Issunboshi (The Inch-High Samurai) (一寸法師)

Issunboshi is one of the old tales of Japan. The story that has been passed down to the present is based on what was published in Otogi Zoshi (books of illustrated stories published in the 14th to 16th centuries).


The storyline of Issunboshi that is currently known to the general public is as follows.

A childless elderly couple prayed to Sumiyoshi Sanjin (The Three Deities of Sumiyoshi) to bless them with a child, and the elderly woman bore a child. However, the child that was born was only one sun tall (three centimeters in the modern metric units), and he did not grow bigger even though the years went by. The child was named Issunboshi.

One day, Issunboshi announced that he wanted to go to Kyoto to become a samurai. 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. He found a large, splendid house and he decided to work there. When he accompanied the daughter of the household on her trip to visit a shrine, an ogre came to kidnap her. When Issunboshi tried to protect her, the ogre swallowed him. Issunboshi pricked the inside of the ogre's belly with his needle. The ogre surrendered, begging him to stop because of the pain, and he spat out Issunboshi and ran away into the mountains.

Issunboshi took the uchide no kozuchi (miracle mallet) the ogre had dropped, and he shook it to make himself big. He became 182 cm tall and he married the daughter. He also used it to make food and treasures appear, and he and his descendants lived prosperously.

However, the version published in Otogi Zoshi is a little different from the story that is known now.

The elderly couple was starting to fear that Issunboshi might be a monster because he was not growing bigger. Therefore, Issunboshi decided for himself to leave his home.

In Kyoto, Issunboshi lived in the house of a Sangi (Councilor).

Issunboshi fell in love with the daughter of the prime minister, and he wanted to have her as his wife. However, he knew that would not happen with his tiny body, and therefore, he came up with a plan. He took grains of rice offered at the household Shinto altar and put them on the daughter's lips. Then he held an empty bag and pretended to cry. When the prime minister saw him he lied, saying that the daughter took the rice he had been saving. Prime minister believed that and tried to kill the daughter. Issunboshi mediated the situation, and he left the house with the daughter.

The boat the two of them took got blown away to an eerie island. They met an ogre there, and the ogre swallowed Issunboshi. However, Issunboshi made use of his small body and got out of the ogre's body through its eye. As he repeated this several times the ogre became completely afraid of Issunboshi and he left, leaving behind its uchide no kozuchi.

Issunboshi's reputation spread, and he was summoned to the Imperial Court. The Emperor was pleased by Issunboshi, and he promoted him to the rank of Chunagon (Vice Councilor of State).

Similar stories are recorded in other resources. The plot against the chief's daughter can also be seen and is recorded in "Shinkoku Gudo Zuihitsu (神国愚童随筆)," which was written during the Edo period.

The daughter, still under false accusation, was put in Issunboshi's care. However, there was a concept at work, in which eating the food brought by a suitor was considered as a sign of accepting his intention.

Hoshi, who gained his soon-to-be wife, grew into a young man using the kozuchi (small mallet) he just acquired, and he married the daughter. Depending on the story, some stories lack the scheme to trick the daughter.

There are stories that are all about defeating the ogre and missing the schemes or the part about growing into a young man.

Depending on the stories passed down in the localities the content varies greatly.


It is not known when the current version of the story was established. However, it is considered that it was already established by the latter half of the Muromachi period. The idea of 'Chiisanako' (Little child) is considered to have originated in the Japanese mythology of Sukunahikona (little male deity of the earth, suku means little, na means the earth, hiko means male deity, and na is a postfix).

Sukunahikona is linked to the Issunboshi of the Middle Ages in "Kootoko no Soshi" and to the modern Issunboshi in "Otogi Zoshi" through intermediaries of Dojohoshi in 'Nihon Ryoiki' (Miraculous Stories from the Japanese Buddhist Tradition, written in the early Heian period) and SUGAWARA no Michizane in "Tenjin Engi" (The History of Kitano Tenjin Shrine).

