Ikkyū Sōjun

* February 1st, 1394
630 years

Ikkyū Sōjun

This year marks the six hundred and thirtieth anniversary of Ikkyū's birthday on February 1st. Yoshigasaki Sensei mentioned in his seminars that Ikkyū could see his thoughts and his body. (See also "Aikido in Real Life", pages 179 and 199). This anniversary should be an opportunity to point out a scientific biography of Ikkyū by Prof. Evgeny Steiner, which was first published in 1987 in Russian. I could read the German edition translated by Peter Raff.
The publisher writes (in excerpts): "In contemporary Japanese studies, which for strategic reasons mostly adheres to anglophone identity-political work exegesis, the biographical approach with its positivist paradigm is no longer the preferred method. Given current tendencies to squeeze science into "easy" formats and to present them in the form of entertaining tidbits, the biography enriched with personal data, details and drama must be the method of choice."

Backcover of the English edition

This book examines Japanese culture of the Muromachi epoch with Ikkyū Sōjun (1394–1481) who called himself "Crazy Cloud (狂雲)" as its focal personage. Ikkyū's contribution to the culture of his time was all-embracing and unique. He can be called the embodiment of his era, given that all the features typical for the Japanese culture of the High Middle Ages were concentrated in his personality. This multidisciplinary study of Ikkyū's artistic, religious, and philosophical heritage reconstructs his creative mentality and his way of life. The aesthetics and art of Ikkyū are shown against a broad historical background. Much emphasis is given to Ikkyū's interpretation of Zen. The book discusses in great detail Ikkyū's religious and ethical principles, as well as his attitude towards sex, and shows that his rebellious and iconoclastic ways were deeply embedded in the tradition. The book pulls together materials from cultural and religious history with literary and visual artistic texts, and offers a multifaceted view on Ikkyū, as well as on the cultural life of the Muromachi period. This approach ensures that the book will be interesting for art historians, historians of literature and religion, and specialists in cultural and visual studies.


The book contains a wealth of information on almost 300 pages. The chapter headings are:
1. The Birth of Ikkyū. The Political Situation in Japan at that Time
2. Childhood, Adolescense and Youth in Monasteries. Zen and the Gozan System
3. Years of Vagabondage
4. The Years of Maturity
5. Ikkyū and the Art
6. Ikkyū's Zen or An Attempt of Constructing a Model of Medieval Japanese Mind
7. Old Age, Love, Glory
Russian: Евгений Штейнер, Дзен-жизнь: Иккю и окрестности, 1987, 2006
English: Evgeny Steiner, Zen-Life: Ikkyū and Beyond, 2014
German: Evgeny Steiner, Ikkyū Sōjun - Der Zen-Mönch "Verrückte Wolke" und seine Zeit, 2018


At the end of Chapter 2, we read about the events of Ikkyū's great satori at the age of 26. His master demands a poem as confirmation. Ikkyū wrote most of his poems in Chinese, as in this example. To understand these poems you need extensive knowledge of historical Chinese poetry.
However, independent Japanese poetry had already developed in Japan centuries before Ikkyū. An example is the biography of Ki no Tsurayuki (872-945), which has been translated from Russian into German by the same translator and also appeared in the OAG series.

The Author

Prof. Evgeny Semyonovich Steiner (*1955) received his doctorate from the Institute of Oriental Studies at the Academy of Sciences in Moscow. Since the early 1990s he has been teaching and researching in the field of Japanese and Russian cultural studies at universities in Jerusalem, Tokyo, New York and Manchester. Since 2008 he has been a Professorial Research Associate at the Japan Research Center, SOAS (Univ. of London) and since 2012 a professor at the Business School "Национальный исследовательский университет "Высшая ш кола экономики» (НИУ ВШЭ)" in Moscow.

Theme song of the 1975 anime series

Ikkyū-san is a television series for children, produced from 1975 to 1982. It tells the life of the monk Ikkyū Sōjun as he intelligently asserts himself against those in power and helps others. Four films were also released in the series.
The total of 296 episodes, each with a running time of 25 minutes, were shown by TV Asahi in Japan from October 15, 1975 to June 28, 1982. This was followed by several broadcasts in Italy and one in the Arab world. As "Ikkyu the Little Monk", the anime was shown with English subtitles in the United States, but only on some local channels for the Japanese community. The series is also popular in China, probably because Ikkyū is seen as belonging to Chinese culture, as he wrote most of his works in classical Chinese.

Ikkyū for children

Ikkyū was a son of Emperor Go-Komatsu-Tennō with a concubine. The mother came from a rival line of the imperial family and was expelled from the court. She later took her 6-year-old son to a monastery to protect him from being killed in succession disputes.
The famous story about honey happened in the monastery.
The story of the tiger happened at the Shōgun in Tōkyo.
Ikkyū built himself a small temple in Kyōto.

