Three wise monkeys

Nozawa Masanobu nozawa at
Mon Jan 13 00:46:28 UTC 1997

John Richards wrote:

>Has anyone any idea where the idea of the three wise monkeys, see no
>evil, hear no evil, speak no evil, comes from?
>It would seem pretty certainly Eastern - but whether Indian or Chinese
>I would be hard put to guess.

It comes from a famous Japanese proverb:
 "mi-zaru, iwa-zaru, kika-zaru",
the literal meaning of which is
"Not seeing, not saying, not hearing."

The Japanese equivalent of monkey is "saru",
which is sometimes pronounced  "zaru" 
especially when used as last member of a compound; 
e.g. "kani-kui zaru" (a crab-eating macaque).

And again "zaru" means "not", 
so "mi-zaru" has a double meaning:
"not seeing" and "mi-monkey".
It is a kind of play on words.

Carvings of the three monkeys are familiar to Japanese.


Nozawa Masanobu  
Numazu College of Technology
E-mail: nozawa at

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