Ikkyuu Soujun (一休宗純)

Soujun IKKYUU was a Zen monk in the Daitokuji branch of the Rinzai sect, during the Muromachi period. He is known as a character in stories.

For IKKYUU's Witty Sayings refer to the section on "IKYUU's Sayings" (also some on this page); for the TV cartoon "Ikkyuu-san", refer to the section on "Ikyuu-san".


Born in Kyoto, said to be the illegitimate child of Emperor Gokomatsu. In Kazunaga SUGAWARA's diary, "Higashiboujou Kazunaga Kyouki", he wrote on August 1st of 1494 that "it is said in secret that the monk IKKYUU is a prince, the illegitimate child of Gokomatsu. Nobody in the world knows this."

According to later historical documents, his childhood name was Sengikumaru. Called Shuuken for a long time, he also went by Kyouunshi, Katsuro, and Mukei. Soujun was his Kaimyo (posthumous Buddhist name), also written as Soujun. IKKYUU was his Dougou (monk's name).
(Refer to the section on "Kaimyo" for Kaimyo and Dougou.)

He took orders under Shuukan SHOUGE at Kyoto's Ankokuji at the age of 6, and was named Shuuken. He quickly developed a talent for poetry; and his poems "Choumonshunsou", which he wrote at 13, and "Shunishukka", which he wrote at 15 years of age, were praised throughout Kyoto.

In 1410, at the age of 17, he became a student of Soui KENOU and changed his name to Soujun. KENOU died in 1414. Whether it was because of the death of his teacher is difficult to determine, but IKKYUU attempted suicide around that time.

In 1415 he became a student of high priest Soudon KASOU at Kyoto's Daitokuji. He received the name IKKYUU from KASOU when he answered the Koan called Touzan's 3 Blows by saying "the treacherous path returns to the safe path; take a rest and let the rain fall, let the wind blow." The "treacherous path" refers to the world of confusion (distracting thoughts), while the "safe path" refers to the world of enlightenment (Buddha).

One night in 1420 he heard the calling of a crow, and was immediately enlightened. KASOU tried to give him a certificate of dharma transmission, but IKKYUU refused it. It is said that KASOU laughed and called him a fool as he sent him away. From then on he lived a crazy life of poetry, writing, and painting.

In 1428 Emperor Shoukou died without leaving behind a son; and Emperor Gohanazono from the Fushiminomiya family was enthroned. It is said that Emperor Gohanazono's enthronement was based on a recommendation from IKKYUU. From "A chronological history of the Priest Ikkyuu of Toukai". Actually, Yoshio IMAIZUMI says that Emperor Gohanazono's enthronement had the support of the shogunate, and had nothing to do with IKKYUU's recommendation.

After the Onin War in 1474, at the order of Emperor Gotsuchimikado he was installed as chief priest (the 47th) of Daitokuji; and although he did not live in the temple, he put a lot of effort into its restoration. The subsidiary temple Shinjuan was built with IKKYUU as its founder. He was close to the emperor, and was also loved by the people.

He died at Shuuonan in 1481, at the age of 88. It is reported that on his deathbed he said, "I don't want to die." Shuuonan, commonly called "Ikkyuuji", is located in the Takigi area of Kyoutanabe City in Kyoto. The ruined Myoushouji temple was restored by IKKYUU in 1456. His grave is at Shuuonan and is called Jiyoutou, but is managed by the Imperial Household Agency as an imperial tomb, calling it the grave of prince Soujun, son of Emperor Gokomatsu, based on the stories about his lineage. For that reason it is not open to the public.


Free and uninhibited, he was said to have many eccentricities. The following anecdotes have been passed on.

He threw his certificate of dharma transmission and other valuable texts into a fire.

Besides homosexuality, he did things that are forbidden in Buddhism, such as drinking liquor, eating meat, and cavorting with women, had a mistress called Shinjisha, and one of his students was a son of his named Shoutei KIOU.

He walked about town in peculiar attire, such as with a wooden sword in a red lacquer sheath.

One day while Rennyo, the master of Honganji and also his friend, was out, he went into his room and took a nap on Rennyo's statue of the Amitabha.
Upon returning home to see this, Rennyo said, "what are you doing to my tools of trades?"

At the new year, he stuck a skull on top of a cane, and walked around yelling, "beware, beware."

This kind of action seems strange at first, but has something in common with such famous Tang dynasty Chinese Rinzai priests as Fuke, and as a teaching style is an expression of the eccentric spirit of Zen. At the same time, it was also a way to criticize and satirize the decline Buddhism, and the growth of an authoritarian strain, and to raise an alarm at the wearing down and ossification of Buddhism. This can also be understood from the sermon, "7 Buddhas Tsuukaige", which he wrote himself.

