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Three wise monkeys

The Tosho-gu monkeys from the Shinto shrine in Nikko, Japan.

Tosho-gu is 17th-century shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu’s mausoleum. Some 15,000 of the best craftsmen in Japan worked on this richly decorated temple complex for 20 years.

The facade of the holy stables that were home to solely white horses, chained together in pairs, bears eight panels in which monkeys (macaques) play a role. Traditionally monkeys were viewed as horse guardians and until the 17th century every horse stable was home to one.

The eight scenes demonstrate how to lead a virtuous life and feature themes such as friendship, reliability and independence. Wood carver Hidari Jingoro was clearly of the opinion that the three wise monkeys who illustrate Confucian wisdom should also be included, making them world famous in the process.

  • JAP03

  • h. 10 cm., l. 25 cm.