Symbolic Food

The traditional folklore of the famous “Peach-Boy” or Momotaro is wildly used in many children’s books and animation. Some of the popular anime have mini episodes where characters reenact the Momotaro story, though not very authentic reenactment. The story about Momotaro is about a boy who is born form a peach and goes off on a journey to defeat the ogres in Ogres’ Island, with a dog, a monkey, and a pheasant as his comrades, then goes back home to his adoptive parents, and elderly couple, after completing his quest. Iwaya Sazanami’s Momotaro is a re-telling of the traditional folklore, while Mitsuyo Seo’s animation Momotaro’s Sea Eagle is more of modernized reenactment of the battle in Ogres’ Island. Noriaki Tsuchimoto’s film Minamata: The Victims and Their World shows a journey very similar to Momotaro’s journey against the ogres, and the film even makes references and the protestors wear a head band similar to Momotaro’s as well. In these three textual/visual media, food serves as a unifier to form communities of family, comradeship, and rebellion because it represents certain emotions that lead to the formation of families, comrades, and resistance. These emotions lead to the formation of communities because these are emotions that bonds people to be together.

Old Man and Old Woman Making Millet Dumplings for Momotaro's Journey.

Old Man and Old Woman Making Millet Dumplings for Momotaro’s Journey.

In Sazanami’s Momotaro, food represents love, affection, care, of a family because the motive in giving and preparing food lead to the formation of a family and strengths the relationship in a family. For example, when the Old Woman first sees the large peach she says “I expect it would be very sweet eating! I will go pick it up at once and give it to my Old Man as a present—that will be the thing to do.” (Sazanami, Momotaro, pg.11) In this scene, the peach represents the Old Woman’s love and affection for her husband because her first thoughts are not to keep the peach for herself, but to give to her husband as a gift. This selfless thought of the Old Woman towards the Old Man is called love because when you love someone you will put them before yourself. This love the Old Woman has for the Old Man is precisely what forms a community called family. Also, after Momotaro’s initial meeting with the elderly couple, Sazanami writes “this child came to be brought up as their own, and as he was born from a peach, the name ‘Peach-Boy’ was given to him, and all the care which love could give was given to him.” (Sazanami, Momotaro, pg.16) The peach is in a sense the vessel that brought the Peach-Boy and the old couple together. The peach brought these three characters together to form a family, and without the peach, which gave birth to Momotaro, there would be no son for the Old Man and Woman to love and care for. Therefore, the peach is the unifier to this family because it was the vessel that creates the meeting between Momotaro and the elderly couple. As Momotaro prepares to leave on his journey, the Old Man and Old Woman prepares a “suitable food for a warrior on a journey” (Sazanami, Momotaro, pg.21), which are millet dumplings. Though the Old Man was surprised by Peach-Boy’s request to go defeat the ogres in Ogres’ Island, the Old Man gives Peach-Boy his blessings and prepares food for him for the trip. The millet dumplings are the result of the Old Man and Old Woman’s hard work because to make the dumplings that had to beat the grains in a big stone mortar, like in the picture above. The Old Man and Old Woman are very old, with the woman being sixty years old, making the millet dumplings must be very difficult for them, yet they make it not for the purpose of feeding Momotaro because if they were worried about Momotaro’s hunger the elderly couple could have given Momotaro some money to buy food. The Old Man and Old Woman made the millet dumplings out of love and wanting to send off their son with a meal made with the love of a parent. Making the dumpling could be the very last thing that the elderly couple can do for Momotaro and with these dumplings are their love and hope that Momotaro will have a safe journey. These dumplings symbolizes this love and wich for Momotaro’s safe return unifies Momotaro, the Old Man, and the Old Woman as a family and solidifying their bond as a family until they meet again.

Momotaro giving the Spotted Dog, Monkey, and Pheasant each half of a dumpling.

Momotaro giving the Spotted Dog, Monkey, and Pheasant each half of a dumpling.