Just as Sukunahikona, the deity who created the nation, appeared by the water, the main character of the old tale, 'Chiisako' (Small Child) is also associated with the water realm in some form. The existence of fundamental belief related to the water deity is pointed out. The fact that the elderly couple does not have any children, in itself, is a heterodoxy in a community. The heretic asks god for a favor, and a child is born from the shin or born as a snail (Tanishi Choja). Abnormal births such as these are not uncommon in tales of heroes or the children of god.

Because Issunboshi from Otogi Zoshi became famous, local folklores and stories involving little people also came to be called 'Issunboshi.'

The village of Naniwa in Tsu Province, where Issunboshi lived, is considered to be the region near present-day Mittera and Nanba area. In addition, because it says in Otogi Zoshi, 'Leaving the waters of Naniwa where I used to live, my heart races to the Capital,' it is said that present-day Dotonbori-gawa River is the water of Naniwa from which he embarked on his trip to Kyoto in a bowl.


Just as Okuninushi no Mikoto (Ohonamuchi, oho means great, na means the earth, muchi means revered being) created a country with the help of Sukunahikona, dwarfs pair up with giants, and they share their attributes of heroes, which are power and wisdom.

While the giant turns into an ogre or fall into being ridiculed for his lack of wisdom, the dwarf uses his craftiness. In the end, the dwarf becomes a grown man and returns home to a happy ending. Rather than physical strength, perhaps, craftiness that enables one to maneuver through real-life difficulties was more desirable to the social strata. Even despicable trickery is overlooked because it is committed by little children.

In the old tale of a sly and crafty man, "Tawara Yakushi," the main character appears as a sly and craftily child villain who doesn't even possess a shred of sense of justice of a hero. He thoroughly beats and kills his wealthy master, and though the way he does this is similar to the story of Issunboshi, it is malicious. The child gives one lie after another to cheat the master, and the child finally kills the master by pushing him down the levee. Then he forces the master's wife to marry him.
The story ends, 'Then he forces the master's wife to marry him. How funny.'
This manner of the narrative is somewhat humorous and filled with parody and black humor.

The young boy of Tawara Yakushi, who gains wealth and a woman through lies and slaughtering, is an opposite image of Issunboshi, who gains ogre's treasure and a woman through his cleverness.
This is nothing other than the descendant of the god, 'Chiisako.'

The cruelty of the young boy in Tawara Yakushi is directed at innocent outsiders. To cover himself he tricks and murders even the helpless people, such as a blind man who just happened to pass by, as well as a beggar with an eye illness.

Here, what is brought to light is the dark side of the village in which killing outsiders constitutes a compensation. In telling the story of malicious workings of a clever mind with humor and laughter, it brings out an aspect of a clever mind that is destructive and beyond the establishment. At the same time, there is the complexity of the village community. It implies that a clever mind strips off meaning from justice and fairness, and that it has a dangerous power to laugh away the stable order which is important in maintaining authority. Sukunahikona, though he was a god who created the nation, he, in fact, was also a creator of chemical technology such as sake brewing and medicine making. Tokiwa INOMATA, a lecturer at Kyoritsu Women's Junior College, analyzes that this implies that a 'clever mind' does not simply represent cultural order.

Similar Stories

Stories that feature 'Chiisako' are found all over the country. They are Issunboshi, Sunekotanpako, Akuto Taro (Akuto means heel), Mamesuke (thumb), Yubitaro (name that describes where he was born), Mameichi, Goburato (Jiro) (a name that describes that he is small), Sanmontake, Issunkotaro, Tanishi (mud snail), Katatsumuri (snail), Kaeru (frog), Koropokkuru (small people in Ainu folklore) Kamui of Ainu, Kijimuna, Kenmun, and on the point of being very small at birth, Momotaro, Uriko Hime (Princess Uriko) and Kaguya Hime (Princess Kaguya) are also related. There are many variations on the components regarding defeating of the ogre, plot to get married and the magical items. The story that evolves from being born from a shin or a finger, and the birth of a small animal to marriage by trickery is old, but is newer than the figure of Issunboshi in Otogi Zoshi. It has left a mark in popularizing old tales in the Chugoku and Shikoku regions.