Text of the video

一休禅師 物語
Ikkyū Zenji Monogatari

Stories about the Zen master Ikkyu

Here is a story in Japan from 600 years ago. There was a wise child monk called "Ikkyu". IKKYU-SAN
Ikkyu used his wisdom to manage authorities around him. Today, I'd love to tell you the story of Ikkyu.

It was 1394, Muromachi period. A boy was born. Because he was a love child of the Emperor, the boy was targeted for life. So, his mother shaved the baby's hair to make him a monk, and helped him escape to a temple.

Once he got to the temple, he was named "Ikkyu".* Ikkyu was still six years old at that time; but he wasn'nt allowed to see his mother, and needed to practice monk's discipline very hard every single day.

One day, someone brought a gift, a pot of precious honey. Little child monks were longing to lick the honey so badly. Then Osho-san (the Master Monk) told them, "In fact, this is poison. If you eat it, you will die!"

Little child monks were wondering if it was true, yet still wanted to taste the honey inside the pot. So, they asked Ikkyu about it. Then, Ikkyu got an idea ...

While Osho-san was out, Ikkyu dropped the most expensive vase at the temple. It was Osho-san's favorite one. Little child monks were so shocked to see what Ikkyu did and tried to run away. But then, Ikkyu said to everyone "Listen" We broke the most expensive vase" To pay for our sin, let's end life together!" And he started eating the honey! Other child monks also joined him. They ate EVERYTHING.

When Osho-san got back to the temple, he found his favorite vase broken, and the little child monks were all crying and chanting Buddhist sutra.

"What is going on?!" "We're very sorry! We broke your precious vase! So, to make up for our sins, we ate the POISON in the pot! EVERYTHING! But, for some reason, we could no die ..."
Osho-san figured out that it was clever Ikkyu's trick to eat the honey. Remember? Osho-san made a lie "This is poison!" "Aaaah!! That's fine!Everyone, that's fine! Stop it!" said Osho-san.

The Shogun (general) at the castle had heard the story about Ikkyu. "What a smart child monk! I'd love to invite him to my castle." said the Shogun. Ikkyu was so excited when he received the invitation and thought that the Shogun would share a great meal with him.
However, when Ikkyu arrived at the castle, the Shogun told him ... "I've heard that you are a very clever monk. So, I ask you a favor! Look at the tiger on this folding screen! This tiger jumps out of the folding screen, and does terrible things! We're in trouble ... Can you please capture the tiger for us?"
Of course it was a lie. There was no way a picture tiger could jump out of the picture, but the Shogun wanted to see how Ikkyu would react. It was a challenge from the Shogun to which no one could say "No".
In his mind, the Shogun was laughing at Ikkyu. "Even if you are very smart, it's impossible to do this, in't it?" But the, Ikkyu said "Sure! I'LL tie it up. Could you pleas give me a rope?"
"Could you do that?!" said the Shogun. "Yes, of course!" said Ikkyu. And Ikkyu got a rope from the servant, he said to the Shogun, "So now, please drive the tiger out of the screen! I'm ready to capture it! So ... NOW!"
The Shogun said, "What are you talking about?! It's impossible to drive th tiger out - it's just a PICTURE. The Ikkyu smilde and said, "That's good to know! It IS impossible for the tiger to jump out of the folding screen! I'm so relieved! The, we don't need to worry, nor do I need to capture it!"
The the Shogun said, "Aaaaah!! Excellent! You are really a clever monk!" He was very impressed by Ikkyu.

When Ikkyu grew up, he left the temple, and went on a long journey. He disliked people in authority. Usually, famous monks were wearing magnificent purple kimonos and walking with servants, but, when embarkin on a journey, Ikkyu wore a worn-out kimon, and played the role of a poor monk. He knew that the most important thing was a person's self, not the clothes which show a person's rank.

Some thought Ikkyu was a weirdo, but many others liked him. In his later life, he fell in love with a blind lady called Shinyo, and built a temple - "Shuon-an" in Kyoto.

In fact, the Imperial Court built a large expensive temple for Ikkyu; however, he never visited there, and stayed at his humble little "Shuon-an", with Shinnyo, until his last day.

Just before his death, he said "Ikkyu never dies. I will live forever." He was right. Japanese people still love and talk about Ikkyu's legend, six hundred years after his death.
(This is where the video exaggerates because Ikkyu died only in 1481).

Ikkyu, who hated authority's power, and loved citizenship and freedom, rests in peace in his temple, still today ...

*In fact, Ikkyū received the name Sōjun (宗純, "Pure Teaching") only at the age of 16 upon entering Master Ken'ō's hermitage. And only after his first satori at the age of 24 did he receive the name Ikkyū (一休, "Little Break") from Master Kasō at Lake Biwa.