Momotaro: the Symbol of Japanese Nationalism

The folk tale of Momotarō serves as a guide and gives children a role model.  He represents humility and bravery, both of which are characteristics valued by Japanese people.  He was raised in a humble household by an elderdly couple and vanquishes the oni.  The anime adaptation of Momotarō teaches a different lesson: Japanese nationalism.  Because children are already familiar with Momotarō and what he represents, the focus is turned towards Japan’s international standing as a military force.  How Momotarō is depicted and the time period in which the adaptation takes place effectively communicate Japan’s ideology.

Hierarchy in Japanese society has always been present.  In the original folk tale, Momotarō has command over the pheasant, the monkey, and the dog.  This relationship still exists in the anime adaptation.  However, in this version, Momotarō is a general commanding several pheasants, monkeys, and dogs.  Instead of traditional clothing, he wears the uniform of a general to portray this modern status; only his sword and his hairstyle seem to pay homage to the original story.  The sword only serves as a symbol of power and has no practical use in the anime.  Momotarō does not even attack the oni himself and employs animals instead.  This shows the stratification of hierarchy; the “lower” class works for the “upper” class.  In this case, Momotarō, the hero, as the upper class, only leads his troops from afar without physically attacking the oni.  He also wears a hachimaki with Japan’s symbol: a circle on a white background.  This particular article of clothing ties him to Japanese nationalism.  Although the hachimaki is also a traditional article, the print is linked to the idea of the recent emergence of Japanese nationalism.

 

Momotarō assumes a proud stance in his general uniform, sword, and hachimaki.

The contemporary time period also helps communicate Japanese nationalism to viewers.  By using Pearl Harbor, this adaptation is very relevant to the Japanese audience.  Pearl Harbor is a demonstration of Japan’s military power and a symbol of victory for Japan.  By using Momotarō as a foundation to portray Pearl Harbor, the creators communicate the idea of Japanese nationalism to their younger audience.  Momotarō triumphs over the oni; Japan triumphs over the United States.  Instead of wooden boats with sails, large ships made of metal are used as well as planes.  Instead of swords and clubs, torpedoes and bombs are used.  The modernization of the story allows for younger viewers to relate to it more easily.

The anime adaptation of Momotarō alludes to the historic origins of the tale while taking place in a contemporary setting in order to convey Japanese nationalism.  Momotarō is adorned with his sword and hachimaki.  The sword, a symbol of power as a general, and the hachimaki, a traditional Japanese headband, both connect the story back to its older roots.  However, the hachimaki’s contemporary design suggests Japanese nationalism.  The use of Pearl Harbor as the focus of the anime also expresses the idea of nationalism.

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