Hokkaido Highway Blues

Hokkaido Highway Blues by Will Ferguson Read Free Book Online

Book: Hokkaido Highway Blues by Will Ferguson Read Free Book Online
Authors: Will Ferguson
one moves, the others move in synchronized motion. This,” he said with a satisfied smile, “resembles the behavior of people in Japanese society.”
    I thought the Professor had used up his store of monkey anecdotes, but I was wrong.
    “Now then,” he said, “up in Shimokita, in northern Japan, it is very cold and the monkeys sit in hot-spring baths, just like Japanese.”
    I had heard this before, about how Japanese monkeys prefer Japanesestyle baths. And a birdwatcher once told me that Japanese snow cranes bow to each other during their mating dance because, well, they are Japanese birds. Apparently, were they American birds they would shake hands instead.
    “In Shimokita,” the Professor said, “the monkeys form smaller groups. I once watched a monkey, named Momo, die from loneliness and stress. She was separated from her mother and thus could not fit in anywhere. The group rejected her and she died, not because she was hungry but because she was an outcast. It was very sad, even for an objective scientist such as myself.”
    “Just like the Japanese,” I said.
    “The monkeys in Shimokita,” I said. “It’s just like Japanese society.”
    “How do you mean?”
    “Keeping strangers outside. The closed circle. Outcasts. The group picking on someone. Individually nice, but often cruel in a group. You know. Like Japanese society.”
    “That is not like Japanese society at all,” he said, his voice brusque.
    “But you were just saying it was like—”
    “In this case it is completely different.”
    “No it isn’t.”
    He clenched his jaw. “Completely different. Do you have monkeys in your country?“
    “But what does that—”
    “Do you?”
    “No, I can’t say we do.”
    “I have studied monkeys for more than twenty years, I am a professor at Tokyo University.”
    “Yes, but—”
    “I have been on several government committees. Twelve years ago, Prime Minister Ohira invited me to take part in a Social Economic Committee. My advice on how monkeys organize their society was taken very seriously. I have been on Tokyo urban planning committees as well—as an expert.”
    That explained a lot. Tokyo certainly appeared to be a city designed by monkey-experts.
    “But surely,” I persisted, “monkeys and humans are completely different species. I mean, if your point is just that the Japanese people are supposedly some kind of separate race from the rest of us—”
    The back of his head was flushed red and he was almost choking on his attempt to respond. I have this innate ability to step on people’s toes, especially academic types, and being tossed out of the car and left by the side of a narrow, backwoods road was now a distinct possibility
    Then, just when things were at their tensest, the Professor’s wife leaned over and said, with a painfully polite smile, “Can you eat Japanese food?” And for the first time ever, I was glad to hear the question and be back on familiar ground again,
    We talked about Japanese food for the rest of the way, agreeing wholeheartedly that foreigners can’t possibly eat pickled plums or fermented beans or raw fish or horseradish.

    THERE ARE TWO islands. Kojima is the larger of the two. Torishima is half hidden behind it. Both are home to wild bands of macaque monkeys. At one time the entire Kyushu mainland teemed with them, but human encroachment has left only a few scattered groupings, mostly on remote islands such as these. The monkeys here are some of the least affected by man, and as such are the object of intense study by academics.
    A few years ago, the monkeys on Kojima made international news (as far as monkeys go) when it was discovered that the females were teaching the younger monkeys how to rinse the sand off their food before they ate it. The monkeys of Torishima, meanwhile, did not rinse their food, so clearly this was not a case of instinct, but of taught behavior, something that was once thought to be the exclusive

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