Monkey business

IMG_2348If you are a fan of the Asian zodiac, you know that this year (2016) is the Year of the Monkey. The zodiac is a 12 year cycle, so that means if you were born in 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992 or 2004 you are a Monkey.  The two hashioki below represent the Monkey in different 12-piece Zodiac hashioki series.

Monkeys are said to be sharp and mischievous, and fond of practical jokes.   I’m not sure how they feel about hashioki.

This hashioki represents a special kind of monkey, a Japanese macaque. They are sometimes called snow monkeys, although they live in the wild throughout the entire chain of islands, including many areas where it never snows. But chances are you’ve seenIMG_1917 photographs of Japanese macaques sitting in the snow on the edge of a steaming outdoor onsen bath.   Snow monkeys were once considered rare, but apparently they now overrun many parks and forested tourist areas in Japan where they like to hop on car hoods and beg for food, or even break into cars to steal shiny objects.

The most famous Japanese monkeys are undoubtedly this trio, pantomiming the proverb “Hear no evil, Speak no evil, and See no evil”. The originals are carved in the wooden lintel above the doorway of a building at Tōshō-gū Shrine in Nikkō, about 75 miles north of IMG_1920Tōkyō. Tōshō-gū Shrine was built in the early 17th. century as a mausoleum for Ieyasu Tokugawa, the shōgun who founded the Tokugawa regime. I don’t know if the proverb has any direct connection to Ieyasu, unless it was advice offered to his vassals who wanted to keep their jobs or even their heads. I’ve been to Nikkō, and shuffled with hoards of others past the monkey carving; if I hadn’t known a little bit about their history I would have assumed they were covering their ears and eyes to avoid contact with the tourists.

In any case, this monkey trio hashioki comes from Shoindo, a wonderful shop near Kiyomizu Temple in Kyōto that specializes in the kind of ceramics that were traditionally created in the kilns on the hills leading to the temple. Kilns are no longer allowed within Kyōto city limits, but Shoindo still markets these ceramics, many of which feature iconic or traditional motifs.

Happy Year of the Monkey!

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