Issun-bōshi (一寸法師, "One-Inch 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 old Japanese illustrated book, Otogizōshi, and has been various forms around the world and is similar to the tradition of Tom Thumb in English folklore.
The story begins with an old, childless couple who live alone. The old woman wishes for a child, despite her old age, "Please, please let us have a child, no matter how small." Eventually, a son was born to them. But small indeed was the child—no larger than a grown man's fingertip. They named the miniature child Issun-bōshi (Issun is a measure of approximately 3 centimeters. Bōshi means son). The child, despite being incredibly small, is treated well by his parents. One day, the boy realizes he will never grow, so he goes on a trip to seek his place in the world. Fancying himself a miniature samurai, Issun-bōshi is given a sewing needle for a sword, a soup bowl for a boat, and chopsticks for oars.
He sails downriver to the city, where he petitions for a job with the government and goes to the home of a wealthy daimyo, whose daughter is an attractive princess. He is scorned for his height, but nevertheless given the job of accompanying the princess as her playmate. While they travel together, they are suddenly attacked by an oni, who deals with the pesky boy by swallowing him. The boy defeats the Oni by pricking him from within with his needle/sword. The Oni spits out Issun-boshi and drops the magical Uchide's Mallet as he runs away. As a reward for his bravery, the princess uses the power of the mallet to grow him to full size. Issun-bōshi and the princess remain close companions and eventually wed.
There are many other versions of the story Issun-boshi, 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-boshi 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-boshi, even though the story is still called Issun-boshi. 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.
The Love Affair of Issun-boshi
In other media such as the game Ōkami, Issun-boshi makes an appearance as the character Issun, and is depicted as a pervert of sorts. This depiction relates back to the adult version of Issun-boshi, also known as The Love Affair of Issun-boshi. The beginning of the story is essentially the same until Issun-boshi reaches the capital. When he comes upon the home of a wealthy lord, Issun-boshi convinces him that he can do anything, so he should let him work for him. The lord tells him to do a dance for him, and he was so amused by Issun-boshi's dance that he decides to make him a playmate for his daughter. For a while, Issun-boshi just listens to the daughter talk during the day, then he would tell her stories that she would fall asleep to at night. Issun-boshi fell in love with her, and was eventually invited to sleep in the princess' bed with her, where he would then pleasure her. One day the princess decides to head to a temple to go pray, and brings Issun-boshi along with her. They are attacked by ogres along the way, and Issun-boshi saves the princess, who then discovers the lucky mallet and makes Issun-boshi normal sized. It was thought they would live happily ever after, but the couple would get into horrible fights, especially about how Issun-boshi could not pleasure the princess like he used to. In his anger, Issun-boshi used the lucky mallet to shrink the princess down, who in turn snatched the hammer from him and shrank him down. They went back and forth shrinking one another to the point where all that was left was the lucky mallet.
The modernized version of Issun-boshi 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-boshi's parents send him off to go 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-boshi 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-boshi went from there. This abrupt ending is set up so that the audience can make their own guesses about what happened to Issun-boshi.
The story of Issun Boshi follows three common themes that appear in almost every Japanese folk tale. The first theme is that those who are devout and pray often are blessed with a child. Issun-boshi's parents prayed day after day until a child was born unto them. This theme also appears in the Japanese folk tale "Momotaro." The second theme is that the accomplishments of these children are so extraordinary that they achieve almost every task that the audience wishes them to accomplish. Issun-boshi gets the love of his life, attains a normal size, and becomes a well known samurai. The third theme is that said child grows up to have a good marriage and carries a special family name. In most versions, Issun-boshi marries some sort of official's daughter and becomes a very famous samurai.
In each of the different retellings of Issun-boshi, there are different gods, goddesses, and deities that are mentioned in each, which are due to the differing regional religions at the time. In the modernized version as well as the adult versions of Issun-boshi, the princess he meets goes to pray to the Goddess Kannon. In Japan, Kannon is known as the goddess of childrearing and mercy, but the goddess has Buddhist origins. Buddhism originated in India but it grew across Asia and eventually settled in Japan as a base for Buddhism around the time Issun-boshi became popular, which could potentially explain its influence in these versions of Issun-boshi. In the modernized version of Issun-boshi, his parents go pray to what they call "Sumiyoshi sanjin," which is actually the name of a temple in Osaka, Japan. This temple is used for Shinto religious purposes, so the story of Issun-boshi actually embodies multiple religions.
Appearances in other media
- Gougou Sentai Boukenger, a Japanese television series, has an episode ("Task 21: Uchide's Mallet") in which the hammer is a Precious.
- In the video game Ōkami, the character Issun is based on the one-inch boy. Uchide's Mallet (labeled as "Lucky Mallet") also appears in the game, although it is used to shrink the protagonist, a wolf avatar of the Shinto sun god Okami Amaterasu, to Issun's size, rather than the other way around. His form as seen through the first part of the game leads the player to believe he is some sort of insect (despite his adamant insistence otherwise), but he bears a resemblance to a one-inch boy during the portion of the game spent at Issun's size. Later it is revealed that he belongs to a race of tiny wood sprites called Poncles, who all appear as he does.
- In the video game Secret of Mana, there is a hammer called the "Midget Mallet" which grows and shrinks the user.
- In the Final Fantasy series of video games, the "Mini" status ailment can be cured using a "Mallet".
- In the video game The World Ends with You, there is a hammer called the "Lucky Mallet".
- In the video game Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story, Luigi can use the mallet to shrink Mario, which may be referencing the One Inch Boy or may be influenced by it.
- In the 14th Touhou Project game, Double Dealing Character, the final boss, Shinmyoumaru Sukuna, is a reference to the One Inch Boy. She carries a large needle, wields the Uchide's Mallet, and wears a ramen bowl as a helmet.
- Sado, Niigata (1948). The Yanagita Kunio Guide to the Japanese Folk Tale. Tokyo. pp. 11–13.
- Kurahashi, Yumiko (2008). "Two Tales from Cruel Fairy Tales for Adults". Marvels and Tales 22 (1): 171–.
- Seki, Keigo (1963). Folktales of Japan. Chicago: University of Chicago. pp. 90–92.
- Kawamori, Hiroshi (2003). "Folktale Research after Yanagita". Asian Folklore Studies 62: 237–256.
- Schumacher, Mark. "Kannon Bodhisattva (Bosatsu) - Goddess of Mercy, One Who Hears Prayers of the World, Japanese Buddhism Art History". Mark Schumacher. Retrieved 17 November 2011.
- Ward, Mindy. "Sumiyoshi Taisha - Japanese Religions". Japanese Religions. Retrieved 17 November 2011.