Momotaro: Food and its Role as a Unifier

The story of Momotaro has always been a popular folklore in Japan and dates back to the Edo period. The story of Momotaro has been told throughout the generations of young Japanese kids and will continue to be told. There are many variations to the story of Momotaro such as the ones made during World War II as propaganda and other modernized versions of the historic folklore. However, they all share a common symbol, food. Throughout all of the Momotaro tales, food serves as a source of unification forming bonds and tight-nit communities. There are very few foods in Momotaro, only a peach and some millet dumplings, but these two serves great purpose in the stories. The story of Momotaro can also be related to one of Tsuchimoto’s films, Minamata: The Victims and their World.

First of all, the peach is an important food in Momotaro. In Japan and other Asian countries in the area, the peach is associated with youth and immortality and is used as a symbol in many old stories. The peach seems to be of less importance in the Momotaro stories but is actually an important part of the story. In most of the recent Momotaro stories, it is stated that Peach Boy jumps out of the peach when the old man and old woman tried to cut the peach for eating. However, it is said that in the original stories, Momotaro didn’t actually come out of the peach and that he was actually the old man and woman’s child. After the old man and woman ate the peach, which is associated with youth, their body regained youth and so did their sexual desires. In Chinese mythology, the peach is often associated with the symbol of immortality and youth. It is a very common idea in China and appears in many fables, paintings, and other forms of art. The old man and woman, after eating the peach which gives them youth once again, eventually ended up getting a child and that was how Momotaro was born. It is said that the story was changed in order to make it more appropriate for the children. As time passes, much folklore undergo revisions that make it appropriate for that time period. Momotaro is even undergoing some revisions today. Some extremists believe that the superior attitude of Momotaro and the way he uses the animals as subordinates are not appropriate for their kids and therefore, are trying to make it so that Momotaro and the other animals are friends, working together to defeat the oni. The time may soon come where Momotaro doesn’t even defeat the oni anymore and just persuades them through words since some people may deem fighting inappropriate.


Momotaro is with his retainers and can be seen holding millet dumplings

In Momotaro, the millet dumplings serve to unify Momotaro and the animals. The millet dumplings were prepared by the old man and old woman for Momotaro’s journey to go and defeat the oni. In Japan, Momotaro is said to originate from the Okayama prefecture where millet dumplings are made. During the folklore, few to no descriptions are given about the millet dumplings. Momotaro mentions once that the millet dumplings are the “best dumplings in Japan” but no further descriptions are given. Momotaro might have mentioned this to the animals to further show that he was the one in charge and that he was superior over the others by having something that was the “best in Japan.” While Momotaro is on his journey, he hands the millet dumplings out to the animal he meets in order to make them his retainers. The milled dumplings serve to unify Momotaro, the dog, the monkey, and the pheasant together. The sharing of the dumplings is like an initiation or rite of passage similar to something one would experience when joining an organization or an army. By eating the millet dumplings, the animals are saying that they pledge to follow Momotaro and are making a contract. The manner in which Momomotaro gives out the millet dumplings is also significant in determining the relationship of the animals and Momotaro. Momotaro only gives out half of a dumpling to each animal, showing that he is the one in charge of the group and that the animals do not have a say as to what they can do. The animals can either take what they are given or leave the group. By taking the millet dumpling from Momotaro, they are swearing loyalty to him. The handing out of the dumplings is a symbol of gesture and serves as a reward to the animals for joining Momotaro on his journey. It also reinforces Momotaro as a symbol of power and how he is a hero or a leader.

            The movie Momotaro’s Sea Eagles also shows the theme of unification although the concept of food is not as obvious. Momotaro’s sea eagles was a propaganda film created in Japan during World War II aimed at uplifting the fighting spirits of Japanese kids and adults. In the film, Momotaro is depicted as the general in an army that is out to defeat the oni on the demon island. The demon island is a symbol for Pearl Harbor and the film is based off of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Although the peach does not have a very significant part in the film, the millet dumplings show up once again in the film. The millet dumplings are given out to the soldiers just like how Momotaro handed them out to the animals in the original story when making them his retainers. The millet dumplings serve as a source of strength and energy to the soldiers. When the soldiers such as the monkey were getting ready to go and fight, he ate a millet dumpling to get ready. When the monkey ate the dumplings, the monkey turned toward the camera and flexed, showing off his muscle and showing that the millet dumplings strengthened him. The millet dumplings show up again in Momotaro’s Sea Eagles. When the monkey seas the crying baby bird, he pulls out a toy plane out of a bag labeled “millet dumplings.” With the toy, he calms down the bird and later, the bird ends up saving them. This shows the significance of the millet dumplings in the film and how it is a symbol of strength and power.


The monkey eats millet dumplings before the battle

       Momotaro’s ideas can be tied into Tsuchimoto Noriaki’s film Minamata: The Victims and their World. The social hierarchy that existed in Minamata oppressed the majority of the people in Minamata. When the people of Minamata started realizing the existence of the Minamata-byo, they requested to the higher-ups to start doing something to improve the living conditions and do something about the disease. However, the higher-ups, not being affected by the disease, did nothing to help out those in need. The people of Minamata united, working together to try and help those affected by the Minamata disease and to make sure no more people got affected by it. The people of Minamata decide to go and protest at the shareholder’s meeting. Similar to Momotaro, the people unite and journey to their enemy, in this case, the people at the shareholder’s meeting. It is a journey for them from the station to the shareholder’s meeting. They are concerned with uniting the people and communities to fight the suffering and resist against the oppressors. In Momotaro, he and the animals group together in order to go and defeat the oni at the demon island. Similar to Momotaro’s clan, the people of Minamata group together, united by their goal to make Minamata a better place and help out those affected by the Minamata disease.


The people of Minamata journey to the shareholder’s meeting


In the Momotaro folklores foods such as the peach and millet dumplings serve as important symbols. The peach is a symbol of youth and immortality while the millet dumplings serve as a source of strength and unification. The themes and plot of Momotaro could also be related to Tsuchimoto’s film, Minamata: The Victims and their World. Food is used in all variations of Momotaro including the World War II propaganda film Momotaro’s Sea Eagles. Although food may not be one of the most prevalent things in the Japanese folklore Momotaro, it still takes its own unique part in the story and helps to convey the theme of the story to its readers throughout the ages.


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