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The Transformation of Issunboshi, and Kintaro, the Golden Boy
A Prayer to the Empress Jingo
An old married couple went to the shrine of the deified Empress Jingo and prayed that they might be blessed with a child, even if it were no bigger than one of their fingers. A voice was heard from behind the bamboo curtain of the shrine, and the old people were informed that their wish would be granted. In due time the old woman gave birth to a child, and when she and her husband discovered that this miniature piece of humanity was no bigger than a little finger, they became extremely angry, and thought that the Empress Jingo had treated them very meanly indeed, though, as a matter of fact, she had fulfilled their prayer to the letter. "One-Inch Priest"
The little fellow was called Issunboshi ("One-Inch Priest"), and every day his parents expected to see him suddenly grow up as other boys; but at thirteen years of age he still remained the same size as when he was born. Gradually his parents became exasperated, for it wounded their vanity to hear the neighbors describe their son as Little Finger, or Grain-of-Corn. They were so much annoyed that at last they determined to send Issunboshi away.
The little fellow did not complain. He requested his mother to give him a needle, a small soup-bowl, and a chop-stick, and with these things he set off on his adventures. Issunboshi becomes a Page
His soup-bowl served as a boat, which he propelled along the river with his chop-stick. In this fashion he finally reached Kyoto. Issunboshi wandered about this city until be saw a large roofed gate. Without the least hesitation he walked in, and having reached the porch of a house, he cried outin a very minute voice: "I beg an honourable inquiry!"
Prince Sanjo himself heard the little voice, and it was some time before he could discover where it came from. When he did so he was delighted with his discovery, and on the little fellow begging that he might live in the Prince's house, his request was readily granted. The boy became a great favorite, and was at once made the Princess Sanjo's page. In this capacity he accompanied his mistress everywhere, and though so very small, he fully appreciated the honour and dignity of his position.
An Encounter with Oni
One day the Princess Sanjo and her page went to the Temple of Kwannon, the Goddess of Mercy "under whose feet are dragons of the elements and the lotuses of Purity." As they were leaving the temple two oni (evil spirits) sprang upon them. Issunboshi took out his needle-sword from its hollow straw, and loudly denouncing the oni, he flourished his small weapon in their evil-looking faces.
One of the creatures laughed. "Why," said he scornfully "I could swallow you, as a cormorant swallows a trout, and what is more, my funny little bean-seed, I will do so!" The oni opened his mouth, and Issunboshi found. himself slipping down a huge throat until he finally stood in the creature's great dark stomach. Issunboshi, nothing daunted, began boring away with his needle-sword. This made the evil spirit cry out and give a great cough, which sent the little fellow into the sunny world again.
The second oni, who had witnessed his companion's distress, was extremely angry, and tried to swallow the remarkable little page, but was not successful. This time Issunboshi climbed up the creature's nostril, and when he had reached the end of what seemed to him to be a very long and gloomy tunnel, he began piercing the oni's eyes. The creature, savage with pain, ran off as fast as he could, followed by his yelling companion.
Needless to say, the Princess was delighted with her page's bravery, and told him that she was sure her father would reward him when he was told about the terrible encounter.
The Magic Mallet
On their way home the Princess happened to pick up a small wooden mallet. "Oh!" said she "this must have been dropped by the wicked oni, and it is none other than a lucky mallet. You have only to wish and then tap it upon the ground, and your wish, no matter what, is always granted. My brave Issunboshi, tell me what you would most desire, and I will tap the mallet on the ground."
After a pause the little fellow said: "Honourable Princess, I should like to be as big as other people."
The Princess tapped the mallet on the ground, calling aloud the wish of her page. In a moment Issunboshi was transformed from a bijou creature to a lad just like other youths of his age.
These wonderful happenings excited the curiosity of the Emperor, and Issunboshi was summoned to his presence. The Emperor was so delighted with the youth that he gave him many gifts and made him a high official. Finally, Issunboshi became a great lord and married Prince Sanjo's youngest daughter.
Kintaro, the Golden Boy
Sakata Kurando was an officer of the Emperor's bodyguard, and though he was a brave man, well versed in the art of war, he had a gentle disposition, and during his military career chanced to love a beautiful lady named Yaégiri. Kurando eventually fell into disgrace, and was forced to leave the Court and to become a travelling tobacco merchant. Yaégiri, who was much distressed by her lover's flight, succeeded in escaping from her home, and wandered up and down the country in the hope of meeting Kurando. At length she found him, but the unfortunate man, who, no doubt, felt deeply his disgrace and his humble mode of living, put an end to his humiliation by taking his miserable life.
When Yaéciri had buried her lover she went to the Ashigara Mountain, where she gave birth to a child, called Kintaro, or the Golden Boy. Now Kintaro was remarkable for his extreme strength. When only a few years old his mother gave him an axe, with which he felled trees as quickly and easily as an experienced woodcutter. Ashigara Mountain was a lonely and desolate spot, and as there were no children with whom Kintaro could play, he made companions of the bear, deer, hare, and monkey, and in a very short time was able to speak their strange language.
One day, when Kintaro was sitting on the mountain, with his favourites about him, he sought to amuse himself by getting his companions to join in a friendly wrestling match. A kindly old bear was delighted with the proposal, and at once set to work to dig up the earth and arrange it in the form of a small dais. When this had been made a hare and a monkey wrestled together, while a deer stood by to give encouragement and to see that the sport was conducted fairly. Both animals proved themselves to be equally strong, and Kintaro tactfully rewarded them with tempting rice-cakes.
After spending a pleasant afternoon in this way, Kintaro proceeded to return home, followed by his devoted friends. At length they came to a river, and the animals were wondering how they should cross such a wide stretch of water, when Kintaro put his strong arms round a tree which was growing on the bank, and pulled it across the river so that it formed a bridge. Now it happened that the famous hero, Yorimitsu, and his retainers witnessed this extraordinary feat of strength, and said to Watanabe Isuna: "This child is truly remarkable. Go and find out where he lives and all about him."
A Famous Warrior
So Watanabe Isuna followed Kintaro and entered the house where he lived with his mother. "My master," said he "Lord Yorimitsu, bids me find out who your wonderful son is." When Yaégiri had narrated the story of her life and informed her visitor that her little one was the son of Sakata Kurando, the retainer departed and told Yorimitsu all he had heard.
Yorimitsu was so pleased with what Watanabe Isuna told him that he went himself to Yaégiri, and said: "If you will give me your child I will make him my retainer." The woman gladly consented, and the Golden Boy went away with the great hero, who named him Sakata Kintoki. He eventually became a famous warrior, and the stories of his wonderful deeds are recited to this day. Children regard him as their favorite hero, and little boys, who would fain emulate the strength and bravery of Sakata Kintoki, carry his portrait in their bosoms.