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Issun-bōshi facts for kids

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"Issun-bōshi" from Otogizōshi

Issun-bōshi (一寸法師, "One-Sun Boy"; sometimes translated into English as "Little One-Inch" or "The Inch-High Samurai") is the subject of a fairy tale from Japan. This story can be found in the old Japanese illustrated book Otogizōshi. Similar central figures and themes are known elsewhere in the world, as in the tradition of Tom Thumb in English folklore.


Buddha's crystal and other fairy stories (1908) (14781913091)
Issun-bōshi going down the river in a bowl

The general story is:

  • A childless old couple prayed to the Sumiyoshi sanjin to be blessed with a child, and so they were able to have one. However, the child born was only one sun (around 3 cm or 1.2 in) in height and never grew taller. Thus, the child was named the "one-sun boy" or "Issun-bōshi".
  • One day, Issun-bōshi said he wanted to go the capital to become a warrior, so he embarked on his voyage with a bowl as a boat, a chopstick as a paddle, a needle as a sword, and a piece of straw as a scabbard. In the capital, he found a splendid big house and found employment there. When a girl of that family went on a journey to visit a palace, an oni kidnapped the girl. As Issun-bōshi attempted to save the girl, the oni swallowed him up. Issun-bōshi used the needle to stab at the oni in the stomach, making the oni surrender, saying "it hurts, stop." The oni spat Issun-bōshi back out before fleeing to the mountains.
  • Issun-bōshi picked up the magic hammer (Uchide no kozuchi) dropped by the oni and swung it to enlarge his body to a height of six shaku (about 182 cm or 6 ft) and married the girl. It is said that he was able to use that mallet to conjure food, treasures, and other things, and the family was able to prosper for generations.

However, the version of the story written in the Otogi-zōshi has a few differences:

  • The old couple was disturbed by how Issun-bōshi never grew larger and thought he was some kind of monster. As a result, Issun-bōshi left their house.
  • The place where Issun-bōshi lived in the capital was a chancellor's home.
  • Issun-bōshi fell in love with the chancellor's daughter at first sight and wanted to make her his wife. However, he felt that with such a small body, she would not marry him, so he thought out a plan. He brought some of the rice grains offered to the family altar and put them in the girl's mouth, and then took an empty teabag and pretended to cry. When the chancellor saw this, Issun-bōshi lied and said that the girl stole some rice that he had been storing, and the chancellor believed this and attempted to kill his daughter. Issun-bōshi mediated between them and left the house together with the daughter.
  • The boat that they rode on went with the wind and landed on an eerie island. There, they encountered an oni, and the oni swallowed Issun-bōshi whole. However, Issun-bōshi took advantage of his small body and went out of the oni's body through its eye. This repeated several times until the oni was frustrated and withdrew, leaving the magic hammer behind.
  • The rumors of Issun-bōshi spread throughout society and he was summoned to the palace. The emperor took a liking to Issun-bōshi, and raised him to the rank of Chūnagon.

A version where Issun-bōshi strategized to marry a rich person's daughter is recorded in the Shinkoku Gudo Zuihitsu of the Edo period. Other documents record similar tales:

  • As a result of framing the daughter, Issun-bōshi was left in charge of her. Another theory is that by putting a suitor's food into's one's mouth, a person accepts that man's proposal.
  • The boy who became betrothed used the magic hammer to grow himself into a taller man and married the girl. Some versions may be missing a theme of making a strategy or plan with regards to the girl.
  • Some versions might only have the part about beating the oni and not about making such strategies or growing larger.

There are also many differences in the tale depending on the region where it is told.

Nursery tales

  • The Meiji Period children's book Nihon Mukashibanashi (日本昔噺, "Old Tales of Japan") by Iwaya Sazanami first published in 1896 or Meiji 29 has within one of its 24 volumes popularly established the Sazanami-type Issun Bōshi. Over 20 editions of this book were printed in the approximately ten years between then and 1907 or Meiji 40, and they were widely read until the end of the Taishō period. The story currently published in children's book mostly follows this Sazanami-type Issun Bōshi tale. It removes any wickedness that was in the original and turns Issun Bōshi into a more loveable figure.
  • Among picture books, the book Issun Bōshi written by Ishii Momoko and illustrated by Akino Fuku published in 1965 by Fukuinkan Shoten Fukuinkan Shoten is of particular note.
  • Hop-o'-My-Thumb as told by Charles Perrault was introduced to Japan under the title Shōsetsu Issun Bōshi (Novelized Issun Bōshi) as it was published in the magazine Shōkokumin in 1896 (Meiji 29).


  • In 1905 (Meiji 38), Jinjō Shōgaku Shōka ("The Common Songs for Elementary Schoolers") included one titled "Issun Bōshi" by Iwaya Sazanami, and it continues to be sung by children today.

Other versions

There are many other versions of the story Issun-bōshi, but there are some that seem to take on a completely different story of their own, and have stayed that way since their new retellings. These versions include the story of Mamasuke, the adult version of Issun-boshi, and the modernized version that are seen worldwide today.


The Mamesuke version of Issun-bōshi is essentially the same, except for a few key defining factors. Rather than being born from his mother's womb, Issun-boshi was born from the swelling of his mother's thumb. He was also called Mamesuke, which means bean boy instead of Issun-bōshi, even though the story is still called Issun-bōshi. He does still set out on his own at some point, but instead of being armed with a sewing needle, bowl, and chopsticks, all he has is a bag of flour. He eventually finds his way to a very wealthy wine merchant who has three daughters. Mamesuke wishes to marry the middle daughter, so he begins to work for the merchant and live there. One night, Mamesuke takes the flour he has and wipes it on the daughter's mouth, then throws the rest into the river. In the morning, he pretends to cry because his flour is gone, so the family investigates as to where it went when they discovered the flour on the middle daughter. She gets upset because she had nothing to do with the flour, but her family turns her over to Mamesuke as payment. He then begins to lead the girl home to his parents, while along the way the girl is so angry that she tries to find ways to kill him, but she could not find one. When Mamesuke returned home, his parents were so delighted with the girl that they set up a hot bath for him. Mamesuke got in and called for his bride to help him wash, but she came in with a broom instead and stirred up the water in an attempt to drown him. Mamesuke's body suddenly burst open, and out stepped a full sized man. The bride and parents were surprised yet extremely happy, so Mamesuke and his bride lived happily with his parents.

Modernized Issun-boshi

The modernized version of Issun-bōshi is very similar to the original, except there are different happenings that make it more universally acceptable. Rather than setting out on his own, Issun-bōshi's parents send him off to learn about the world on his own. He still travels to the capital and ends up in the home of a wealthy lord, but rather than his daughter disliking him, she immediately fell in love with him, as well as the other residents of the lord's home. Issun-bōshi and the girl still get attacked by ogres and obtain the lucky mallet, which is then used to make him normal sized. He grows into a fine young samurai, but it was never made clear where Issun-bōshi went from there. This abrupt ending is set up so that the audience can make their own guesses about what happened to Issun-bōshi.

In the 8th Season of Yami Shibai, Episode 07, Issub-bōshi is described as a creature which, when offended or provoked, can go inside a human body and as punishment turn it into a grotesque one, with large lumps sprouting randomly. He can also order the affected human to do evil things such as killing a person or in it's words "punishing" them. The affected human won't be able to disobey said order and will forever succumb to Issub-bōshi's curse.

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