Japanese Tales : Issunboshi
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Issunboshi

Once upon a time there was an old man and woman. They had no children and were miserable over it, so they prayed to the gods to give them a child. "Even if this child is not taller than a finger of the hand, we shall be happy."
Then one day they had a child, as tall as a finger of the hand. The old man and woman were really happy. They had been looking forward to a child for such a long time! As the little boy was not taller than a finger of the hand, they named him "Issunboshi" -which means "tiny and small" in Japanese. They brought him up and were really fond of him. Years passed, but Issunboshi would not grow an inch. At three years old he was still a tiny little boy, and the same at five and ten years. He was still as tall as when he was born, that is, tall as a finger of the hand. The old man and his wife were really worried about it. Even if they did their best to care for him and made him eat a lot, it was no use. The little boy would not grow an inch.

Issunboshi was so small that he could not help the old woman with the housework and when it was time to work in the fields with the old man, he could only carry one blade of grass at a time. Issunboshi was a fine singer and dancer, but he could not work because of his short height and was feeling miserable. Moreover, the children of the village would always laugh at him and call him "dwarf" or "midget". Issunboshi felt bad about everything and made up his mind to leave and travel. So he told the old man and woman, "I'm going to the capital, to find some work."
The old man and his wife were sad at his leaving, but they gave him a bowl, a chopstick and a needle and said to him "Good luck." The little boy put the bowl on his head like an umbrella, had the needle for a sword and used the chopstick as a walking stick and away he went.

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He walked for miles and miles but the capital was very far and he still had miles to go. Then he met an ant and asked her if the city was still far away.
The ant answered,
"Take a short cut by the dandelions,
walk through the field of horsetails
and then go onto the river."
Issunboshi thanked the ant and walked through the dandelions and the horsetails until he got to the river. There, the bowl he used as an umbrella became a boat, the chopstick a pole and the little boy embarked on the river, paddling firmly. After a while he came to a very big bridge where there were lots of people. Seeing this crowd, Issunboshi thought, "Here I am! That's the capital!" and stepped off of his little boat.

The capital was a very large town, crowded with people who seemed busy. It was quite dangerous for the tiny Issunboshi; he could be crushed by the people who would not see him. So he thought, "I'd better take care and not get crushed" and went his way in quiet streets. While wandering in the streets he happened to come upon a gorgeous mansion; it was the home of a very rich and powerful lord. Issunboshi went to the the stairs and called, "Excuse-me, is there anyone in?"
Somebody came but since he did not see the little Issunboshi went back muttering, "I thought I heard somebody calling but there's nobody there."
Then Issunboshi called again, "I'm here, beside the shoes!"
The man looked again, and at last he saw Issunboshi standing near the shoes which were down the stairs. He had never seen a man so tiny in his life! He leant forward and picked up Issunboshi, put him on his palm and looked at him with interest. Then he brought him to the princess' room. There Issunboshi sang and danced and he was so graceful that everybody was delighted. The princess liked so much this child tall as the finger of the hand that she decided he should stay with her.

That is how Issunboshi came to live at the lord's residence as the help of the princess.
When the princess read a book, he would turn the pages; when she practiced calligraphy, he would make the ink for her. He also practiced fencing using his needle as a sword. Issunboshi stayed close to the princess, who would always take him whenever she went out on a walk.

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One day, the princess went to the Kiyomizu shrine and was on her way back when a bandit assaulted her and tried to kidnap her. But Issunboshi was with the princess and he shouted, as loud as he could, "Wait! I, Issunboshi, am here! Beware, rascal!"
The bandit, seeing the little Issunboshi laughed and retorted, "What are you going to do, midget?"
And then he swallowed him. But the tiny Issunboshi was full of courage and with his needle, he jabbed the stomach of the bandit. He went up his throat and kept jabbing as hard as he could. The bandit was writhing with pain and shouting, "Ouch, ouch! It hurts!" But Issunboshi would not stop and finally jumped out of the nostrils of the bandit. The bandit then fled as fast as he could.

Then the princess picked up something the bandit had dropped when he fled. It was a mallet of luck ! She told Issunboshi, "This is a mallet of luck; if you wish something and shake it, it is said that your wish will be fulfilled." The princess was really grateful that Issunboshi had saved her, so she asked him, "What do you wish?"
The tiny Issunboshi, tall as the finger of the hand, answered, "My wish is to became taller."
The princess shook the mallet of luck while saying,
"Grow, grow!
That Issunboshi should get taller!"
Issunboshi grew taller and taller. At last, the princess was facing a charming young man.

They went back to the residence, and there the lord was delighted with Issunboshi and allowed him to marry his daughter. Issunboshi called the old man and the old woman and all of them lived happily in the capital.

Translated and adapted by Myriam Dartois


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