Saturday, May 19, 2012

Saturday's postcard: Japanese girls imitate the three wise monkeys

This awesome old postcard features three Japanese girls in elaborate kimonos doing a version of the three wise monkeys -- also known as "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil."

Here are some quick facts about this maxim, from Wikipedia:
  • The monkeys have names: Mizaru (covering eyes), Kikazaru (covering ears) and Iwazaru (covering mouth)
  • The origins of the saying might date as far back as China in 4th century B.C., when there existed a phrase that translates to: "Look not at what is contrary to propriety; listen not to what is contrary to propriety; speak not what is contrary to propriety; make no movement which is contrary to propriety."
  • The Italian version, "Non vedo, non sento, non parlo," (I see nothing, I hear nothing, I say nothing), expresses the Omertà, a code of silence enforced by criminal organizations such as the Sicilian Mafia.
  • Mahatma Gandhi's one notable exception to his lifestyle of non-possession was a small statue of the three wise monkeys.
This postcard was never used. The reverse side has an ornate border and a reference to Union Postale Universelle.

If anyone can translate this Japanese text on the back of the postcard, I'd be very appreciative. And it might lend a bit more insight to this card.


  1. Printed in the USA ?

  2. I can't tell you how much I love this postcard!

    I don't have a large ephemera collection; but I do have a gorgeous Geisha postcard from the 30s that I found in the bottom of a box lot a few years ago :)

  3. The text on the back of the postcard is read from right to left and appear to be a Chinese phrase, rather than Japanese, but the characters are similar enough to those in current use in Japan that I can tell you they translate to "Manchuria Postal Service Postcard." I hope that helps.

  4. ive got 3 hear no evil speak no evil see no evil japanese dolls from the 70s and i cant find out any information about them couls someone help me ??

  5. Hi Chris, I'm a Japanese researcher specializing in modern culture and ran across this webpage. Let me explain about the Japanese text, though it may be too late.

    The text is written in the old character form of Japanese, from right to left. It says "Union Postale Universelle Postcard", the same thing as in French, unfortunately.