One of the most famous and lovable Buddhist monks in Japan is Ikkyū, affectionately called ikkyū-san (一休さん) in popular culture.
Ikkyu-san is a clever, and mischievous young Buddhist monk (kozō 小僧) who often outsmarts adults, and helps his friends. There are many storybooks and cartoons about him and his adventures. The theme song above is pretty well-known among Japanese today.
The cartoon character Ikkyu-san bears little resemblance to the real Ikkyū (1394-1481), who was a controversial and heretical figure in Rinzai Zen. However, the real Ikkyu entered the priesthood at the age of 5, and was known to be very clever, so this probably helped influence the cartoon character.
Anyhow, my daughter has some stories in Japanese about Ikkyu-san, and my wife and I decided to translate a couple stories into English for her preschool. These are the translations below, which my wife supervised.
The stories were written for little children, hence they are short and simple, but cute and witty.
Don’t Cross This Bridge
Not too long ago, there lived a little monk named Ikkyu. One time, a samurai came and told him, “I want to treat you to a nice dinner, so please come by.”
Ikkyu was happy to go and so he went.
In front of the samurai’s home was a bridge with a sign that said, “Don’t cross the bridge [橋 hashi].”
But, Ikkyu crossed the bridge without a care.
The samurai came out and said, “Hey, didn’t you read the sign?”
And then, Ikkyu said, “I did see it. I didn’t walk on the edge [端 hashi], I walked right in the middle.”
Make the Tiger Come Out
One time, Ikkyu was called by a powerful lord. The lord wanted to know how clever Ikkyu was, so he was going to test him.
“Hey Ikkyu, behind you is a folding screen with a tiger painted on it. Try and catch him.”
There’s no way you can catch a tiger in the folding screen, right?
However, Ikkyu came back with a rope, and said, “Someone please drive out the tiger from the screen. And then I will catch him.”
Then, the lord clapped his hands and said, “Ah, I see. Wow, you’re as clever as people say you are!”
The lord gave him a big reward.