Momotarō

Hear about Momotarō on Episode 15 of our Podcast, the Japan Archives.

Momotaro
Momotaro by Hasegawa Takejirō, 1886.

Momotarō

Momotarō (桃太郎 – Peach Boy) is a Folktale about a man with the same name, as well as a Dog, Monkey and Pheasant and their journey to the island of Onigashima to stop the Oni.1

There are many verisons of the tale (and will be added to the site eventually) and as of right now we only have one version on the website.

Edo Period

The tale of Momotarō was popularized during the Edo Period through works of the kusa-zōshi genre.2

Genre

Momotarō can fall into the genre of chiisako monogatari (tales of a tiny child) and hyōchakutan (tales of being washed ashore).4

Synopsis

The story starts with an old, childless married couple. They were poor, with the man cutting grass to make a living and his wife tending to their small rice field. One day she goes to the river to go her laundry when she saw a very large peach flowing down in the stream, and so she tries to collect it.

She can’t reach it at first and so sings a song, which appears to bring the peach closer until she can finally reach it. And so she takes it home so her and her husband may eat it.1

The song she sings goes as follows:

Distant water is bitter,
The near water is sweet;
Pass by the distant water
And come into the sweet.4

Momotarō
Momotarō published in English by Hasegawa Takejirō’s Kōbunsha (1885, 1st edition)

 

When her husband returns from work, he takes a knife ready to cut open the peach, but its splits into two itself, and out comes a child.

The Gods had decided to give the couple a child, and so they call the child Momotaro. Years pass until Momotaro reaches the age of fifteen when he asks permission to leave.

He has heard of the Oni who live on an island, they terrorize the people and are not loyal to the Emperor and so he wishes to conquer them and take all of their treasure. And so the old couple agree, and Momotaro leaves after the old couple pound some rice and give it to him for his journey.

On his journey he meets a dog, who threatens to bite him for being on his land. After Momotaro reveals who he is and his mission, the dog apologises and asks to accompany him. He also asks for one of Momotaro’s rice cakes, but he says he cannot spare a full one and so gives me only a half.

Then they came across a Monkey who knew Momotaro and the mission he was undertaking. Momotaro allows him to join the party and gives him some of his rice cake. But the dog does not want him here and so monkey and dog quarrel until Momotaro separates them. The dog places in front with a flag, the monkey at the back with a sword. Momotaro in the middle with an iron fan.

Next they came across a pheasant and the dog attacked it. Momotaro watching the birds skill, stopped the fight and told him to join their expedition. Saying, if they didn’t he would have the dog kill him. And so the bird joined the party, much to the dogs annoyance.

Momotaro then tells them they must all be in harmony and stop their hatred to one another. They all agree and eventually they come to the North-Eastern Shores.

The three animals have never seen the ocean before, and filled with fear about how to cross it find themselves being scolded by Momotaro, who dismisses them.

They then beg to stay, and gaining a little courage are allowed to stay. They gathered a ship, and set sail to the Island of the Oni. Eventually they see the island, with a castle on top and so he sends the pheasant to fly to the island to engage the Oni. The pheasant announces Momotaro is coming and so they should submit by breaking their horns. But the Oni only seeing the pheasant laugh and do not agree to this.

Momotarō
Momotarō swinging the magic mallet (uchide no kozuchi), with his animal companions. Santō Kyōden, Ehon takara no nanakusa (1804).

Whilst the Oni begin to attack the pheasant, Momotaro docks his ship with the monkey and dog and they come across to women washing clothes. Prisoners of the Oni in charge, and daughters of Daimyos.

Momotaro says he will save them, but first they need to show him how to enter the castle. They do so, and so Momotaro, Monkey, Dog and Pheasant join together to fight the Oni until only the leader remains.

The Oni surrenders, and is taken back with them and the plunder Momotaro and the animals take. They return all the prisoners to their homes and the riches Momotaro brings back are enough for the old coupld to live very comfortably for the rest of their days. Momotaro finds himself dubbed a hero by Japan.1

Footnotes

1. Ozaki, Y.T. (1903) “The Japanese Fairy Book”. Westminster: Archibald Constable & Co. Ltd.
2. Louis Frederic, translated by Kathe Roth (2002) “Japan Encyclopedia”. London: Harvard University Press.
3. Kodansha. (1993) ”Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia”. Tokyo: Kodansha Ltd.
4. Davis, F. H. (1992) “Myths and Legends of Japan.” New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

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