In Sazanami’s Momotaro and Seo’s Momotaro’s Sea Eagle, food symbolizes emotions such as kindness and happiness which unifies a group of individuals into become comrades. In Sazanami’s Momotaro, Momotaro gives the Spotted Dog “half-a-one” of the millet dumplings the elderly made for him, which he describes as “the best millet dumplings in Japan.” (Sazanami, Momotaro, pg.25) The dumplings in this scene symbolize kindness because Momotaro gave half of a millet dumpling to the hungry Spotted Dog which attacked Momotaro in the first place. Although the Spotted Dog wanted to join Momotaro on his quest before receiving the dumpling, this dumpling solidifies the bond between Momotaro and the Spotted Dog because by sharing a meal together they become friends/comrades, instead of just acquaintances. When Momotaro meet the Monkey, Momotaro said “in consideration of your good intentions, I will give you half of one the best millet dumplings in Japan, and you may follow.” (Sazanami, Momotaro, pg.28)  The dumpling again represents kindness because though the monkey came to follow Momotaro on his journey, Momotaro gives him half of a dumpling as a sign that he accepts the Monkey as a comrade before answering the Monkey’s request. Momotaro did not have to offer his dumplings to the Monkey, but he did it to show that he accepts the Monkey because you truly become friends/comrades with someone you shared a meal with. Again, Momotaro gives half a dumpling to the Pheasant when they first meet. (Sazanami, Momotaro, pg.30) Though Momotaro seeked the Pheasant and made the Pheasant join him, Momotaro offered the Pheasant half of a dumpling as a sign that they are now comrades.

Monkey eating onigiri at the celebration after the battle

Monkey eating onigiri at the celebration after the battle

In Seo’s Momotaro’s Sea Eagle, after the monkey, dog and bird came back there was a celebration for the success of the attack on Ogres’ Island. The rabbit gave the monkey a rice ball to eat during this celebration. The rice ball, or onigiri, symbolizes the happiness that the other animals feel not only for the victory but for the safe return of the monkey, dog, and bird after everyone thought they were dead. This happiness makes the bonds between comrades even stronger because this happiness proves that your comrades care about you. This celebration with food and drinks symbolizes that bond between comrades because if it was for the strong team work and trust these animals have for each other, they would not make a feast to celebrate the accomplishment and safe return of the animals in the fighter planes.

In Sazanami’s Momotaro and Tsuchimoto’s Minamata, food symbolizes suffering which helps unify a group of individuals to become a community of resistance. Suffering is an emotion that can cause people to either crumble or rise to an occasion, in both the text and the film, Momotaro and the protestors rise to the occasion, creating a group that resists the ‘oni’ or ogre. In Sazanami’s Momotaro, Momotaro asks his father, Old Man, for permission to go on a journey to Ogres’ Island to defeat the ogres that “take people and eat them!” (Sazanami, Momotaro, pg.18) Momotaro, who is now fifteen, feels that Japan, as a country, is suffering at the hands of the ‘oni’ or ogres because they see humans as food and seize all the humans’ treasures. In this scene the food is humans because that is what the ogres eat and what makes humans suffer because like all the animals, humans are now on the menu for ogres. This suffering causes Momotaro to want to be the hero that rescues Japan and return the treasure, so he goes off on a journey where he will meet with a Spotted Dog, a Monkey, and a Pheasant, and create a group of resistance against the ogres and fight back.  Minamata

In Tsuchimoto’s film, fish and shellfish contain mercury compounds that cause the Minamata disease cause major health issues where very few patients have a full recovery and most surviving victims suffer the basic symptoms. The fish and shellfish in this case are the food which symbolizes suffering because many fishermen and their families suffered because of these infected fishes and shellfish. The victims did not just wallow up in their suffering, but rose to the occasion and fought for what was right. They gathered a huge amount of supporters and protestors and marched their way to Osaka to prove that the Minamata disease is real. They used this suffering as a motivation to push forward just as Momotaro did. The food in both the text and the film symbolized suffering, but lead to the unification of groups that resistant to continue suffering and fought back with all their strength.

In conclusion, the foods in Sazanami’s Momotaro, Seo’s Momotaro’s Sea Eagle, and Tsuchimoto’s Minamata symbolize emotions that unify groups of individuals into a family, comrades, or a group of resistance. These emotions are love, affection, care, kindness, happiness, and suffering. Emotions of love, affection, care leads to the formation of a family because that is what a family is built on. Emotions of kindness and happiness form bonds of comradeship because these emotions are what begins and strengths the relationship between comrades. Although suffering is a negative emotion, it can be the motivation that leads to formations of a resistance group that protest and fights for what their members believe are right. Though these three media are depict and re-tell that traditional folklore Momotaro differently, they all show that food is an important unifier of communities.

 

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