See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil… Three little monkeys illustrating a very old proverb, known and valued throughout the world, by people from all cultures, from Mahatma Gandhi (who, amongst his very few possessions, had a statue with the three wise monkeys), to the Italian Mafia (although the meaning is different…). And two years ago, the three monkeys were even introduced in the Unicode standard, as emoticons…
Where did the proverb originate from? It is not clear… but what it is known is that the fame of the phrase comes from Japan, from the three little monkeys sculpted on the Sacred Stable from the Toshougu Shrine in Nikko.
But how comes that such a proverb is represented by monkeys? There are a few complex religious explanations, but most probably it all comes from the Japanese word-plays: in the old Japanese, “don’t see, don’t hear, don’t speak” was pronounced mizaru, kikazaru, iwazaru 「見ざる、 聞かざる、 言わざる」. But the -zaru conjugation sounds like the word saru, “monkey"… So the proverb also sounds like an enumeration of three monkey names and with time, they became the impersonation of the proverb: Mizaru - sees no evil, Kikazaru - hears no evil, and Iwazaru - speaks no evil…
Yesterday’s Japan Photo: