YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — The hundreds of children packed into the Yokota West Elementary School gym Thursday weren’t monkeying around — but the monkeys sure were.

A performing monkey troupe and its trainers from Nikko visited the school to give an exciting lesson in Japanese culture.

Keiko Majima, the school’s culture teacher, explained the monkey is very important culturally here, especially in the Japanese zodiac, in which years are assigned animal signs.

“Next year is the year of the monkey,” she said.

Majima said visits such as Thursday’s make it easier for her to teach about monkeys.

Eris Pitts, a bilingual second-grade teacher, translated as trainer Seiko Soma ran monkeys through the performance.

While tricks amused the children, they laughed the hardest at the show’s bloopers.

One monkey ran three times toward a hurdle it was to jump, only to dodge right at the last second to sit on its stool.

The students roared as Soma feigned exasperation with the monkey. “He’s nervous,” she said.

Soma said she likes performing in front of American audiences and appreciates their reaction.

Thursday’s audience, she said, was really loud, laughing and cheering, unlike Japanese children who usually are quiet when they watch the show.

Five-year-old kindergartner Sakuma Lahee said he had a lot of fun. His favorite part? When monkeys did “the flips,” he said.

He said he’s seen monkeys at the zoo, but never up close.

After the 30-minute show, Principal Scott Sterry presented each monkey with a certificate — which they proceeded to eat — and a blue Yokota West sweatshirt.

“The whole thing was geared toward developing knowledge of Japanese culture,” Sterry said, crediting Majima for running a great cultural program. “This was just an awesome presentation for the kids.”

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