Stories and pictures from my travels around Japan,
including hundreds of temples and a walk of over 500 km (300 miles)
(more about my travels in Japan)

"See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil"

These "Three Wise Monkeys" are seen everywhere in Japan. The originals are supposed to be at Tosho-gu shrine in Nikko (though this may just be the most popular example). I have a picture of them I'll publish some day.

My favorite set, at a small temple in Kyoto, had a fourth monkey covering his groin; guess what that meant!

Anyway, here they are on some stones at Honsenji, a temple on the old Tokaido Road in Shinagawa, in southern Tokyo.

The first picture shows the situation of the stones under a large gingko tree on the temple grounds. The second shows the monkeys at the base of the large stone, and the third, at the base of the mid-sized (center) stone.

The order in both cases seems to be speak - hear - see. This is not always the case (but it is at Nikko). The wearand tear on the carvings indicates that they are quite old.

My dad and Gandhi: On our dinner table when I was a kid there was always a toothpick container with the three monkeys ranged around it. My dad was in Japan in late 1945; I wonder if he brought it home with him? Anyway, it's a prized possession. And according to the Wikipedia article on the monkeys:"Mahatma Gandhi's one notable exception to his lifestyle of non-possession was a small statue of the threemonkeys."

The article also has a discussion on the "Meaning of the proverb." I think that's silly. Isn't it obvious?

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