the first cold shower;
even the monkey seems to want
a little coat of straw
The Sanzaru, three monkeys, in English known as the “Three Wise Monkeys,” is a widely known example of monkeys in traditional Japanese culture.
Their names are a pun between saru or vocalized zaru “monkey” and archaic –zaru “a negative verb conjugation”: mizaru, kikazaru, iwazaru, (which literally means “don’t see, don’t hear, don’t speak”). The Tōshō-gū shrine in Nikkō has elaborate relief carvings over the doors, including a famous representation of the Three Wise Monkeys.
The Three Wise Monkeys also represent the Kōshin faith. They are displayed in the Yasaka Kōshin-dō Temple in Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, dedicated to Shōmen Kongō, known by his nickname Kōshin-san.
Yasaka Kōshin-dō or in its full name Daikoku-san Kongō-ji Kōshin-dō can be found in the vicinity of Kiyomizu-dera.
The temple is dedicated to Kōshin-san, a nickname of its main worship object Shōmen Kongō, a blue, guardian warrior and to the “three wise monkeys”. They represent the Kōshin faith.
In many places at the temple hang color balls representing Kukurizaru, a monkey with bound feet and hands. In Kōshin belief, it represents the control of the playful and desire-driven creature everyone has inside his body.
The folk faith says that to have a wish granted, you must sacrifice one desire. If you put your desire inside one of the color balls that represent the monkey Kukurizaru, Kōshin will help you to make that desire vanish and because desires are what keep wishes from coming true, your wish will be granted and you will also become a better person.
It is also said that when you feel a desire coming you must put your hands together and recite the Buddhist sutra: On deiba yakisya banta banta kakakaka sowaka. Kukurizaru and Kōshin-san will hear and will come to help you.
There are old traditions and beliefs regarding monkeys in Japan. Monkeys are considered kind spirits protecting us and our homes from evil spirits and harmful intentions. The three monkeys in the attitude of “not hearing, not seeing, not talking” are a part of the Kōshin faith.