“One of the sights of beautiful Nikko, beautiful both by nature and by art, is a carving of three monkeys, one of whom covers his eyes, another covers his ears, and the third covers his mouth, each with his fore paws.
“This carving illustrates the Japanese propensity for punning, to which the language lends itself readily on account of the large number of words having the same sound. The Japanese word for monkey is saru, but in composition becomes zaru, which is also a negative verb ending.
“The three monkeys are known respectively as ‘the blind monkey’, ‘the deaf monkey’, and ‘the dumb [silent] monkey’, or mi-zaru, kika-saru, iwa-zaru, which may also mean ‘see not’, ‘hear not’, ‘speak not’. And it is said that these monkeys neither see, nor hear, nor speak, evil.”
– ”The Three Monkeys of Nikko”, by Ernest W. Clement, The Tourist, May 1920