hear no Evil, see no evil speak no evil mug
widely believed that the three monkeys, that keep eyes, ears and mouth closed, originate from Japan. During the Japanese Moromachi period this unique symbol of don’t hear, don’t see and don’t speak (evil), has become part of a Japanese folk religion called Koshin.
This belief basically is about staying healthy by behaving well. The original idea of the Koshin belief is very old and it is assumed that this folk religion by itself, (but not necessarily the 3 monkeys!) has its roots in China or India.
Consider the following:
1. In Japan, still hundreds, if not thousands of Koshin-to (Stone slabs, many of them with the three monkeys’ symbol) and other religious artifacts such as Koshin scrolls can be found.
2. If the 3 monkeys would have originated from China or India, why are there hardly any old statues or sculptures to be found in those countries?
confusion is caused by the fact that the Koshin belief and the representation of the 3 monkeys are being mixed up. The Koshin belief by itself (staying awake at night to avoid reporting of bad deeds to the heavenly god) is very old and probably has its roots in China.
When the Japanese monk Ennin wrote in 838 AD that during his visit to China he had seen similar practices as he was familiar with in Japan (staying awake at night), he was referring to the belief, but not to the monkeys.
The three monkeys only became part of the Koshin belief in Japan some time during the 14th or the 15th century and the symbol has spread over the country and been there during the past 4 to 5 centuries. Initially one or two monkeys were depicted on scrolls and stone monuments and later came the 3 monkeys doing the no evil gesture.
In Japanese language, the three see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil monkeys are called
sanbiki no saru (三匹の猿).
The names of the individual monkeys are:
mizaru (see no monkey) (見猿)
kikazaru (hear no monkey) (聞か猿)
iwazaru (speak no monkey) (言わ猿)
The Japanese word for monkey is “saru", which sounds very similar to the verb-ending “zaru", which means “not”. In addition, “saru” also means “go away”, which can be related to the “evil”.
It is not impossible that the appearance of the 3 monkeys in the Koshin belief may have originated from a play on words.
several internet pages suggesting this, but Shoumen Kongou, mostly with the 3 monkeys, is undoubtedly the principal image of the Koshin belief. However, Japanese are rather open to accept beliefs from different sources merge them and then modify them to their own needs. In some areas of Japan Dosojin (god of the roads) and sometimes also Sarutahiko have been introduced in the Koshin belief, but this has never become widespread.
In fact Dosojin is the god for everyone who is “on the road” (or in transit) and therefore also for the unborn baby in its mothers womb.
Sometimes it is said that the 3 monkeys originate from Africa?
The majority of 3-monkeys figurines originating from African countries are being produced for the souvenir industry, but there are a few items that certainly could give the impression that the three monkeys have been part of some African cultures for a longer period of time. Click here for a few examples. It needs much more research to find out how and when the 3-monkeys adage was introduced to Africa
It is assumed that more than 300 collectors from all over the world are actively searching the internet for 3 monkeys, but there must be many more that don’t have or don’t want internet services.
To my knowledge, there is no official order or sequence of the three monkeys.
In Japan, the origin of the 3 monkeys, the sequence on Koshin stones and on Koshin scrolls is erratic.
For example the famous 3 monkeys of the temple in Nikko are in the sequence: hear - speak - see
In my collection of over 3500 items there also is no fix pattern.
However, in spoken and written form, the sequence hear - see - speak is most commonly used, not only in English, but also in many other languages.