The obvious choice for M in my A-Z of Japan would be matcha (抹茶), but I talk about the all the time. Another far too obvious topic would be manga (漫画) but, as I’ve often said, I’m really not into it enough to be able to write at length. Anyway, where would you begin with such a vast topic? No… I’ve gone for something a little more obscure today.
M is for… Momotaro!
Momotaro (桃太郎 / ももたろ) is a Japanese fairytale character. There are various versions of the story. The version I know comes from a picture book I picked up while I was in Japan. The drawings in this post also come from that picture book (which is available from Amazon Japan).
Here’s the story…
Once upon a time, there was an old man and an old woman. The old man used to collect firewood from the mountain, take it to the village and sell it. The old woman stayed at home, and did chores. She did the laundry in the river.
One day, while the old lady was doing her laundry in the river, she spotted a large peach (“momo” in Japanese) floating by. She was surprised, and decided to take the peach home for her and her husband to enjoy.
When her husband came home that day, he was surprised to see the large peach. He’d ever seen a peach so big before! The peach looked so tasty, and they decided to eat it.
However, when they cut it open they got a real shock – a baby burst from the peach!
The couple had no children of their own so, even though it would be difficult to take care of the baby, they decided to keep it. They thought the baby was a gift from God. They decided to name the baby boy “Momotaro” (“Taro” is a common name for boys in Japan).
Momotaro ate a lot and grew up to be big and strong. He was able to help out the old couple so that they didn’t have to do as much work.
One day, Momotaro heard a story about some evil ogres and demons which were terrorising houses and causing terrible problems for people. When Momotaro heard this, he decided to go and help.
The couple said farewell to Momotaro as he set off to find the bad guys. Before he left, the old woman gave Momotaro some special “dango” which would give him more energy to fight.
Along the way, Momotaro met a dog and gave him one of the “dango”. The dog decided to come along with Momotaro on his quest to fight the demons.
Momotaro and the dog walked up the mountain path. Along the way, they met a monkey. Momotaro gave the monkey a “dango” too, and the monkey joined them.
Momotaro, the dog and monkey continued on their journey, and soon ran into a green pheasant. And, you’ve guessed it, Momotaro gave the pheasant a “dango” and the pheasant joined them!
Momotaro, the dog, the monkey and the pheasant all became friends. They borrowed a boat and sailed off to the island where the bad guys lived.
When they arrived at the island, they saw a gate. Using all their power, they smashed through the gate.
Behind the gate, they found the ogres and demons. Momotaro, the dog, the monkey and the pheasant all attacked the bad guys, biting and pecking at them. The baddies screamed out in pain.
Momotaro quickly ate a “dango” and attacked the big red demon.
Momotaro asked the demons to stop being so mean, and took back all the things they had stolen, including lots of gold. They returned home, and everyone lived happily ever after!
According to Wikipedia, “Momotarō is strongly associated with Okayama, and his tale may have its origins there. The demon island (Onigashima) 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.” I haven’t been to those places, but I did once stumble upon a Momotaro shrine in Inuyama…
It really was the most curious place…
The demons were there too…
The tale of Momotaro is a classic Japanese story, and I’m sure it must crop up all over the country. Have you ever come across it? I’d love to see other pictures of Momotaro-related places! 😀