How did Japanese macaques come to Japan

Macaque shows: Animal rights activists are against Japan's monkey theater

Growing criticism

All over the world, attractions such as the Nikko Saru Gundan are met with growing criticism from people who, for moral reasons, are against exploiting wild animals for entertainment purposes. "The world is outraged by lurid animal performances, which is why circuses are closing and many countries are banning them," said Jason Baker, vice president of the animal welfare organization Peta in Asia. “Unfortunately, history has shown us that we cannot rely on countries to protect animals, especially Japan, where animal welfare laws are ineffective. Nobody monitors living conditions, preparatory training, separation from the mother or what happens to the animals when they are no longer used by the entertainment industry. ”The trainer Oikawa says, however, that people who criticized the animal ethics of the shows, Japan Sarumawashi-Culture would not understand. “We love monkeys - we are on their side,” he says. "We don't use violent training methods."

Everything for the show

Satoshi Harada worked as a trainer at monkey performances before becoming the director and chief animal trainer of a monkey show called Sen-zu No Sarumawashi, which performs at street festivals, schools and parties. When I met him in the company's office in Kawasaki, he said that he wanted to avoid stressful training methods by relying on positive reinforcement and affection. That even includes sleeping with the animals while they are still very young. We went into his troop's exercise room, where Harada introduced me to his colleagues and their co-workers in diapers, including four young babies. He explained that there is a strict training schedule - two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon, with the exception of the days when the monkeys perform. Earlier that morning, during a demonstration in front of 300 preschoolers in a gym, I was amazed at the acrobatics of the animals. The star of the show was Ponzo, dressed in a yellow vest and black jumpsuit. The children squealed with joy as the monkey performed its tricks and strode across the auditorium on stilts. “Ankoru! Ankoru! ”The children shouted. - "Encore! Encore! ”Back at the Sen-zu office, the trainers stripped the monkeys' diapers and locked them in metal cages where they lived when they weren't performing. Then the trainers went to their end-of-day routines: scrubbing foul-smelling feces from the metal drip gutters under the cages and preparing bowls of oranges, apples, and bananas for dinner for the monkeys they presented to them together. It was five o'clock, time to go home. They would be back before breakfast to prepare for the next show.


Translated from the English by Anne Sander. 

Rene Ebersole writes about animals and crimes against wild animals. Jasper Doest won the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Photojournalist Story Award 2019 for this project.

The article was originally published in the March 2020 issue of Germany's National Geographic magazine. Now oneTake out a subscription!