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Momotarō (桃太郎, "Peach Boy") is a popular hero of Japanese folklore originating from Okayama Prefecture. His name translates as Peach Tarō, a common Japanese masculine name, and 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) early 1603-1868, 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.
The story has some regional variations. Some say Momotarō floated by in a box, a white peach or a red peach. Stories from the Shikoku and Chūgoku regions muddy the distinction with characters from another folk story, the Monkey-Crab Battle, that Momotarō took with him allies to Oni Island, namely a bee (蜂 hachi), a crab (蟹 kani), a millstone (臼 usu), a chestnut (栗 kuri), and cow dung (牛の糞 ushi no fun).
There are variances about the Momotarō's process of growth; one is that he grew up to meet the expectation of the old couple to be 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 Momotarō being a fine boy version is more famous to give lessons to children. Nowadays, Momotarō 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, Momotarō goes on his journey to defeat the demons when he hears about the demons of the Onigashima (demon island). In some versions of the story, Momotarō 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, all the stories describe Momotarō defeating the Oni and live happily ever after with the old couple.
The story has been translated into English many times. "The Adventures of Little Peachling" appeared in A.B. Mitford's Tales of Old Japan in 1871. Rev. David Thomson's translation as "Little Peachling" appeared 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 other translations.
The popular children's song about Momotarō titled Momotarō-san no Uta (Momotarō's Song) was first published in 1911; the text's author is unattributed, while the melody was written by Teiichi Okano. The first two stanzas, with romanization and translation, are given below.
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"Momotarō-san no uta" 桃太郎さんの歌 "Momotarō's Song" Momotarō-san, Momotarō-san 桃太郎さん、桃太郎さん Momotarō, Momotarō Okoshi ni tsuketa kibidango お腰につけたきびだんご Those millet dumplings on your waist Hitotsu watashi ni kudasai na? 一つ私に下さいな！ Won't you give me one? Yarimashō, yarimashō やりま せう、やりま せう I'll give you one, I'll give you one Kore kara oni no seibatsu ni これから鬼の征伐に If you'll come with me on a quest to conquer the oni Tsuite kuru nara agemashō ついてくるならあげましょう I'll give you one
World War II
Momotarō was an immensely popular figure in Japan during World War II, appearing in many wartime films and cartoons. Momotarō 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 Momotarō 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 Momotarō's Divine Sea Warriors.
- 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 p. 253 ISBN 0-394-50030-X
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