Saturday, April 7, 2012

Japanese Tom Thumb or David vs. Goliath: Issun Boshi

Everyone loves an underdog. The Japanese do too, of course. This is a post about a Japanese underdog that reminds me of the bible story of David and Goliath or the old British fairy tale of Tom Thumb... You know, the little guy that no one thinks has any chance of winning, yet does?

David vs. Goliath (left) Issun Boshi vs Oni (right)  

Perhaps one of the oldest stories of the underdog overcoming what seems like insurmountable odds and winning is the bible story from 1 Samuel 17 of David vs. Goliath. The Old Testament version makes for very dry reading (as the Old Testament seems to always do). Anyhow, just in case you don't know, here's a short version of the story:

The Philistine army was camped for war against the Israelites. The two armies faced each other on opposite sides of a valley. Every day for forty days a giant Philistine soldier came out mocking and challenging the Israelites to fight. The giant’s name was Goliath. The entire army of the Israelites were terrified of Goliath.
One day a young Israelite named David came to the battlefield. There he saw the fear on the Israelite soldier’s faces when Goliath shouted challenges. From that, David volunteered to fight Goliath. 
When they headed into battle, Goliath wore his full body armor but David only wore a tunic and had a shepard’s staff and slingshot. When David came close to Goliath, the giant swore at him and threatened him.
David said , "You come with sword and weapons, but I come in the name of God. Today I will feed your carcass to the birds.”
As Goliath laughed and moved in to kill David, David used his slingshot and fired a stone that struck Goliath right between the eyes and killed him. David then took Goliath’s sword and cut off his head.  

I write about this now as, since it is cherry blossom season, I am annually reminded of a Japanese story that has always reminded me of the story of David vs. Goliath. It's the story of Issun Boshi.

Here's information from Wikipedia's Issun Boshi entry:

The story begins with an old, childless couple who live alone. The old woman wishes for a child, despite her old age, "Please, please let us have a child, no matter how small." Eventually, a son was born to them. But small indeed was the child--no larger than a grown man's fingertip. They named the miniature child Issun-bōshi (Issun is a measure of approximately 3 centimeters. Bōshi means son). The child, despite being incredibly small, is treated well by his parents. One day, the boy realizes he will never grow, so he goes on a trip to seek his place in the world. Fancying himself a miniature samurai, Issun-bōshi is given a sewing needle for a sword, a soup bowl for a boat, and chopsticks for oars.
He sails down river to the city, where he petitions for a job with the government and goes to the home of a wealthy daimyo, whose daughter is an attractive princess. He is scorned for his height, but nevertheless given the job of accompanying the princess as her playmate. While they travel together, they are suddenly attacked by an oni, who deals with the pesky boy by swallowing him. The boy defeats the Oni by pricking him from within with his needle/sword. The Oni spits out Issun-boshi and drops the magical Uchide's Mallet as he runs away. As a reward for his bravery, the princess uses the power of the mallet to grow him to full size. Issun-bōshi and the princess remain close companions and eventually wed.

Like I said, this story always reminds me of David vs. Goliath. Might seem a stretch but the little guy overcoming the giant and all seems like a quite similar story... And this time of year, cherry blossom season, reminds me of Issun Boshi.

This also, by the way, is extremely similar to the British story of Tom Thumb which has the glory of being the very first fairy tale to ever be published in a book, according to Wikipedia. The big difference between Issun Boshi and Tom Thumb is that Tom Thumb doesn't have a happy ending....

Below, and to while away the time this beautiful time of the year, I'd like to present to you, Issun Boshi. And why not? The cherry blossoms are in full bloom; this has always been one of my favorite Japanese fairy tales with its great story of the underdog winning and becoming an inspiration to everyone to overcome and win.... 

English version of Issun Boshi:

For you more adventurous types, here's a silent Japanese language version from 1935: 

Enjoy! It's springtime and it's a wonderful time to be healthy, prosperous and alive!


Andy "In Japan" said...

Sigh. It snowed last night and today up here in Akita prefecture. And it's winter cold.

When, Mike-san, when is spring going to arrive up here? Talk of cherry blossoms rings hollow as I put on my winter coat, hat, and gloves and head out into the cold winter-like air.

mike in tokyo rogers said...

Wow! Really, Andy? Almost mid April and that cold? Dude! Drink some hot sake for me!

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