Momotaro and the development of Japanese Society

Momotaro, as a really eminent Japanese folktale, plays an essential role in the development of Japanese Society. The story of Momotaro was appeared in different ages and all people in Japan are familiar with it. The story basically tells that an old woman one day finds a peach when she washes the clothes near the river. She holds the peach back home to share with her husband, when a baby jumps out of the peach. Aged couples call him Momotaro and raise the baby into a teenage boy. One day, Momotaro decides to leave his parents in order to kill the Ogres in the demon Islands. Aged couples give him some dumpling millets, but on the way to the islands, Momotaro shares them with a dog, monkey and pheasant. By the help of these three animals, Momotaro successfully defeats the demons. In fact, the story of Momotaro serves as distinct meanings in the different age of Japanese society, and definitely the Momotaro, dumpling millets, animals, and demon islands totally stand for various symbols in the each story. By exploring in different versions of Momotaro, it is absolutely easier to understand the uniform and backgrounds of each community during the Japanese civilization.

The original version of Momotaro was taught when Japan was still in the feudal time. The original version instead of telling that Momotaro was born in the peach, it has a totally different version. The story describes that one day the old woman finds a peach in the river. When she shares the peach with her husband, they both gain energy as 20 years old. They have a strongly sex, which leads to the born of Momotaro. By born through the sex, Momotaro seems to be more “human like” instead of “God like” compares to other versions of stories. Eating peach to become younger implies that people’s determination of power and energy. Deeper saying, during the period of feudal time, people in Japan tend to get what they want through their own efforts. Actually, Momotaro represents each single person in that community and demon Islands represents people’s dream of success. People use the story of Momotaro to gain the courage and kindness in order to overcome difficulties. The Food “dumpling millets” serves as a way of gathering friends, which is used to unify a small group to fight for success together.

Another version of Momotaro stories was called Momotaro = story of Peach-boy, which were first translated by Miss Ume Tsuda and Mrs.Hannah Riddle in 1914. In this period of time, Japan had just experienced the Meiji Restoration. The removal of “sex part” indicated that the story was not only for the adults, but also faced to children and all levels of people in Japanese society. Momotaro this time was born in Peach directly, and said “the truth is, I have been sent down to you by the command of the God of Heaven (16)”. This showed that Momotaro in this version of the story was more like a God instead of a human. Momotaro behaved like a smart leader, which seemed to represent the Meiji himself. The Demon islands represented “the traditional thoughts and policies” of Japan. Therefore, Meiji’s ambition was to break the people in Japan’s traditional way of living, and formed the new Japan. Meiji was seen as Momotaro, lead the revolution from feudal time to capitalism. Animals in this version of stories refer to the Western developed countries, so the food “dumpling millets” stands for the policies changes made by Meiji. These policies learned and developed from “the Western developed countries”, and rapidly improved the lives in Japan. It is obvious that compared with previous Japan, the community at this time period was less rational but more passionate. Everyone worked together with the lead of Meiji, and enhanced towards to the success. Japan has experienced the reform from the past, and revolute to “westernize”.  People saw the blue print of the future and worked hard.


However, instead of moving from feudal time into capitalism directly, Japan in the middle of 20 centuries moved into nationalism. It is easy to see in the film “Momotaro: The sea eagle”. This anime was made during the World War II, just after Japan attacked the “pearl island”. The interesting part of this anime film was that although others thought “pearl harbor attack” as contemptible, Japanese themselves instead saw it as a just move. On the screenshot above, the soldier “little monkey” jumps out the plane and helps the cried little bird. Contrast to the cruel war, this kindly move in fact implies that Japan saw the attack as a way of helping weak countries. They believe that they are not only struggle for the power, but also fight for the justice. As an allusion of Momotaro, the animals this time represents the soldiers, that in the film they are brave and smart. Momotaro, also as a leader this time, was definitely saw as the general of Japan during the World War II. Compared to the preceding version of Momotaro, this film has many changes. First, there is no “old man and old women” in the story, which implies that at this period, Japan starts to be independent and was able to live by themselves. What’s more? There is no family concept in the film “sea eagle”, which emphasizes that during the war, the country was more important that each person’s family. Furthermore, when Momotaro defeated the demon, they did not get the treasure, which shows that Japan joins the war was not for money but for the justice and equity. Last but not least, this time there is no food “dumpling millets” in the film. Previously, “dumpling millets” was serving as a tool to unify the animals. However, this time even if there is no food, animals still work for Momotaro, which demonstrates on the determination and responsibility of Japanese soldiers. What is more significant is that this version of Momotoro was made in the anime. Before the Momotaro was made, the Disney in the USA nearly donated the anime markets in the whole world. The emerge of film Momotaro in fact reveals that Japan could also make anime as good as USA did. Not only stories, but also image quality, music, characters movements, lightning of this film was reaching the highest level of anime production during that period of time. The rising in the Japanese anime production was in another approach challenges the monopoly of the Western developed countries.

As the time moves on, Japanese developed quickly after the World War II. Japan moved into “real capitalism” and soon became one of the world strongest countries. In 1970s, the story of Momotaro was more like a symbol of Japanese spirits. The film Minamata directed by Tsuchimoto, as the allusion of Momotaro, was just a great example to reflect Japanese spirits. Interesting part is that, in the both Momotaro story and Minamata, the food was defined as a key to unify the people in the community. That is to say, Momotaro used the dumpling millets to draw his animals’ companion into his team. Alike in Minamata, the villagers united and fight together against the Chisso cooperation because they all ate the polluted seafood. Through the food, people stand in the same sides to unite against the intruders of their homelands. Furthermore, in the last part of the film, the villagers overcame numerous difficulties and finally got to Osaka to face their enemies “Chisso cooperation”. The movie at this part states that “we have arrived in a land where the blue and red ogres dwell”, which compares the Osaka as the “demon islands” in Momotaro’s stories. This definitely emphasizes on the people’s desires of their health and rights. People in the village behave just like Momotaro did. They resist the inequity and fight for the freedom and justice. Deeper saying, at this period of time, the figure of Momotaro transferred into the spirits of courage and persistence. He was not just an anime hero any more, but as the power and determination of entire Japan.

Right now, Japan moves to one of the developed countries in the world. However, the story of Momotaro never ends. The film was re-made several times, and the most recent one was in 1988. Also many games, shows, anime, books were still base or reference on the Momotaro’s stories. Indeed, Momotaro witnesses the progress of Japan, and it highlights that the spirits of courage and persistence would never stops in the Japanese society.


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