One of the great pleasures of extended travel is the chance to get off the beaten path; to see those unusual, wacky sights not included in Fodor’s or Frommer’s but which can remain in your mind long after the “biggies” of the local travel scene have faded into oblivion. That is exactly what happened to us on a visit to the Kayabukiya Tavern in Utsunomiya, Japan, 50 miles north of Tokyo.
We were told about this tavern by our son, Ben, who initially saw it on the ABC-TV series, I Survived A Japanese Game Show. It is a sake house where the waiters are, honestly, macaque monkeys. The animals bring hot towels before the meal, as is traditional in Japan, serve beer, sake, and hot tea, collect the bill, and bring change. They also accept tips, but not cash–only edamame (soy beans). The monkeys are actual employees whose hours and working conditions have been vetted and approved by both local authorities and Japanese animal rights organizations. When we saw it on You Tube we knew this was something we had to experience for ourselves.
We stopped at the restaurant on our return from Nikko, a major tourist center near Utsunomiya and had the privilege of enjoying drinks and dinner served by Fuku-chan (F) and Yat-chan (M) as well as meeting their two young off-spring who are being groomed to be the next generation of waiters–when it comes to monkeys, it is easier to breed new employees rather than hire them