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Momotarō (桃太郎 Momotarou?, lit. "Peach Boy") is a popular hero from Japanese folklore. His name literally means Peach Tarō, a common Japanese boy's name, which is often translated as Peach Boy. Momotarō is the title of various books, films and other works that portray the tale of this hero.
According to the present form of the tale (dating to the Edo period), Momotarō came to Earth inside a giant peach, which was found floating down a river by an old, childless woman who was washing clothes there. The woman and her husband discovered the child when they tried to open the peach to eat it. The child explained that he had been sent by Heaven to be their son. The couple named him Momotarō, from momo (peach) and tarō (eldest son in the family).
Years later, Momotarō left his parents to fight a band of marauding oni (demons or ogres) on a distant island. En route, Momotarō met and befriended a talking dog, monkey, and pheasant, who agreed to help him in his quest. At the island, Momotarō and his animal friends penetrated the demons' fort and beat the band of demons into surrendering. Momotarō and his new friends returned home with the demons' plundered treasure and the demon chief as a captive. Momotarō and his family lived comfortably from then on.
Momotarō is strongly associated with Okayama, and his tale may have its origins there. The demon island (Onigashima (鬼ヶ島?)) of the story is sometimes associated with Megijima Island, an island in the Seto Inland Sea near Takamatsu, due to the vast manmade caves found on that island.
In the very old version of the story written in 1753, an old woman who did not have any children brings home a giant peach floating in the stream. When the old woman ate a portion of the peach, she unexpectedly recovered her beauty and youth. Her husband was surprised to find a young, beautiful woman when he came back from work. He did not believe her when she explained that the magical peach restored her youth. He also ate a portion of the peach, and turned young too. A boy was born after they made passionate love that night. They named the boy ‘Taro’, which is a common name for the first sons in Japan.
There are a few variants to the story, depending on geographical region. Some say Momotaro floated by in a box, a white peach, or a red peach. Stories from Shikoku and Chugoku region muddy the distinction with characters from another folk story, the Monkey-Crab Battle that Momotaro took with him allies to Oni Island, namely a bee (蜂 hachi?), a crab (蟹 kani?), a mill stone (臼 usu?), a chestnut (栗 kuri?), and cow dung (牛の糞 ushi no hun?). In old days, all these animals and objects were believed to possess spirits and could move by their own will. The cow dung was sometimes given the honorific dono (殿). This was to appease the cow dung spirit, so as it won't move to be under you when you stumble or take a step.
There are variances about the Momotaro’s process of growth; one is that he grew up to meet the expectation of the old couple to a fine boy. Another is that he grew up to be a strong but lazy person who just sleeps all day and does not do anything. It is possible that the Momotaro being a fine boy version is more famous to give lessons to children. Nowadays, Momotaro is one of the most famous characters in Japan, as an ideal model for young kids for his kind-heartedness, bravery, power, and care for his parents.
Grown up Momotaro goes on journey to defeat the demons (oni) when he hears about the demons of the Onigashima (ghost island). In some stories Momotaro volunteered to go help the people by repelling the demons, but in some stories he was forced by the townspeople or others to go on journey. However, regardless of the other variants, the ending of the story is the same. All the stories describe Momotaro defeating the Oni and live happily ever after with the old couple. It has the typical storyline of the good triumphing over the evil, one of the most common themes found in Asian folklore.
The story has been translated into English many times. Rev. David Thomson translated it as the first volume of Hasegawa Takejirō's Japanese Fairy Tale Series in 1885. Susan Ballard included it in Fairy tales from Far Japan (1899). Yei Theodora Ozaki included it in her Japanese Fairy Tales (1911). Teresa Peirce Williston included it in Japanese Fairy Tales, Second Series, in 1911. And there are many others.
Inuyama, Japan, holds a festival called the Momotaro Festival at the Momotaro Shrine on May 5 of every year.
The popular children's song about Momotarō titled Momotarō-san no Uta (Momotarō's Song) was first published in 1911. One version of it is included below with romanization and translation.
« Momotarō-san no uta » 桃太郎さんの歌
Momotarō-san, Momotarō-san (Momotarō, Momotarō) 桃太郎さん、桃太郎さん
Okoshi ni tsuketa kibidango (Those millet dumplings on your waist) お腰につけたきびだんご
Hitotsu watashi ni kudasai na? (Won't you give me one?) 一つ私に下さいな！
Agemashō, agemashō (I'll give you one, I'll give you one) あげましょう、あげましょう
Kore kara oni no seibatsu ni (From now, on a quest to conquer the ogres) これから鬼の征伐に
Tsuite kuru nara agemashō (If you come with me, I'll give one to you) ついてくるならあげましょう
World War II
Momotaro was an immensely popular figure in Japan during World War II, appearing in many wartime films and cartoons. Momotaro represented the Japanese government, citizens were animals and the United States was the oni, the demonic figure. Even though it is not directly mentioned, it is implied that Onigashima was Pearl Harbor. It was used to convey the idea that Japan would fight against the wicked, yet powerful United States and victory could only be achieved if the citizens supported the government. Also, the food and treasure that Momotaro and the animals earned after conquering the oni was supposed to reflect the glory that the powerful Japanese empire would have had after defeating the United States. One such movie was Momotaro's Divine Sea Warriors.
In 2007, the Japanese tokusatsu show Kamen Rider Den-O featured a Imagin character named Momotaros, whose appearance was based on an oni and a peach. The character who created him, Ryotarou, said he had been thinking of the Momotaro story at the time. Ironically, Momotaro was a boy from a peach that fought demons, while Momotaros is a peach-themed demon himself.
- Ozaki, Yei Theodora (1903). "Momotaro, or the story of the Son of a Peach". The Japanese Fairy Book. Archibald Constable & Co.
- "Oni-ga-shima(or Megijima)". Archived from the original on 2008-01-10. Retrieved 2010-09-01.
- "Megi-jima/Ogi-jima". Takamatsu City Web Site. Retrieved 2010-09-01.
- "桃太郎". Archived from the original on 2008-02-08. Retrieved 2010-09-01. (Japanese)
- John W. Dower, War Without Mercy: Race & Power in the Pacific War p253 ISBN 0-394-50030-X
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Momotaro.|
- Animation video of fairy tale Momotarō (Japanese full version) on YouTube.
- Animation video of fairy tale Momotarō (English short version) on YouTube.
- Full fairy tale story and reading aloud of Momotarō (Japanese)