Ever wonder about those crazy monkeys and the bananas that seem to pop up unexpectedly throughout the anime-version of Ouran High School Host Club? It's no accident. In fact, the use of monkey symbolism is quite deliberate. As you read about the meaning of monkey energy and its symbolism in Japan, keep in mind our beloved Hosts. Yes, really.
Monkeys are amazing animals who bring intelligence, intensity, and involvement to those with whom they interact. Monkeys appear throughout the anime-version of Ouran High School Host Club in various costumes and with various props (or not) and with various expressions. In its most basic imagery, the monkey is a symbol of fun, activity, charm, loyalty and wit; and as a character, symbolic monkey meaning often deals with animated entertainment with monkeys depicted as mischievous figures in myth, legend and lore.
In reality, this reflects actual monkey behavior in their natural habitat, but their goofing off isn't random. Monkeys are particular about who they play with and how they play, which is with genuine good humor and frequent pranks. In their social groups, monkeys display compassion, understanding, and bonding. Grooming is a major activity for monkeys and they will spend ample time cleaning each others' fur and skin. It's a way to get close to family members; it's also a form of protection - an expression of caring.
The monkey can be quite loud and certainly isn't shy! Monkey energy asks us to contemplate not just what we say, but how we say it as a means of navigating the world. The monkey maintains a presence of audacity, boldness and confidence at all times; yet, it can also be erratic, threatening, and defiant. Monkeys can represent both change and resistance to change.
The familiar symbol of the Three Wise Monkeys is Japanese in origin and admonishes humanity to see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil. The monkey’s role in guarding against demons originates from the Japanese word for monkey (猿, pronounced saru), which is a homonym for the Japanese word “expel” (去る, also pronounced saru). The latter word means to “dispel, punch out, push away, beat away." According to the legends of Japan’s Mt. Hiei shrine-temple multiplex, this makes the monkey an “expeller of demons.” In addition, Mt. Hiei proved to be a very fortunate choice for Saicho, 最澄 (766-822 AD), the founder of Tendai Buddhism in Japan, for the Tendai sect’s main temple (Enryakuji) on Mt. Hiei is located to the northeast of the old imperial capital, Kyoto, which was considered to be vulnerable to evil influences from the northeast. The success of Saicho and Tendai Buddhism in Japan is thus related, in part, to the geomantic significance of Mt. Hiei’s location northeast of Kyoto. The success of monkey lore in Japan is likewise partly due to this association.
In modern-day Japan, the monkey continues to be a reflexive symbol -- a comical figure who turns itself into an object of laughter while challenging the basic assumptions of Japanese culture and society. Certainly, Bisco Hatori was aware of this emerging redefinition of monkey energy in utilizing the visual reference throughout the anime. In doing so, she points fun at Japanese societal traditions and perceptions in a fresh and fun way. This wry use of an ancient animal totem and its symbolism elevates OHSHC from simple-albeit-classic anime into genuine social commentary; but, as with all monkey energy, it does so with humor and pathos.
As for the bananas? A necessary precursor to the ubiquitous banana peel which, in the anime, is never adequately explained, but which shows up periodically just for kicks. It is Ouran, after all.