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Thursday, August 7, 2014

Three Wise Monkeys

Okay... maybe it's because I'm busy at work, or maybe it's because I tend to write a lot anyways, and maybe I don't need to write as much as I do - but I do want you to know the full story on everything, just as I would want to...

Regardless... here's a comic book of mine: Walt Disney's Comics & Stories #321 from June of 1967 with Donald reading a Mickey Mouse comic book and about to fall down an open manhole, while nephews Huey, Dewey & Louie do their best imitation of Japan's Three Wise Monkeys - the 'see no evil-hear no evil - speak no evil' monkeys that Japan is famous for.

They are actually called the sanbiki no saru, which translates to 'three monkeys'... nothing wise about that.

Did you know the monkeys have names?

I didn't!

The three monkeys are Mizaru, covering his eyes, who sees no evil; Kikazaru, covering his ears, who hears no evil; and Iwazaru, covering his mouth, who speaks no evil.

It is written that way on the Wikipedia site, and is presented ion the same order as the Disney Ducks... but that's not the order they actually appear, from left to right.

The monkeys are actually located in Nikko-shi, Tochigi-ken, as a small wood panel, painted frieze on a temple.

It's hardly a monumental sculpture, and easy to miss if you aren't paying attention.

The carving is placed over a door of the famous Tōshō-gū shrine, dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate. The shrine was built in 1617.

I've been to the place many a time, but I must admit that it was so huge a facility that I often never knew exactly what it was I was looking at, what it's importance was, or even if it was important.

Turns out it is all important or Japan wouldn't make a big deal out of it. As such, when you visit any place in Japan, walk slowly and look around... look up... look down... you never know what you'll see.

But what does the whole see no-hear no-speak no evil thing really about?

It's NOT as cut and dried as I had hoped for, considering I didn't want a whole bloody, long blog to write - but... as usually, the best laid plans of mice and Andrew are something-something-something... I have no idea how that saying goes.

So... what we do know, is that these monkey carvings were carved by Jingoro Hidari (surname first).

They Stole It From China
It is believed to have incorporated Confucius’s Code of Conduct, that great Chinese philosopher, who despite all my protestations to the contrary, never actually stood on a toilet to get high on pot, or pressed his fingernails into his forehead to get sharp ideas.

Back in the very old days, Japan would emulate the style and grace of China, but would slightly bastardize it it to make it uniquely Japanese.

Accordingly, the monkey panels is one panel of eight (Panel #2, actually) that depicts man's life cycle.

This Chinese philosophy probably arrived in Japan during the Nara-jidai of the 8th century AD.

Okay... so how do the monkeys represent man's life cycle?

Again, no one knows for sure, but I'm playing historical detective and have attempted to put a tail on that monkey... but some folks smarter than me think that these three monks, I mean monkeys represent the three dogmas of the Tendai-Buddhist school.

I have no idea what that means either.

Of course, Confucius is probably the better choice... if we examine his writings: the Analects of Confucius from somewhere in the 2nd to 4th century (that's a wide range! Too wide! How old was  Confucious?): "Look not at what is contrary to propriety; listen not to what is contrary to propriety; speak not what is contrary to propriety; make no movement which is contrary to propriety".

Hmmm... that would make it four monkeys. That sounds like: Feel no Evil. Like in don't touch yourself. Why don't you just kill me now, Jebus!

Well, if we can assume that the Confucian tenet is important - why use monkeys for symbols?

Well... the monkey panel is on the Tōshō-gū shrine. Monkeys are important in the Shinto religion. The monkey is supposed to be the messenger of the Hie Shinto shrines, which also have connections with Tendai Buddhism.

Anyhow... I just wanted to do a short blog showing off that comic book I finally cataloged and put away. It's never as easy as one would assume.

As for my comic book... it's in near-perfect shape. Except that the original stupid kid owner wrote the title of the second feature - a Mickey Mouse comic - The Lair Of The Zoomby - Part 2 on the cover.

Yes, the kid is stupid. No not for wrecking my comic book 47 years later when I bought it, but because he misspelled the word "Lair."

And for wrecking my comic book.

I'll leave you with this bit of Confucius wisdom I found in a fortune cookie this evening:

"Confucius say if you look for wisdom in fortune cookie, you are a pathetic fool who seek advice in baked products."

More prophetic words have never been inserted in my food.

Andrew Joseph

1 comment:

  1. You wrote that the “sanbiki no saru” are located “in Nikko-shi, Tochigi-ken, as a small wooden panel, painted frieze on a temple.” Wouldn’t it be more accurate to write that the panel is located on the sacred horse stable, the only unlacquered structure in the precincts of the Toshogu Shrine? (The “o” and “u” in the words Nikko and Toshogu are long vowels, but I don’t know how to get the bar above the vowels.)