Hidden Mysteries

In the storyline, Issunboshi went to Kyoto because he wanted to become a samurai. However, in reality, he detected the elderly couple's fear of him because he was not growing bigger, therefore he left home before they could abandon him. Surprisingly, after leaving home Issunboshi did things that were very bad.
That is, he was a 'bad boy trickster.'

Issunboshi is also a fairy tale of 'Chiisako.'
It is a story of a woman from the water realm (the sea) who has an immaculate conception due to her relationship with a god, and she gives birth to a 'little child.'

According to a historical novelist Yuji SEKI, the god of Sumiyoshi to whom the elderly couple asks for favor is the Sumiyoshi Sanjin enshrined at Sumiyoshi-taisha Shrine. Empress Jingu is enshrined next to Sumiyoshi Okami (the great gods of Sumiyoshi). Empress Jingu was a mysterious character because she is thought to have had an 'extramarital affair' with Sumiyoshi Okami when her husband, Emperor Chuai, died while she was in present-day northern Kyushu region. After that, Emperor Ojin was born.

At Sumiyoshi-taisha Shrine Empress Jingu and Sumiyoshi Okami are enshrined closely together, but Emperor Chuai is not enshrined. Even at shrines that enshrine Emperor Ojin, and at Hachiman-jinja Shrines that enshrine Empress Jingu throughout Japan, Emperor Chuai is equally ignored.

Emperor Ojin enshrined at Iwashimizu Hachiman-gu Shrine (presently at Yawata City, Kyoto Prefecture) looks very much like Issunboshi, and it is said that he was born riding on a bamboo leaf at the age of three. Similarly, behind Kagoshima-jingu Shrine (presently at Kirishima City, Kagoshima Prefecture) that enshrines the same Hachiman-gu deity, there is Nageki no Mori Forest. According to a local lore, it is said that long ago, a small but noble child (hiruko (leech child)) was born, but he was abandoned and was left in the currents of water, and he was sad and distressed. Seki speculates that this condition is similar to that of Issunboshi.

As Seki implies, it can be interpreted that Sumiyoshi Okami bestowed Issunboshi, who looked just like Emperor Ojin, to Empress Jingu. Therefore, it seems to imply that Emperor Ojin was a child between Empress Jingu and Sumiyoshi Okami.

Furthermore, an alternate name for Sumiyoshi Okami is 'Shiotsuchinooji.'
Because he is known for his very long life, he is also associated with a historical character, TAKENOUCHI no Sukune. TAKENOUCHI no Sukune was the patriarch of Omi, an ancient local ruling family. Shiotsuchinooji encouraged the Eastern Expedition of Emperor Jinmu (story in Japanese mythology about the first generation of the Imperial family), while Takenouchi helped the Eastern Expedition of Emperor Ojin, sharing a common point. Therefore, it is convincing that the father of Emperor Ojin, known as Issunboshi, was not Emperor Chuai but Sumiyoshi Okami, who was TAKENOUCHI no Sukune.

It is highly possible that the people who destroyed the Soga clan and took over the realm during the eighth century rewrote the history of the royal family. It is a story created out of necessity to cover up the fact that the Soga clan, who was taunted as 'the worst villains in the realm,' was a blood relative of the royal family.

The Soga clan was a loser in history, and their identity and accomplishments have been erased from the "official history." It can be said that those who lost and were left to decay in history created this type of fairy tale, out of their desire to pass down to posterity their regrets and historical truths.
Yuji SEKI says that two opposing views born out of a struggle between 'those who tried to erase history' and 'those who wanted to protect history' created a 'fairy tale that smoothed out the truths' and a 'fairy tale that clarified the truths.'

In any case, it can be said that the shadow of the historical Soga clan is contained in the two old tales of Issunboshi and Urashima Taro.

