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Three Wise Monkeys of Sacred Stable in Nikko, Japan

The pregnant mother sets off to begin the cycle again

The pregnant mother sets off to begin the cycle again

The Three Wise Monkeys get all the attention, but the famous panel of “See/Hear/Speak No Evil” is just one of eight carved scenes depicting the arc of life.  In any case, the monkeys are incorporated into the outer face of an Edo-era stable because they were thought to protect the animals inside. The stable sits just past the storage buildings of the Toshogu Shrine in Nikko, Japan, and were carved by Hidari Jingaro in the 17th Century.

My photos are of uneven quality, because getting a consistent camera angle and light was impossible. The frieze of carvings is about eight to ten feet off the ground. Each panel is about five feet wide by three feet tall, and they wrap around two sides of the building.  An overhang has kept the carvings in decent condition.

The Toshogu Shrine in Nikko is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so there were bunches of school children on tour, much like our 6th grade trips to the state capitol (except not). Class pictures were set up in front of the Temple Gate, and students were herded under the Three Monkeys in groups of five for photos under the Wise Monkeys. Of course, the occasional adult darted in to mimic the monkeys, too.

Here are the eight panels, in order.

The mother looks to the future while the new child looks at her with trust.

The mother looks to the future while the new child looks at her with trust.

The young are taught to hear no evil, speak no evil, and see no evil.

The young are taught to hear no evil, speak no evil, and see no evil.

The young monkey, still seated, is just on the verge of independence.

The young monkey, still seated, is just on the verge of independence.

4 Monkeys Looking Up

The young monkeys looking up to the blue clouds signifies their ambition.

5. Monkeys Looking Out

One monkey faces the world head on, while another, looking down with trepidation is encouraged by a friend.

6. Monkeys First Love

The first love brings some frustration and lonliness.

7. Monkeys New Couple

The new couple embarks on life together, facing a tidal wave of trials and tribulations.

The pregnant mother sets off to begin the cycle again

The pregnant mother sets off to begin the cycle again

These carved panels inspired a couple bursts of haiku. Read them here.

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  1. […] these haiku were partly inspired by seeing the Three Wise Monkeys and the others in a series of panels in the Toshogu Temple in Nikko, […]

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