(Note: This is a reprint of one of my most popular posts which first appeared on November 21, 2010. A number of readers asked me to reprise it so, as a favor to them, here it is. Enjoy.)
One of the pleasures of extended travel is the chance to get off the beaten path; to see unusual and wacky sights not included in Fodor’s or Frommer’s but which remain in your mind long after the “biggies” of the local travel scene have faded into oblivion. That is exactly what happened to Ruthie and me on our visit to the Kayabukiya Tavern in Utsunomiya, Japan, 50 miles north of Tokyo.
We were told about this unusual tavern by our son, Ben, who 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 to your table, 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 these furry waiters on a You Tube video 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 being groomed as the next generation of waiters–when it comes to monkeys, it appears it is easier to breed new employees rather than hire them.
In addition to bringing drinks and collecting the tab, these hairy denizens also entertain guests in typical monkey style–doing back flips and balancing on balls. However, the most unusual (and weird) part of the evening is when they don their “fright masks.” It is strange enough to be waited on by a monkey; now imagine being served by a monkey dressed as a two-foot tall replica of Jason from the horror movie “Halloween.” Trust me when I say this was a unique experience, and one of the reasons Ruthie and I so enjoy living and working abroad. The Kayabukiya Tavern would certainly not be part of your standard two-week “Highlights of Japan” tour. However, when you are overseas for two or three months, rather than two or three weeks, you have time to discover these little known tourism gems. Yet another reason for taking a working vacation.
If you will be going to Japan in the near future, please stop by Utsunomiya and give our regards to Fuku-chan and Yat-chan. And don’t forget the edemame.
(Read about our life and times in Japan and more than a dozen other exotic working vacation destinations in On The Other Guy’s Dime.)