In the province of Shima, there lived a samurai, named Oribe, and his beautiful young daughter,  Tokoyo, who were very fond of each other.  Unfortunately, Oribe offended a powerful local lord and suddenly found himself banished to a remote island far away. Tokoyo, left alone, decided to journey to find her father.  Like all the women of her region, she was brave and fearless, and very strong, for she had spent much time diving for pearls along with the oyster catchers on the coast, and practising martial arts with sword and staff.  After a long and difficult journey, she arrived at the seashore and in the distance could see the island where her father was kept. She sought out the local boatmen and asked them to take her there, but they refused. No-one was allowed to set foot on the island of the exiles.  Not to be put off, Tokoyo waited till nightfall, found a small boat and rowed herself across the choppy waters until the boat grounded on the shore of the island.  Here she ate the food she had brought with her, and dozed off. She was awoken by the sound of sobbing and a raised voice, and looking round, saw by the light of the moon, on a rocky promontory, a monk holding a young girl and preparing to push her into the sea.  Tokoyo shouted to him to stop and hurried over.  “Whatever are you doing?” she asked, taking the girl in her arms. The monk explained that the island was cursed by the appearance over seven years of a huge sea serpent, who demanded that a girl be thrown to him - on this very day, between 8 and 9 in the evening. If not, he sends storms that drown our fishermen, so we have to do it, though of course we do not want to”.  “Wait” said  Tokoyo “ I will take her place, for my heart is broken - I came here to find my father but I do not know where he is and I don't think I will ever see him again. So I will go to the sea monster in her place”.  Saying this, she exchanged her coat for the white robe that the girl was wearing, took her sharp dagger between her teeth, and dived into the sea. Down she went through the moonlight until she reached the bottom, where she saw the dark mouth of a cave awaiting her. Taking her dagger in her hand, she waited, and soon, alerted by the disturbance in the water, a huge creature crawled out. It was about 9 metres long, with thick scales and small clawed feet, and it glowed with an unearthly phosphorescence.  Immediately Tokoyo swam out and struck it through the eye. Blinded, the creature whirled round, but she was too quick for it, got between it and the cave and struck it again, this time in the heart. The monster thrashed about, quivered, and died.  Tokoyo thought she should take some proof that she had indeed killed it, and so she tied his tail to her girdle and prepared to swim up to the surface. Just then she noticed a strange wooden figure at the side of the cave, and recognised it as an image of the Lord who had banished her father.  She took it under one arm and thrust her way upwards.  Finally she broke free of the water and crawled onto the beach, drawing the serpent after her. The girl and the priest rushed to help her, and that night there were great celebrations on the island. The Lord got to hear of her bravery. He had been put under a curse when his image was thrown into the sea, and was so glad to be free of it that he immediately pardoned her father - and so Tokoyo and Oribe were able to return to their home in Shima where they lived peacefully.


About these stories

These two stories were collected by Richard Gordon Smith, a traveler, sportsman and naturalist, who spent 9 years in Japan and wrote detailed diaries.  He published the collection of folktales on his return to London.

Richard Gordon Smith (1908) Ancient Tales and Folklore of Japan.  London: A & C Black


The author says the story of Sankichi is a previously unknown legend, told him by a man called Fukuga who collected pearls and coral up and down the southern coast.  In all probability, Sankichi was deaf – clearly he used quite sophisticated gestures to tell his adventures.  There is a story from a collection made in the first century AD of the daughter of an emperor who is mute and probably deaf, who becomes a priestess.  

The story of Tokoyo came from an unnamed narrator, and the author says it probably dates back to around 1320 AD.   It can also be found in Lari Don’s great collection of stories  Girls, Goddesses and Giants (AC Black, 2013). It is very unusual to have such an active girl heroine as Tokoyo in a Japanese story, but Japan does have a strong tradition of women warriors: Tomoe Gozen in the 14th C epic Tale of the Heiki, for example, who is a war leader. This tradition carries through to the many manga heroines.


Multisensory activities

Both stories lend themselves to sea themes – rocking in a boat, diving under the parachute, sounds of the waves crashing on the shore, underwater sounds and images.

•Create a sea monster from a collapsible tunnel with hoops (this is how dragons are often made for festivals).

•Use something shiny like a torch to represent the gleam of the sword, see if children can track and reach for it (those glowsticks from fairs would make an excellent substitute!)

•Have a treasure hunt – children must dive under the parachute and retrieve an object

•See if you too can tell the story using gesture and sign.



•What do you think about the reasons why Sankichi is chosen by the village to retrieve the sword? Older pupils might like to think about how people with disabilities are viewed in our society.

•What do we mean by communication?  Do only Deaf people use gestures? Talk about what we can do in speech and what we can do through gesture, mime, facial expression.  What gestures do you use? When do we use them more often?

•Find out about sign language –often kids have learnt a few signs.  if you have a Deaf club near you, you might like to invite someone to come and give a talk (usually an interpreter will come along as well), and teach you some signs. The Makaton charity, which uses sign with special needs, has lots of resources too (www.makaton.org).  And of course the BBC has lots of signed programmes for children to watch.