Momotarô and Minamata -‘Same Trencher’ based camaraderie in Japan-

In Momotarô, two notable types of foods, peach and millet dumpling, work as a unifier to create communities in a different way: peach to form a family, and millet dumpling to form camaraderie. The idea of food as unifier strongly lies in the bottom of the Japanese society as there exists a proverb ‘Friends who have eaten of the same trencher (同じ釜の飯を食う)’, to refer to a strong friendship. Noriaki Tsuchimoto, the famous documentary film director, used this idea of bond created by food in his film ‘Minamata’, to emphasise the strong bond among the Minamata disease victims, in addition, using food allowed to clarify the injustice of Chisso company by showing the irony in which food that should be an energizer for people as in Momotarô, acted as a toxic substance for Minamata victims. In the following of the paper, the idea would be supported by first illustrating the role of foods in Momotarô, and then regarding the similar strategies used in Minamata films.

Peach

Peach has long been a symbol of idealness, power and immortality in Japanese culture, which was heavily influenced from China. In China, there is a word Tôgenkyô, or the Peach Blossom Spring, which means utopia. The term first appeared in Peach Blossom Spring Story by Tao Yuanming in late 4th- early 5th century (Tôkagenki), to refer to the peaceful utopia surrounded by peach forests (Tôgenkyou). The belief of Tôgenkyo later came together with Taoism, in which peach was considered to be the fruit that gives power to become Xian, and also in which peach was considered to be the miraculous medicine owned by Xi Wangmu (Seiôbo).

In the original story of the Peach Boy, which was popular before Meiji period, the aspect of peach as an energizer was more emphasized. In this story, the old man and woman are restored youth by eating peach, and they beget Momotarô.However, the sexual implication is banned from stories that became popular after the Meiji restoration. The widely known Momotarô story was formed in the government-designated textbook. Although the miraculous feature of peach became less emphasized, one could still find a notion on it from the super-human power of Momotarô who was born from the peach.

Another important part peach takes in the story is the role as a unifier. In the beginning of the story, the old man and the woman are living alone because they failed to have a child, and they ‘are both sad’ (Iwaya 16) about it. The peach and the peach boy sent from god to the old man and woman help them to reunite themselves from an old couple to parents and a child, a traditional form of family, ‘in a most remarkable manner’ (Iwaya 17).

To conclude, in older stories, the symbolic image of peach as an energizer was more emphasized, however as time goes by, the image of peach as a unifier became more important for the Momotarô story.

Millet Dumpling

The millet dumplings act as a strong symbol of unification between Momotarô and the animals. Regarding their unification, ‘sharing’ is the important aspect. By sharing the same millet dumplings with each other, Momotarô and the animals became ‘the best of friends and obeyed Peach-Boy’s commands, heart and soul’ (Iwaya, 32). The unification power is so strong that it overcomes the long lasted bad relationship between the dogs and the monkeys (Iwaya 26). The association of camaraderie and sharing of the food in Japan is not unique in Momotarô story, in fact, there is a proverb ‘Friends who have eaten of the same trencher’ to refer to a strong friendship. So, as these examples show, eating together was considered to be an important step in order to become comrades.

Furthermore, millet dumplings were also illustrated as a symbol of power, which one can clearly see in the Iwaya version. The Ogres, the symbol of evil and power, were ‘drowned in the sea’ and ‘dashed into pieces’ by Mmotarô and the ordinary animals. Although Momotarô is a superhuman, the animals do not have unique characteristics. Thus, it is easy to assume that they gained power from Momotarô through sharing the millet dumplings and becoming comrades.

The propaganda animation film ‘Momotarô’s Sea Eagles’, directed by Mitsuyo Seo made during the Pacific War also uses the idea of millet dumpling as an energizer. In the propaganda film, though there is no scene that directly shows the millet dumpling used to create the camaraderie, however, the emphasis of their strong bond is obvious. From the lack of the scene, one could assume that the strong image of Momotarô and their animals tied together by the millet dumpling, the symbol of camaraderie, was already rooted in Japanese culture that there were no need to show such scene.

Minamata Disaster

Food as a unifier is not a symbolism that only exists in fantasy, but there are similar symbolisms in the real world. The Minamata disaster is one example. In the case of Minamata disaster, one could find the role of food to provide unification among the people. The people from Minamata, they may not necessary shared the same ‘trencher’, nevertheless they live in the same village and thus shares a strong kinship and they have same food resources. The bond brought from sharing foods unites them to fight against the Chisso company, who did not share the same food. This notion could, for example, be found in the scene where the old man is cooking the octopus. In this scene, the old man says ‘they should drink the same water and experience the same thing’ which insists the lack of understanding of Chisso about the condition of the victims.

However, there are notable distinction between Momotarô and the Minamata victims. The unifier role of food was not so simple in the Minamata case compared to Momotaro. Noriaki Tsuchimoto, the director of the film ‘Minamata’ utilized this image of food as a ‘toxic’ unifier to draw the sympathy for the victims and anger against the company from the audience.

While Momotarô’s unification with the animals was motivated by the strong sense of hatred against the unjust Ogres, the reason that victims of Minamata unified was not merely resistance toward injustice of the Chisso company, but the sorrowness brought by Minamata disease. In their case, food, which should serve as an energizer to empower people, such as peach and the millet dumplings in Momotarô, turned out to be a toxic substance that brings fatal disease that destroys not only the patients’ mind and body, but also the unified family bond. The corruption of family led the villagers to unite together to rage against Chisso.

In conclusion, the idea of the bond created by ‘sharing’ the same food was, and still remains as an imported root of Japanese culture regarding the community. Food is not only a symbol of joy or energy, but it could also represent anger, sadness, rage and other somewhat ‘negative’ feeling. Since food is directly related to one’s life, it could be a utensil to communicate a strong message such as sense of Justice or Nationalism in Momotarô stories, or the rage against injustice and desire for Yonaoshi (世直し) or to reform the world, which Tsuchimoto tried to assert in his series of Minamata films. 

Image

‘They Should Drink the Same Water’

 

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