minutes.
However, after 2:39pm on weekdays and 4:15pm on weekends, you have to go to Beppu Kitahama stop, which is about a 10-minute walk from the station. There are more frequent buses from Beppu Kitahama all day, but it’s easier to start from the train station.
It’s a little more straightforward to get to Takasakiyama from Oita. Catch a bus outside Oita Station heading towards Sekinoe, Kannawa or Kunisaki and get off at the Takasakiyama Shizen Dobutsen Mae stop. The trip costs ¥410 and takes 15-20 minutes. There are buses roughly every 20 minutes.
One useful website is Bus Navi Oita. Enter your start and finish points and it will give you bus timetables and, occasionally, fares.
If you want more animals, Umitamago Aquarium is directly opposite Takasakiyama. It’s perhaps not on the cheapo radar as the entry fee is ¥2,200, but you can get a combined ticket for both that costs ¥2,450. The distinctive aquarium building is also a useful visual clue for the bus stop, as announcements aren’t always very clear.