Many of us have dreamed of one day having our very own monkey butler, and at one Izakaya (or Japanese restaurant) north of Tokyo, you can finally realise that dream, if only for a night!
Kayabuki is a small Izakaya in Utsunomiya (about 2 hours from Ueno by train or just 45 minutes by bullet train), which has some rather unusual staff members in the form of 5 adorable monkeys!
Getting to Kayabuki from Tokyo may be quite a long trip but both times I’ve been it was certainly worth the effort! Once you’ve arrived at Utsunomiya station the best way to get to the Izakaya is to take a taxi from the east exit. Make sure to have the address handy or a map just in case, as on the two occasions I went one taxi driver knew where Kayabuki was but the other had never heard of it. When you’re ready to head back to the station the couple who run the Izakaya will be happy to call a taxi to pick you up.
Firstly, for those worried about the monkeys being in a restaurant, Animal Welfare have inspected the living conditions and approved them and the monkeys are only allowed out into the restaurant for a limited time each night to make sure they don’t get stressed.
We arrived at Kayabuki just as it was opening at 6 so we had our pick of the tables, so long as you’re happy sitting on the floor at a low table, Japanese style I definitely recommend taking a table near the stage where all the action is! The first time we went there was only 2 tables occupied but the second time it was completely full so it’s a good idea to call ahead and reserve.
Before the monkeys made an appearance there was time for some food, (which, by the way was amazing! Especially the Gyoza – a specialty of Utsunomiya- we ordered a second helping!) As good as the food was though we were there for the monkeys. The first time I visited there were just 3 monkeys but on my second visit last Christmas this had increased to 5!
When they first appeared we were all surprised when they came running in! It was a little strange to begin with as they had masks on which I found pretty weird but thankfully they came off pretty quick! While we were laughing and taking pictures with them, one of the monkeys got to work bringing out hot towels to people! Next we all took turns up on the stage with the monkeys while they climbed over us so we could take pictures – one even started grooming me and taking the gel out of my hair!
The monkeys were incredible, the food was great, and the look on the taxi driver who picked us up’s face whe one monkey ran our to give us a last five before before running back inside was priceless!
If you’re looking for a different night out I can’t recommend the Kayabuki monkey tavern enough!