This kind of starkly human lifestyle, without concern for rules or formality, gained him sympathy from the masses, and in the Edo Period became the basis for collections of witty stories such as "Ikkyuu's Sayings".

IKKYUU was known as a skilled calligrapher. It is said that IKKYUU was Jukou MURATA's teacher, and his writings were prized most highly among practitioners of the tea ceremony.
(Recent research has cast doubt upon the tales of IKKYUU being Jukou's teacher.)

His writings (poetry collections) include "Kyouunshuu", "Kyouunshuu Continued", "Jikaishuu", and "Skeleton". He is representative of the Higashiyama culture. He is known to have criticized the shogunate of Yoshimasa ASHIKAGA and his wife Tomiko HINO.

Words Given to Us by Soujun IKKYUU

The New Year's decorative pine trees are a milestone on the journey toward death; they are both happy and unhappy. (Kyouunshuu)

The Buddha is mischievous, come to this world to lead many people astray.

Akikaze Ichiya Hyakusennen (One night together with you in the autumn breeze.
That is worth a hundred or a thousand years.)

In flowers, the cherry tree; in men, the samurai; in trees, the cypress; in fish, the sea bream; in kimono, the maple-leaf pattern; in flowers, Miyoshino (the cherry tree of the Yoshino district of Nara Prefecture).

Woman is the storehouse of the dharma; she bears Buddha and Bodhidharma alike.

According to Antonio INOKI and others, the words attributed to IKKYUU that begin with "what will happen if I go down this path..." are not actually his words, but are actually from Tetsuo KIYOZAWA's poem "The Path"; although there is some confusion about the source.
(compiled in "Mujoudanshou" with some omissions and errors)

Research and Commentary on Soujun IKKYUU

"Ikyuu: A Zen Monk in Troubled Times" (Hakugen ICHIKAWA, NHK Publishing, December 1970 – (NHK Books 132))

"Ikyuu: The World of Kyouunshuu" (Seizan YANAGIDA, Kyoto Jinbunshoin, August 1980)

"Ikkyuu" (2nd Edition, Tsutomu MIZUKAMI, Tokyo Chuou Kouronsha, May 1997 (Chuukoubunko))

"Ikkyuu: Breaking Rules and Madness" (Isamu KURITA, Tokyo Shoudensha, November 2005) ISBN 4396612567



"Akkanbee Ikkyuu" by Hisashi SAKAGUCHI


"Ikkyuu-san" 10/15/1975 – 6/28/1982 Produced by Touei Moving Pictures (now Touei Animation); Broadcasted by Japan Educational Television (now Asahi Television)

"R.O.D.: Read or Die" (An OVA series sold from 2001 to -2002. 3 episodes.
Produced by Studio Orphee/ANIPLEX)


"Witty Detective Ikkyuu-san: The Secret Room in Kinkakuji" (Touichirou KUJIRA)

"Witty Detective Ikkyuu-san: Solving Riddles on the Road" (Touichirou KUJIRA)

"Ikkyuu: Dark Nights" (Ken ASAMATSU)

"Ikkyuu: Dark Things" (Ken ASAMATSU)

"Ikkyuu: Crescent Moon" (Ken ASAMATSU)

"Ikkyuu: Alkaid" (Ken ASAMATSU)

Television Dramas

"War of the Flowers" (1994, Soujun IKKYUU played by Eiji OKUDA)

Television Variety Shows

"Japanese History Suspense Theater" (2008, Soujun IKKYUU played by Cha KATOU)


Many stories recall that he was a quick-witted little monk in his childhood, and made a name for himself by doing difficult training in his youth. This aspect is especially emphasized in the stories aimed at children. Many of the stories feature him as a child getting one over on a priest or Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA with his witty remarks. Such stories combine elements from "Ikkyuu's Sayings" with the real Soujun IKKYUU; and as far as his childhood goes, is far from historically accurate; it is probably done to get readers involved in the story, as it only gets into more difficult reading in the episodes from his youth onward. Some accounts do not explicitly state the child IKKYUU's name or birth, or the names of temples.

"Ikkyuu's Sayings"

Known as "Ikkyuu-san's Witty Stories", these appeared in the Genroku Period (the first half year of the Edo era), over 200 years after IKKYUU's death. The author is unknown. Because "Ikkyuu's Sayings" includes, in addition to IKKYUU's deeds, many characters and folk stories in which IKKYUU has been substituted for other monks, it cannot be called historically accurate. It is a book in which a historical figure has been imbued with the people's desires.

"Ikkyuu's Sayings" is beloved today as a children's book; and there has been a television cartoon adaptation, "Ikkyuu-san". Through this story, many children have learned about Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA, Rokuonji, and the Muromachi Period before ever going to history class.

[Original Japanese]