Early learning about edible food in the environment is a critical survival task for young nonhuman primates. Social learning and social facilitation are often cited to explain how youngsters learn to select and find their food. In this framework, we observed eight mother–youngster pairs of free-ranging Japanese macaques divided into two sets according to the age of the young (infants aged between 7 and 12 months and juveniles aged between 1.5 and 2 years) during three winter months. We systematically investigated the intensive observation directed by the youngsters toward elders by recording the target's identity (e.g. mother, subadult), the items manipulated by the elder and those items closely observed by the youngster, along with the behavior of the youngster preceding and immediately following an intensive observation period. The diet of the mothers and juveniles was estimated from time records of each feeding occurrence for each food item (identified to species level) and from the quantity of fresh matter ingested. The results show that intensive observation by both infants and juveniles were directed toward those elders engaged in plant and invertebrate foraging. Such behavior was age-dependent, being more frequent in infants than in juveniles. The majority of the intensive observations were directed toward the mother. Intensive observations also shaped a change in the behavior of infants by significantly stimulating the investigation of food items and locations otherwise not investigated by juveniles. Moreover, infants showed a particular interest in rare food items and especially invertebrates. Age differences between the two sets of young and their interest in rare foods are discussed with reference to the occurrence of intensive observation within the framework of kin relationships, social organization, and social transmission of information about food type and food location and its survival values. Am. J. Primatol. 70:1103-1113, 2008. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.