Monkey chasers beat the unemployment blues

Japanese local officials are coming up with some novel ideas to combat the unemployment plaguing the world's second largest economy.

Monkey chasers, for example.

With Japan's jobless rate hovering at a near-record 5,4 percent, the central government is funnelling 140-billion yen (about R12-billion) in subsidies to municipal governments in an effort to create 140 000 jobs from October 2002 to March 2003.

The city of Shibata, 260km northwest of Tokyo, used its chunk of funds to launch a 10-million yen project to hire unemployed people to drive monkeys away from local rice paddies.

Four residents were hired to patrol the farm areas and chase away the roving troops of simians.

"About 20 groups of monkeys, of about 30 each, make frequent appearances. They have broken roof tiles or sneaked into houses and taken away things like Buddhist altars, and have entered barns to snatch farm produce," a city official said.

Damage caused by monkeys each year ran into tens of thousands of yen. "The areas threatened by monkey attacks gradually expanded and the damage caused by them has increased," he said.

Ishikawa Prefecture, 250km west of Tokyo, plans to use its 20-million yen subsidy to keep streets free of garbage as well as pick up drift wood.

"We have to be aware of the natural environment. I believe we can kill two birds with one stone, so to speak, with this project," said an official.

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