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At Kayabukiya Tavern in Japan's Tochigi prefecture, primates hand perform tricks and serve bottled beer to customers, but never food, the owners say.
At Kayabukiya Tavern in Japan's Tochigi prefecture, primates hand perform tricks and serve bottled beer to customers, but never food, the owners say. (Allen Onstott/Stars and Stripes)
At Kayabukiya Tavern in Japan's Tochigi prefecture, primates hand perform tricks and serve bottled beer to customers, but never food, the owners say.
At Kayabukiya Tavern in Japan's Tochigi prefecture, primates hand perform tricks and serve bottled beer to customers, but never food, the owners say. (Allen Onstott/Stars and Stripes)
Kaoru Otsuka started Kayabukiya Tavern 28 years ago, and its fame has spread throughout the world, because of his five monkeys that have served famous actors and politicians and appeared on television shows.
Kaoru Otsuka started Kayabukiya Tavern 28 years ago, and its fame has spread throughout the world, because of his five monkeys that have served famous actors and politicians and appeared on television shows. (Allen Onstott/Stars and Stripes)
Foreigners once made up four out of five customers at Kayabukiya Tavern in Japan's Tochigi prefecture, but publicity about a visit by former Japanese defense minister Shigeru Ishiba last year has encouraged more local visitors to the eatery famous for its trained monkeys.
Foreigners once made up four out of five customers at Kayabukiya Tavern in Japan's Tochigi prefecture, but publicity about a visit by former Japanese defense minister Shigeru Ishiba last year has encouraged more local visitors to the eatery famous for its trained monkeys. (Allen Onstott/Stars and Stripes)

Serving a beer isn’t exactly rocket science. It’s simple enough for a monkey to do, and that’s exactly what happens at Kayabukiya Tavern in Japan’s Tochigi prefecture.

Human staff members serve food to customers, but the beer is brought by one of five monkeys working at the restaurant.

Kaoru Otsuka started the business 28 years ago, and its fame has spread throughout the world.

The monkeys — named Fuku, Yume, Matsu, Hana and Momotaro — have served famous actors and politicians and appeared on foreign television shows. Photos on the walls show the many events they’ve participated in over the years.

Customers can watch the monkeys perform tricks on a makeshift stage with the help of masks, drums, hoops and other stage props.

On a typical night, Otsuka proudly puts his monkeys through their paces, showing off their latest tricks. They wear costumes as they perform and put on traditional outfits during New Year’s celebrations.

Otsuka said there are many places to watch monkeys, but his restaurant — which serves a simple menu of barbecued chicken, fried dumplings and rice dishes that customers wash down with a no-frills selection of beer and sake — is among the only ones where people can hold or interact with them.

Otsuka got the idea after taking his pet monkey to the restaurant more than 20 years ago and getting it to hand a wet oshibori towel to a customer, said his wife, Mie. The customer was delighted, she said. Since then, the monkeys have been handing out oshibori, bringing beer to customers and performing for them.

Foreigners once made up four out of five customers, but publicity about a visit by former Japanese Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba last year has encouraged more local visitors. These days, about half of the customers are Japanese, she said.

“People from Tokyo, wearing business suits, have been coming, saying that there is an interesting restaurant,” she said.

The monkeys work for one or two hours each day, Mie said.

The human staff are careful about what they give to the monkeys to deliver. There might be customers who don’t want monkeys passing food to them, so they deliver only hand towels and bottled beer, she said.

“The monkeys are trained. They won’t take food from customers,” Mie said. “Even when eating their own food, they won’t eat until the owner says they can. They’re very smart.”

The monkeys don’t get treats when they help out in the restaurant. They just follow their owners’ directions but they get lots of love, she said.

“We raised them since they were babies. They probably think they are humans,” she said.

onstott.allen@stripes.com

KAYABUKIYA TAVERN

Location: 321-0983 Tochigi-ken, Utsunomiya-shi, Miyukihoncho, 4688. About two hours north of Tokyo by car.Hours: The monkeys work only between 7-9 p.m., though restaurant hours are longer. Reservations are highly recommended. Closed Tuesdays. Prices: Meals cost between 800 yen (about $7.60) and 1,250 yen (about $12). Photos cost 500 yen (about $4.80).Dress: CasualInformation: 028-662-3751; kayabukimonkey.blog5.fc2.com (in Japanese)

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