Monkeys at Large in the Big City

Paul Warham [Profile]


Osaka police received an unusual emergency call early in the morning of November 11, when a man driving along the city’s Chūō Ōdōri reported seeing a monkey sitting by the side of the road, according to a report in the Yomiuri Shimbun. In normal circumstances, the likely response would have been to send a team to breathalyze the driver and take away his keys.

But this has been a big week for monkey business in Osaka. The monkey—reportedly a female Japanese macaque between 40 cm and 80 cm in height—was first spotted on the morning of November 5 in the city of Amagasaki in neighboring Hyōgo Prefecture. That’s 15 kilometers from Osaka.

From there, the monkey made its way with impressive speed to the big city. For several days Osaka residents filed regular updates on the monkey’s doings around town: visiting a factory in the Asahi-ku district, admiring the view from a rooftop in downtown Yodogawa-ku, and peering down at the crowds from a utility pole outside Fukushima station.

Mother and Baby Japanese Macaque Monkeys at Mount Arashiyama
A mother and baby macaque in a more natural setting near Kyoto. (Photo by Richard Fisher on Flickr.)

Although macaques are a common sight in rural Japan, it’s rare for them to stray this far into the unfamiliar environment of the country’s concrete jungles. Perhaps this one was drawn in by the street-food allure of takoyaki, Osaka’s famous battered-octopus specialty.

At least this latest incursion caused nothing more serious than a few moments of alarm. The people of Hyūga in Miyazaki Prefecture were less fortunate the last time this kind of monkeying around made the news.

The city of around 60,000 in Kyūshū was terrorized by a series of monkey attacks earlier this year, when 18 people were seriously injured over a two-week period from late August into early September. One unfortunate young man was biking home in the early hours when a monkey leapt on him from behind and inflicted several nasty bite wounds.

The authorities eventually had to deploy a team of no fewer than 500 police officers and firefighters to deal with the menace. After several days of fruitless searching, the army of monkey-hunters, equipped with large nets and firecrackers, eventually tracked the simian marauders to their lair in an abandoned house.

The town offered the two captured monkeys to zoos and universities throughout Kyūshū. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there were no takers. The unfortunate beasts were put out their misery and sent to monkey heaven—or wherever it is naughty monkeys go. The eighteen people wounded in the attacks each received ¥20,000 from the city government as “compensation” for their distress.

Of course, enormities of this kind are extremely unusual. For the most part, Japan’s monkeys are a peaceful and law-abiding lot, loyal to the tenets famously illustrated by the country’s beloved simian superstars, the “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” combo at the Tōshōgū shrine in Nikkō. (PW)

Three Monkeys
(Photo by Travel Aficionado on Flickr.)

  • [2013.11.14]

Translator and editor, First came to Japan in the late 1980s and has been a regular visitor ever since. After studying Japanese language and literature in England and the United States, joined Japan Echo Inc. in 2009. Has translated novels by Kitakata Kenzō, Hosaka Kazushi, and Seirai Yūichi. In his spare time, he enjoys running, reading, and exploring Tokyo’s izakaya, though not all at the same time.

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