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This tripartite study of the monkey metaphor, the monkey performance, and the 'special status' people traces changes in Japanese culture from the eighth century to the present. During early periods of Japanese history the monkey's nearness to the human-animal boundary made it a revered mediator or an animal deity closest to humans. Later it became a scapegoat mocked for its vain efforts to behave in a human fashion. Modern Japanese have begun to see a new meaning in the monkey--a clown who turns itself into an object of laughter while challenging the basic assumptions of Japanese culture and society.