Different perspectives of food in Momotaro


Momotaro is one of the most famous fictional figures in Japan’s history. The folktale has endured generations after generations since long time ago. He is of such characteristics as courage, bravery and leadership that Japanese people take pride of. Momotaro is also widely used in different forms of text, both literacy and visual. However, Momotaro doesn’t appear in the same way in every text, especially in  Iwaya Sazanami’s story and the film, which were both released during the wartime. Food is widely used to depict different perspectives of Momotaro and his team. Generally, food is an auspicious icon that connects the community. However, those differences of food in each text demonstrate the authors’ different intentions for different audiences in different time.

The difference shows up at the beginning of the literacy text and movie. Both the Iwaya’s story and the 1999 picture-based story clearly explain the origin of Momotaro that long time ago he jumps out of a peach which is accidentally collected by an old couple. Being casual at the beginning, the story can be interesting to children so that they can easily be absorbed in and have a general background about Momotaro. His origin is a reference to food: He comes from peach. The color of peach is pink, representing passion and joyfulness that makes the old woman “expects it would be very sweet eating”. When introducing himself to the old couple, Momotaro says that he is commanded by the god of the heaven to comfort them because they don’t have child. The food (which is the peach) here acts as the icon of hope and happiness, further corresponding to the author’s intention to stimulate children’s interest. In the Iwaya’s version, the usage of food also reflects the social background that food shortage is still a common phenomenon. The sudden appearance of food is an auspicious harbinger, explaining why the couple has a special affinity to Momotaro. Since 1938 is still at the early period of the war, elements of wartime propaganda are not clearly shown in the story. In the visual text, the director didn’t introduce his origin but directly presented the scene in which Momotaro begins making announcement. The movie can be characterized as a wartime manifesto, publicizing the radical wartime values which advocate of fighting boldly to defeat enemies. The story’s background is unambiguous: Team of Momotaro is going to defeat the Demon Island, and this thesis is emphasized in the whole movie. Although there are still a lot of cute animals in the movie which are used to make the movie acceptable for children, most of the casual parts about Momotaro’s origin in the literacy text are deleted.

Momotaro appears as a leader, associated with the community-building, and the use of millet dumplings illustrates the different perspectives of Momotaro’s leadership in each text. It is written in the two literacy texts that millet dumplings are made by the old couple for Momotaro’s expedition to conquer Orge’s island. The 1999 picture-based story emphasizes Momotaro’s sharing of millet dumplings to the monkey, dong and pheasant, with the result that they decide to serve and help Momotaro. Camaraderie is therefore formed in a “happy” way which children are happy to see. In the Iwaya’s story, Momotaro doesn’t give millet dumplings to those three animals out of his own initiative. Proud of millet dumplings, Momotaro claims them to be “The best dumplings in Japan”. The dog comes first, expressing his willingness to follow Momotaro, but Momotaro doesn’t take out millet dumplings until the dog asks for something to eat. Though Momotaro just gives him half of a dumpling, the dog is still grateful to him because it alleviates his extreme hunger. What happens on the monkey and pheasant is almost the same: They want to join, ask for food, and receive half of a dumpling. In this story, millet dumplings “certify” those animals’ joining. They unite tightly around Momotaro by the millet dumplings. On the other hand, Momotaro is not as approachable as he is in the picture-based story in the way that his doesn’t give the millet dumplings unless those animals ask for him. Therefore, the dumpling can also be considered as a payment or reward for their loyalty. In this relationship, Momotaro treats them condescendingly, establishing himself at a status higher than other three animals. Having full right to decide the time and amount of giving dumplings, he is an authentic leader. However, animals still form a strong sense of gratefulness to Momotaro since they are salvaged from hunger, which gives an ambiguous hint to Momotaro’s wisdom to be a leader.


The monkey hurriedly goes back to bring a bag of millet dumplings


In the movie, millet dumplings are not formally introduced about their origins, and Momotaro doesn’t give millet dumplings to animals in his team. Millet dumplings are first shown in the scene about a monkey. When the teams are going to depart, a monkey hurriedly gets off the plane to bring a bag of millet dumplings. The director assumed that the audiences have already known that the millet dumplings are brought by Momotaro. The monkey’s action that he places millet dumplings as the priority illustrates his admiration to Momotaro.


The monkey gains muscle after eating millet dumplings

Different from literacy texts, only in the visual text is the effect of millet dumplings presented. A funny close-shot scene shows a monkey having muscle after eating millet dumplings. The millet dumpling can not only spiritually inspire the team members but also physically energize them. Millet dumplings here are the symbol of strength and spirits. Among three texts, Momotaro’s role as a leader in the movie is the most superior. He is so distant that he is not involved in any mission, only making announcement and distributing the task to his members, while the members have the most intense admiration to Momotaro: Millet dumplings are necessity for the combat mission, and they even have physical effects. All the information above corresponds to the movie’s essence as wartime propaganda. In order to better govern the army, soldiers are required to obey to commanders without any hesitation, and the authority is unquestionable. It is the unquestionable authority that solidifies the community. When this point is applied to the visual text, the relationship between Momotaro and his member is no longer full of intimacy and joyfulness as depicted in the picture-based 1998 story. Momotaro here represents the superiority of Kougun (皇軍), and his omnipotence can grant the audiences the pride of Japanese army and government.

Food also represents the hope among the members of a union in Tsuchimoto’s movie Minamata: The Victims and Their World. In a distant-shot, all the family members were gathering together having dinner, including Tomoko, a child suffering from Minamata disease, who was fed by her mother. Food is important for Japanese people, and Tomoko’s family didn’t want to leave Tomoko alone. Regardless her disease, Tomoko enjoyed her family’s love. Having meals together is obvious evidence that they didn’t abandoned Tomoko, and their daily gathering is a source of hope for all the members. The emphasis of food in Japanese culture can explain why food is widely used in Momotaro texts to show his characters.


Tomoko’s family had dinner together.

Another point distinguishing the movie special from the literacy texts is the usage of alcohol. A leader of the Demon Island is drinking alcohol when he is on duty, unaware of the approaching planes from Momotaro. He tries to escape, but it is too late. Japanese highly value the rules when completing tasks. Drinking alcohol means that the leader doesn’t take full responsibility, which is contrary to the value. What Momotaro does can also be interpreted as a punishment to his laziness. Although the main purpose of the movie is to advocate Japanese wartime value, it is still an animation, which means quite a few children will watch it. Depicting Momotaro’s defeat as a punishment to laziness makes the thesis easier to understand for children.

Nevertheless, three texts share something in common. All stress that the expedition to Orge’s Island (or Demon Island, in the movie) is long distance and Momotaro is to eliminate injustice. When the story started to be circulated, there was no wartime value. In this way, it reflects the expectation placed by the old generation on young children, hoping them to be brave and justice.

The same content in the three texts shows what is valued by Japanese continuously from past to present, while the differences mirror the crux each text wants to show in different period. Food in Momotaro brings us hope and joyness. Characters in the text and audiences are all bonded around Momotaro by food. And the usage of food contributes greatly to the variety of depictions, which makes Momotaro still popular in Japan.


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