As everyone knows, monkeys are pests, and can sometimes be dangerous, so when a friendship developed between old Genjiro Yamada and a large monkey he named Yukitaro, his neighbors objected. Yet nothing bad happened.
In July of Genjiro’s eightieth year, Harue, the light of his life, came down with a cold that refused to go away. By the first of August the cold had turned into pneumonia, and Genjiro called his son and daughter and told them to come right away. They arrived the next day. As the family was gathered around Harue’s bed, their grandson Junichiro caught something out of the corner of his eye: it was Yukitaro looking in at the window, watching.
“Look!” Junichiro said to his father; “It’s Yukitaro.”
“Go and let him in, Jun-chan,” bringing a look of consternation from his wife, who had never grown used to the big monkey and didn’t like it when he showed up during their visits.
When Junichiro went to the door and opened it, Yukitaro was waiting. Walking into the room, the old monkey stood next to his friend and looked down at Harue’s still form for a long moment.
Then, looking at his friend’s grief-stricken face, he did something that no one believed a monkey would do: he put one long hairy comforting arm around Genjiro’s shoulder and the two of them mourned Harue’s passing in grief-stricken silence.
Several days later, when the villagers were all gathered in the village’s tiny cemetery for the interment of Harue’s ashes, Junichiro noticed movement coming from the nearby forest. Looking, he saw Yukitaro walking toward them at the head of a large crowd of snow monkeys. Nudging his father, he nodded his head toward the approaching monkeys.
“Father, it’s Yukitaro. He has brought all the monkeys with him.”
One by one, led by the old monkey, the monkeys gathered around the villagers. Yukitaro went up to Harue’s tombstone and laid a flower in front of it, then turned and looked up into his old friend’s eyes with an expression of such sorrow and compassion that it brought tears to the eyes of everyone there. Then, just as they had come, the monkeys followed Yukitaro back to the forest, and disappeared.
~ ~ ~
One month later, Genjiro died of a heart attack, and the scene repeated itself. As the villagers listened to the Buddhist priest intone his prayers, Yukitaro and the other monkeys came out of the forest walking toward the village cemetery. The only difference this time was that each of the monkeys, from Yukitaro to the infants, carried a single white flower. And one by one they approached Genjiro’s tombstone and laid their flower in front of it. Yukitaro was the last to lay his flower in front of his friend’s stone, and as he put it down, he reached up and touched the stone, running his fingers over the carved characters of his old friend’s name. Then he turned to Harue’s name and ran his fingers over it. When he was finished, Yukitaro turned and stood in front of his old friend’s son and daughter and their families and looked long into their eyes. And then, turning, he and the other monkeys disappeared back into the forest.
It was early the next spring that Genjiro’s grandson Junichiro went into the forest and discovered that the monkeys had disappeared. Walking deep into the forest, he came into a clearing where he came across the bones of a very large monkey.
“Yukitaro,” he murmured. Gathering up the bones, he wrapped them in a furoshiki and took them back to his grandparents’ home. Later that day, he and his father buried them next to his grandparents’ grave. And on the first anniversary of his grandparents’ death, Junichiro and his father placed a small black headstone next to their headstone with this simple inscription:
And that is the story of how a monkey became the good friend of an old man and his wife. It has taught me much about the possibilities of friendship and kindness and the bonds that exist between man and man and man and animal when we are open to them. It is an expression of who my grandfather was, a man of peace who showed compassion to every living being, and my grandmother, who was his lifelong companion, friend and light of his life.