The Three Wise Monkeys
"Sanbiki No Saru"
Ever since I was little, storybooks, cartoons, and popular culture, have depicted the story of The Three Wise Monkeys. You know the image, three monkeys sitting there; one covering his ears, another covering his mouth, and the third covering his eyes. In the western world, we often relate this to turning a blind eye to something, but it is said that it actually originated as a depiction of Confucius’s Code of Conduct. This image has traveled the world, and if you want to see where it all started in person, you can do so, as it originated here in Japan!
If you head two hours north of Ueno station, you will find yourself in a pastoral city in the hills of Nikko, Japan. Nikko is home to several shrines and temples. Here, you will find the Toshogu shrine, which houses these little gems. These monkeys are actually carved onto a wood panel, and are the second panel in an eight panel series illustrating how to live a moralistic life. They were carved by an artist named Hidari Jingoro in the 17th century, and have been preserved perfectly.
This whole area of shrines and temples is located in the Nikko National Park, which has been deemed a world heritage site. The park grounds itself is free to enter, but if you want to visit and go into individual temples there is a nominal fee. Don't miss this opportunity to see such beautiful art and hand crafted masterpieces.
*Pro Tip* Inside the temples, there will be monks selling their crafts and charms. Ask for their recommendation on charms, and you will be sure to get a very special souvenir!
From the moment that you step onto the grounds of this world heritage site, you immediately feel the antique spiritual energy here. Be it in the smell of the burning incense, the sound of running water, or the sights of beautifully ornate classical Japanese temples and buildings, this national park, and spiritual place, is definitely not one to pass up while you are here.