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Youngsters can have their photos taken with a monkey after the show at Japan's Kawaguchiko Monkey Performance Theater.

Youngsters can have their photos taken with a monkey after the show at Japan's Kawaguchiko Monkey Performance Theater. (Seth Robson/Stars and Stripes)

Youngsters can have their photos taken with a monkey after the show at Japan's Kawaguchiko Monkey Performance Theater.

Youngsters can have their photos taken with a monkey after the show at Japan's Kawaguchiko Monkey Performance Theater. (Seth Robson/Stars and Stripes)

A monkey named Big and a trainer perform at the Kawaguchiko Monkey Performance Theater near the foot of Mount Fuji in Japan.

A monkey named Big and a trainer perform at the Kawaguchiko Monkey Performance Theater near the foot of Mount Fuji in Japan. (Seth Robson/Stars and Stripes)

Performing monkeys were once a staple of live entertainment in the western world.

It wasn’t long ago that zoo visitors could enjoy watching a “Chimpanzees’ Tea Party” featuring primates dressed up like humans.

In recent years, however, there’s been criticism from animal rights groups who see it as cruel to put animals in unnatural situations for people’s entertainment.

In Japan — where it’s rare to see a dog or a cat that’s not wearing clothes — that doesn’t appear to be an issue.

At the Kawaguchiko Monkey Performance Theater at the foot of Mount Fuji in Yamanashi Prefecture, visitors can see the Suou Monkey Show, which, according to one local tourist guide, is “a traditional stage performance with 1,000 years’ history.”

A show this month featured two monkeys — Big and Banana — who followed trainers’ commands, jumping over various obstacles, walking on stilts and even acting out the tale of an ancient samurai and pretending to commit seppuku (ritual suicide) with a toy sword.

The trainers gave a running commentary during the show that was translated, very roughly, into English on a screen for foreigners.

It was hard to gauge the monkeys’ feelings as they prowled the stage; they didn’t appear to be giving the sort of duress signals that prisoners of war are trained to display when forced to appear in propaganda. However, the trainers — perhaps fearing an escape attempt — held ropes attached to the monkeys’ necks throughout the performance.

Photographs weren’t allowed during most of the show but afterwards there was a chance to get close to the monkeys and even take a picture with them and their trainers.

Those hoping for great theater will likely be disappointed by the monkey’s acting skills, but if you are looking to entertain grandma and a couple of children for an afternoon, this might be the ticket.

Robson.seth@stripes.com Twitter: @SethRobson

Kawaguchiko Monkey Performance Theater, Mount Fuji Directions By train: Go to Kawaguhiko Station, take the Retro bus Kawaguchiko line to Kawaguchiko Sarumawashi Gekijyo Mae. By car: Take the Chuo Expressway to the Kawaguchiko exit, take R139 toward Lake Motosu and turn right at Higashikoiji intersection. Cross the Kawaguchiko Ohashi Bridge and turn left at the Kawaguchiko Kitachu Iriguchi intersection. Go straight 800 meters. The theater is on the right.

Times The monkeys perform daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with a 40-minute show every hour.

Costs Adults, 1,500 yen; teens, 1,000 yen; 3 years old to elementary school age, 750 yen; babies are admitted free.

Food Vendors sell various snacks on the lakefront near the theater. Informationwww.tinyurl.com/khsky2a

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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