The average height of the humans started to grow relatively recently. However, had it been growing since the birth of human beings long ago, there may be a medical anthropological question that says that perhaps, the first humans were about the size of Issunboshi.


There are proverbs that involve shojin (small person, small character, physically short person, Issunboshi) such as, if a small person sits idle he will do something that's not good, which means that if a person of small character has too much time on his hands he will do something that's not good.

A small person making a mistake will always embellish it, which means when a person of small character makes a mistake he won't try to change it for the better, but instead, he will try to cover it up and embellish it.

A small person is innocent, but he becomes a sinner if he holds a treasure, which means being a small person in itself is not a sin, but if a small person comes into possession of an inappropriate amount of treasure he often tends to make mistakes.

Children's Literature

With Issunboshi, a book from the collection of 24 volumes of "Nihon Mukashibanashi" (Old Tales of Japan) authored by Sazanami IWAYA (introduced in 1896), which were children's books during the Meiji period, the Sazanami-style Issunboshi became established. Later, this book was reprinted more than 20 times in about 10 years until 1907, and it was read continuously until the end of the Taisho period. It can be said that the overall plot in most of the children's books that are published now falls along the line of the Sazanami-type Issunboshi. The innate craftiness disappeared and Issunboshi became a lovable character. Defeating of the ogre takes place when he accompanies the princess to Kiyomizu Kannon.

For illustrated books, "Issunboshi" (published by Fukuinkan Shoten Publishers, Inc., 1965) retold by Momoko ISHII and illustrated by Fuku AKINO, is outstanding.

In Japan, The Fairy Tales of Charles PERRAULT "Oyayubikozo" (Hop o' my Thumb) was used as the title of "Issunboshi Novel," and they were both introduced in the magazine, "Shokokumin" in 1896.


In 1905, 'Issunboshi' with lyrics written by Sazanami IWAYA appeared in "Jinjo Shogaku Shoka" (songs collected for common elementary education), and it continues to be sung by children. With this song as a start, the story was included in Japanese textbooks for third graders in 1874, and it spread widely. Even to this day, many consent to this model of advancement in life and social advancement of the disadvantaged. The original text is entirely in old katakana, but it has been rewritten in hirakana mixed with Chinese characters.

Song 'Issunboshi'

Issunboshi, not even as tall as a finger, with a big hope in his little body he goes to Kyoto in a boat made out of a bowl and a paddle made out of a chopstick
Issunboshi, he was hired by a minister of Sanjo in Kyoto, he was favored, being called Hoshi, Hoshi, he went to Kiyomizu accompanying the princess
On the way back from Kiyomizu-dera Temple, an ogre appeared, but when he tried to eat him Hoshi danced into the ogre's mouth
Holding a pin as his sword in the sakate (reverse) position he pricked the belly, the ogre spat out Hoshi and ran away with all of his might
Uchide no kozuchi the ogre left, when it was shaken a miracle happened, with each shaking Issunboshi grew taller, and he is now a fine, big man

Financial Products

Issunboshi is a small Japanese, emerging equity fund of Goldman Sachs & Co. It is a financial product that invests into companies with small market capitalization or companies that have had their stock listings only for a short time.

Companies and Restaurants

Koshitsu no Yume (Dream in Private Rooms), Issunboshi is a restaurant that serves food cooked in steaming baskets and food broiled over binchotan charcoal (high-grade charcoal produced from ubame oak (Quercus phillyraeoides)). It is a popular restaurant within 'Otogibanashi TACHIKAWA' (Fairy Tale Tachikawa) in Tachikawa City. Inside the restaurant, there are private rooms shaped like black lacquered bowls, and there are many objects such as giant bowls and chopsticks fashioned into boats and paddles, and the world of Issunboshi as a children's story is dynamically depicted.

In dictionaries, Issunboshi is described as 'a very short person, a dwarf.'

Based on the fairy tale Issunboshi, there is someone who was given the name 'Issunboshi' as his real name. He is Issunboshi OKUYAMA, a businessman and the chief executive of a listed company, Freesia Macross Co., Ltd.

[Original Japanese]