Dec 21, 2012 - People, Society    No Comments

Monkey Business


Every year in Japan December is an absolute mess.

You try to finish the year strong, clean up all those nagging little items that you have been putting off while at the same time plan for success in the New Year.

Holding you back is what we here in Japan lovingly call the “Bonenkai” season. The characters literally mean “End of the year gathering” which loosely translates to let’s get together and drink one last time before the year ends. The more friends and groups you are in contact with the more parties you have and this year I have been a fairly social creature……..

But there is one of these Bonenkai that I have been looking forward to for a long time. This is the second year I get invited and since it is such a treat I thought I would write a little bit about it.

The Party, which lasts for 6 days, is held at “Taro Jiro Kurabu” which is the office of the famous Japanese monkey trainer Taro Murasaki. Many myths are circulating about this particular event but just so you do not get your hopes up, NO, the monkeys do not hang out and get drunk.

In Japan monkey training and performances have been part of the culture for hundreds of years. Performers travel the country, much like they would in earlier days, performing tricks and comedy for crowds in squares and public halls. TV appearances are common around the New Year as Japan remembers its cultural roots and traditions.

At the Taro Jiro Kurabu there are at any time a minimum of 10 performers either fully trained or in training. From speaking with Taro I heard that it takes around 3-6 months before you are able to perform with your monkey. Harder however is the ritual which teaches the monkey who is the Boss. Once a monkey reaches a certain age they start becoming aggressive and will only respond to the pack leader.

In this case the pack leader and Boss Monkey is Taro who therefore performs a coming of age ceremony with each monkey and ritually bites them in the shoulder. This is not something done out of malice but simply to show who is the BOSS.

At Taro Jiro Kurabu, and especially at this party, there are also other comedians and performers who come to pay their respects. Some of them are famous and some of them are not but they all have something in common which is why I really enjoy going there.

They all know how to entertain and perform before a crowd.

When you look at great speakers like Steve Jobs or Japanese CEO Mikitani they have a way of drawing in a crowd. They are charismatic, funny and easy to understand while at the same time seem to really enjoy being there on stage in front of all those people and cameras. In that sense they truly embody the idea of “It is not what you say but how you say it”

I too enjoy public speaking but understand that I have ways to go until I reach a level comparable to that of the great CEOs of our time. As preparation and training I enjoy spending time with comedians and performers since the skills they have are ones that I am trying to learn.

The parties are great, jokes keep going around the table and at any time you will be put on the spot in front of all these professional performers. If you can tie it together with a good joke, performance or anything that adds to the situation you will be applauded while if you can not then the booing is fierce and intense.

Never have I faced a tougher crowd but I really look forward to and welcome the challenge!


Documentary of Taro Jiro going to Tohoku after last years disaster

Watch Taro Jiro in Tohoku on Youtube

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