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Fugitive Monkey Becomes National Star

October 25, 1999

This mobile monkey's journey took over a week and covered 40 kilometers.

My name is Azami. I'm a female Japanese macaque--many of you may know us as snow monkeys--and humans estimate my age at six to seven years. Now I live in a monkey park on Mount Takao, in the western part of Tokyo Prefecture. But until a short while ago, I was on a bit of an adventure that made me the most famous monkey in Japan.

Out into the City
Where I came from is a secret. Human researchers say difficult things like, "The presence of mountain farming villages used to keep wild animals away from densely populated areas. But with the depopulation of rural communities, the 'human barrier' to the encroachment of wild animals has been lost." But I wasn't really thinking about barriers and whatnot when I wandered from the mountains.

After I left my pack and started traveling on my own, I was first spotted in Hachioji--a city close to where I now live--on June 8, 1999. From there I headed east, toward downtown Tokyo. It took me only eight days to cover the 40 kilometers (25 miles) or so from Hachioji to Azabu, in Minato Ward. Now this Azabu is a posh residential neighborhood, and there are a lot of foreign embassies. Better yet, it still has a lot of trees and greenery even though it's in the middle of a metropolis. I found Azabu really comfortable, so I decided to stay.

Becoming Azabu's Star
The humans, though, made such a fuss over me. Some said, "We should get the monkey back into its pack," or "It might bite people," and set out to catch me. Police officers and prefectural workers came after me with nets and tranquilizing guns. Soon even a person claiming to be a monkey-catching expert joined in, and together they had a field day chasing me around, day after day. But hey, all I had to do was climb up trees and walk across electric wires to be free of them.

As I said earlier, Azabu has a lot of embassies. Humans have this thing called "extraterritoriality," and once I was in the embassy grounds the Japanese couldn't lay a hand on me. No one at the embassies even asked me for an ID--I call this diplomatic immunity.

Television and newspaper crews also chased me around everyday to report on what I was up to, and I became something of a star.

I liked my new home more and more. The humans living around the neighborhood seemed to like me, too, and they would feed me by hand. They gave me things that we monkeys hardly come across in the wild, like peaches and grapes. I became the hottest topic of conversation among them: "The monkey was sitting right there today," they would say to one another. I also made friends with Chibi, a kitten living with an old man in the area. We became such good pals that I used to go and groom Chibi every day.

Out of Luck with the Rain
On August 14, exactly 60 days after I began city life, the day of reckoning came. It started raining hard, so I sneaked into an office of a members-only sports and swimming club. As luck would have it, a worker discovered me and locked me inside the room. Soon after that some people came from the zoo, and that was the end of it. The police officers said they were relieved to be freed at last of the monkey chase, but Chibi's old man and the local people who had fed me seemed sad. I was then taken to a zoo, and humans put me through DNA testing to find the pack I came from.

So meanwhile, I'm living at the monkey park on Mount Takao. And I'm still a star. The park used to receive about 500 visitors each day; after my arrival some 800 people have been showing up. But I have to say that living alone in a cage is rather lonely. The monkeys here are fed potatoes, soy beans, wheat, and all that. But after life in the city, I can't eat that kind of stuff. Sweet potatoes are okay, I suppose, though I won't eat the skin.

My caretaker seems worried and tells reporters, "I hope we can put her back in the pack where she belongs." But as much as I appreciate the effort, I have my own doubts about going back into monkey society. I made the big time, so who's to tell me where I belong?

Trends in JapanEdited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.