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Added on 29th June 2020

Oral tradition Japanese folktale

Self-confidence is important when you are no taller than a thumb, but with self-confidence it is amazing what Issun-boshi can achieve.


Issun-boshi is a small boy who never grows bigger. When he wants to leave home to seek his fortune, he sets off down river in a boat made out of his mother’s rice bowl with a sword his father makes him from a needle. He gets a job in a big house and is given the job of protecting his master’s daughter. When out with the girl one day an ‘oni’ (Japanese ogre) threatens to kidnap her and when Issun-boshi threatens him with his sword the ogre swallows the boy. Undeterred Issun-boshi stabs the ogre from inside and is coughed back up again. The ogre flees – leaving behind his magic hammer which will grant any wish.

Why we chose it

The story is a famous legend from Japan and is still very popular there. Issun-boshi is small but he shows enormous courage and self-confidence.

Where it came from

Issun-boshi was included in the Otogi-zōshi. This is a group of 350 Japanese stories which come from the Muromachi period. They cover tales about the aristocracy, religion, warriors, foreign countries and folklore.

Where it went next

The tale became popular again when it was published in the children’s book Nihon Mukashibanashi ‘Old Tales of Japan’ (1896). A new picture book titled Issun Bōshi was written by Ishii Momoko in 1965. The tale was also used to introduce Perrault’s Hop-o’-My-Thumb into Japan in 1896.

Associated stories

The idea of the small child, ‘Chiisa-ko’ appears in many Japanese tales.

The characters and themes have similarities with English Folktales like Tom Thumb.

Hans Christian Andersen created Thumbelina, a tiny girl who is no bigger than a thumb.

Added on 29th June 2020

Oral tradition Japanese folktale