I came to Tokyo for three pilgrimages. The first, a trip to Miyazaki’s Ghibli Museum, left my cheeks wet with tears. The second, lunch at a Miracle Fruit Cafe, had me giggling aloud, the juice from an inedible umeboshi plum running down my chin. And the third? It was to be dinner at an izakaya tavern, waited on by monkeys.
Monkeys. Not guys in monkey suits, or hirsute fellows, but real, honest-to-xxx monkeys. This was probably a PETA nightmare, but monkeys are totally awesome!!!
But instead of being in “North Tokyo,” which I’d heard from the Internet rumors, it was far north of Tokyo. The “short train ride” turned out to be two hours from Shinjuku. And from there, another two hours of walking through ramshackle neighborhoods, fields, along highways. I carried a useless map, and asked directions every ten blocks, miming a monkey carrying a tray of sake to help explain what I was searching for. Ominous clouds hovered overhead, threatening rain, but I kept pushing on.
Finally, after four hours of travel, tucked away down a dark, residential street, I found the Kayabuki Tavern.
And it was weird. Not awesome, not great, not especially fun — just weird. I think I’d imagined a crowd of drunk salarymen, faces blotched red, downing shots of sake and telling loud bawdy jokes. The monkeys would push through the crowd, clutching bottles of sake in their hands. Maybe, just maybe, they’d even understand Japanese — enough to take an order for Asahi vs Sapporo.
It wasn’t like that. Instead, I arrived to an empty bar. The owner, Horu, offered me “chicken oiru,” and proceeded to cook up a pan of chicken and oil. He disappeared out back, and after fifteen minutes of crashes and bangs, pulled out Fukuchan, a tiny monkey dressed in a matching checkered Izakaya suit, a chain hanging around its neck. I suddenly realized there would be no monkeys carrying bottles of sake — this was a barkeep who owned a pet monkey.
Fukuchan was there just to entertain. He danced on command and did flips on command and bounced balls on command, looking anxious and scared the whole time.
Sometimes he just looked depressed, or would hide behind me while Hiru shouted for him.
It was sad. I wanted to leave, but also wanted to see where the night would lead. After four hours of travel, I thought, there must be some peak. There wasn’t. I remained the only customer, all night, drinking beers while Fukuchan climbed on me and picked at my scalp. After a few hours, I had Hiru call a cab, and then paid double to take the bullet train home.