|

Seto man and his snow monkey entertain audiences for 23 years and counting

Chunichi Shimbun

Jubei, a Japanese macaque, works hard to entertain the public together with his trainer, Yasutaka Kawabe, 44, from Kamamachi in Seto, Aichi Prefecture. The duo attracts audiences with well-coordinated moves.

Jubei is 26 years old, equivalent to about 80 in human years, making him the oldest performing monkey in the Tokai region, according to Kawabe.

Kawabe has always loved animals and entered a vocational school to become an animal caretaker.

He graduated at the age of 21 and saw a job advertisement for a monkey trainer at a zoo in Ibaraki Prefecture. He applied immediately because he had always been interested in opportunities to work closely with animals in an open habitat.

It was there that he met Jubei, who was only 3 years old at the time. Kawabe treated Jubei like his own child, teaching him different tricks and holding him by the hand until he was able to walk on stilts by himself.

Six years later in 2001, Kawabe left the zoo to become a professional monkey trainer in his hometown of Aichi. At the time, Jubei rose to become the leader of the other monkeys in the zoo and would only listen to Kawabe.

After being informed by the zoo director that “Jubei can only be put on display,” Kawabe asked if he could take the monkey instead, persuading the zoo to sell Jubei to him.

Kawabe then added another younger monkey to his troupe and formed the Chubu Performing Monkey Club.

However, just as the trio had been gaining popularity, the younger monkey suddenly became sick and died.

Kawabe did not have the time or energy to train a new monkey.

“It was a shock, but I resolved to continue on with Jubei,” he said.

During his performances, Jubei wears a happi jacket for children, and earns big applause from the audience for his routine, which includes walking on a ball, jumping through hoops and walking on stilts.

Jubei and Kawabe have worked together for 23 years and their strong partnership clearly shows in their seamless routines.

“I can tell instinctively whether Jubei will be able to pull off a particular act. When it looks like he will miss, I use the opportunity to joke and draw laughter from the audience,” he explained.

“During practice, I’m his trainer; but when we’re performing, we are a comedy duo.”

Japanese macaques, commonly known as snow monkeys, can live to the age of 25 to 30, and usually stop performing at 17.

Jubei’s physical strength is deteriorating, so Kawabe now won’t risk injury by having the monkey jump from high places.

Kawabe has no intention of training a new monkey and will quit the business once Jubei passes away.

“We will be each other’s first and last partner. I don’t know how much longer the two of us can work together, but let’s show them what we’ve got, Ju!” Kawabe said.

He raised his hand up in the air and Jubei jumped up to give him a high five.

This section, appearing Tuesdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Aug. 23.