March 23, 2023

#08-295: Issun Boshi

Issun Boshi paddles himself in a bowl (Wikimedia)

Note: The charming story of "Issun Boshi" proves that size really doesn't matter!

Get Ready: What do you think is the most important virtue a person can have?

Issun Boshi, the "One Inch Samurai," is a Japanese story about a very, very small child born to parents of the usual size. 

Long, long ago in Japan, a childless old couple went to a local shrine and prayed for a son. "No matter how small or weak he may be," they said, "just please grant us a boy!"

When the boy was born, he was no bigger than a man's thumb! They called him "Issun Boshi" (issun is one Chinese cun, about 33mm or 1.3 inches). Some say he was born normally; others that he came from a swelling on his mother's thumb.

All the people admired the boy for his manners and his ability, but he never got any taller. When he decided to seek his fortune in the city, his father made him a boat from a rice bowl, and his mother gave him a chopstick as a paddle. Together they fashioned a sword and scabbard from a sewing needle and a piece of straw.

He paddled down river to the city, where he found himself at the gate of a great house belonging to a great lord. It took some time for him to be noticed by the guard--Issun Boshi was so small, and his voice so high--but at last the guard picked him up and heard his request to become a servant in the mansion.

He was taken inside and, down on one knee in the palm of the lord's hand, swore his loyalty. Charmed, the lord took Issun Boshi on immediately. In time he became the servant of the lord's beautiful daughter.

One day the daughter traveled to a shrine, with Issun Boshi as her guard. But on the way a fierce ogre attacked her! And when Issun Boshi tried to defend her, the ogre swallowed him down whole!

But the little man was not finished: using his sword, he began to stab the ogre from inside, causing it to throw up--and out came Issun Boshi! He ran up the ogre's arm and stabbed it in the eye, causing it to drop its magic hammer as it ran away.

The princess, who knew about these things, picked up the hammer and said, "The person who swings this can fulfill any wish. Let me make a request for you for saving me. What do you wish for: Wealth? Power? Love?" But Issun Boshi wanted only one thing: to become the size of other men.

The princess swung the hammer, saying, "Grow, Issun, grow!"

And grow he did, to full size. He married the girl, and used the hammer to gain riches and power for his new family.


Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. charmed
  2. chopstick
  3. fulfill
  4. grant
  5. loyalty
  6. ogre
  7. Samurai
  8. scabbard
  9. shrine
  10. swings

  1. like a temple, but for the Japanese religion called Shinto
  2. complete; finish
  3. a cover for a sword
  4. spins in the air
  5. faithfulness
  6. a Japanese warrior
  7. a monster; a demon
  8. give; allow
  9. an Asian eating utensil, used in pairs
  10. delighted

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for March 23, 2023

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. j; 2. i; 3. b; 4. h; 5. e; 6. g; 7. f; 8. c; 9. a; 10. d