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October 12, 2020

Vintage Photos of Maikos Portraying the Three Wise Monkeys From the Early 20th Century

The three wise monkeys are a Japanese pictorial maxim, embodying the proverbial principle “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”. The three monkeys are Mizaru, who sees no evil, covering his eyes; Kikazaru, who hears no evil, covering his ears; and Iwazaru, who speaks no evil, covering his mouth.

There are various meanings ascribed to the monkeys and the proverb including associations with being of good mind, speech and action. The phrase is often used to refer to those who deal with impropriety by turning a blind eye.

Outside Japan the monkeys' names are sometimes given as Mizaru, Mikazaru and Mazaru, as the last two names were corrupted from the Japanese originals. The monkeys are Japanese macaques, a common species in Japan.

The source that popularized this pictorial maxim is a 17th-century carving over a door of the famous Tōshō-gū shrine in Nikkō, Japan. The carvings at Tōshō-gū Shrine were carved by Hidari Jingoro, and believed to have incorporated Confucius’s Code of Conduct, using the monkey as a way to depict man’s life cycle. There are a total of eight panels, and the iconic three wise monkeys picture comes from panel 2.














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