Things Japanese by Mock Joya

(1st Edition Nov 1958.  5th Dec 1964 revised edition)




Moya Joya


Mock Joya, the author of "Things Japanese", was a veteran journalist in Japan. Born in 1884, he was graduated from the Tokyo School of Foreign Languages in 1904, and worked in the journalistic field, having served as a reporter on the staff of The New York World and also as editor of The Japan Times. His name is known to every student of Japan. For over forty years he has written on "Things Japanese" and at the time of his death in August 1963, was still contributing his column of the same name to The Japan Times.


Three Monkeys, Chapter 14 Religious Rites, page 678


By the village road and more often at the dividing line between two villages there stands a koshin-zuka or a koshin stone tablet.  Koshin is one of the most common deities worshiped by rural folks.  As it usually stands on a village road, it is regarded as the guardian of the road or the protector of travelers.  But originally it was the guardian deity for all the local people.


Though koshin is so common, it is not clearly known what it stands for.


Nevertheless the koshin-zuka with the engraving of three monkeys has left a deep impression on the minds of all the people.  These monkeys have even become world famous.  Said to have come from China, the three monkeys, covering the eyes, ears and mouth with their hands respectively, symbolize the old teaching: “See no evil, hear no evil, say no evil.”


It is generally said that it was the Buddhist priest Dengyo (767-822) who first engraved the three wise monkeys on the koshin tablet, as he place great value on the old teaching.  If this be so, the three monkeys are later addition to the original koshin tablet which was already an object of public worship.


The koshin festival comes on the day of koshin or the Day of the Monkey.  It seems that the unknown deity was named after the date of the festival.  One tradition has it that, on the eve of koshin (monkeys) day which comes every 60 days, an insect living in a human being leaves the body while he is asleep and goes to heaven to report on his conduct.  So one should not sleep that night.  In the old days, the festival was quite an important community function with all the village people gathering around the koshin tablet on the Day of the Monkey and having a merry time, drinking and eating from early evening to dawn.  Koshin day comes every 60 days, but actually the festival was not held so often because of unfavorable weather conditions.


Later however, the affair came to be held indoors at the houses of principal residents.  It was called koshin-machi or “waiting for koshin”.  This is mentioned in Eigamonogatari, a story of Court life from the 9th to the 11th century.


Koshin-machi is still kept up in many rural districts, but its original meaning is almost lost, it being held recently only as a local gathering for recreation and drinking.


On the other hand, the three monkeys, which were at first engraved on the koshin tablet to teach the people how to keep away from evil, have become dear to all people of the country and even to many foreigners.  Besides their wise teaching, they are loved because they look so comical and lovable.


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