Momotaro is a Japanese folk story that has survived through the ages. This folk tale centers around Momotaro, or Peach Boy, from his humble beginnings with an elderly couple that found him inside a peach to his triumphant victory against the monsters living on Ogre Island. However, despite this very familiar, simple story, there have been several variations of this folk tale throughout time. In addition, to several changes in the story due to geography, Momotaro has also been adapted to film. In the first full-length animated movie, Momotaro’s Sea Eagle, Momotaro and his naval crew set off to defeat the enemies of Demon Island. Despite the vast differences in the interpretations of Momotaro, food is always something that unifies the story.
In the Momotaro interpretation by Iwaya Sazanami, which is the most renowned translation of the folk-tale, it tells of a time “very, very long ago” when an old woman discovers a large peach drifting in the river (Sazanami, 9). The old woman takes the very large peach home to her husband. Hoping to cut the peach in half, a small voice from inside the peach emerges and moments later a small baby jumps out from the peach. The small baby boy reveals to the couple that he has been sent from Heaven to be brought up as their own child. The couple raises the child to a young man. When he is of age, the Peach Boy reveals that he must go to an island settled by Ogres and bring the riches the Ogres have seized back home. Hearing this, the old man and woman start making millet dumplings for his voyage. During the Peach Boy’s journey, he encounters a dog, cat, and pheasant. At first, all three animals are quite defensive towards the Peach Boy, the dog even threatening him. However, after telling the animals about his expedition and his origins, all join him in the fight against the Ogres. After all animals declared to accompany him, he hands them each half a millet dumpling. This giving of food symbolizes a sense of camaraderie between the animals and Peach Boy himself. It showcases that Peach Boy trusts the animals and thinks of them in high respects. The certain millet dumplings he gives to the animals are not just any ordinary dumplings, but ones he regards as “the best millet dumplings in Japan” (Sazanami, 25). This highlights Peach Boy’s creation of a group that can fight against the Ogres on the island.
In Sazanami’s famous interpretation of Momotaro, Momotaro is a peer to the animals. Despite having the role as a leader in the group, he fights side-by-side with the animals. He battles squarely with the Ogres and does not hide behind for protection. In contrast, the Peach Boy in Momotaro’s Sea Eagle, is the commander of the crew. He is not there to fight beside the animals, but there to lead them to victory with strategies. In the film Momotaro’s Sea Eagle, the Peach Boy acts as the captain for the animal crew. He does not go into the assault on Demon Island with the rest of the animals. The Peach Boy stays put on the large ship, and watches on as the rest of his crew advance towards Demon Island.
Momotaro’s Sea Eagle is considered the “first feature-length cartoon” (Gerow, 10). It bases its story from the original folk tale of Momotaro. However, there are many stark differences between the cartoon film and the folk story. The most important is that the Peach Boy does not form any sort of brotherhood with the animals in the film. He is seen as someone of higher ranking in the film, and is less approachable to the animals. There is still a sense of camaraderie in the movie, but the feeling of kinship is much lower than that in the folk tale. The millet dumplings that Momotaro shares with the animals in the folk tale are not portrayed in the film. In the movie, only animals share the dumplings with each other and the Peach Boy takes no part in it.
In the folk tale, the idea of the villains is very vague. They are only said to be Ogres who “take people and eat them” in Japan (Sazanami, 18). There are no further specifics on the enemy themselves. In contrast, the enemies are very distinct and recognizable. The evildoers in Momotaro’s Sea Eagle are the naval fleet on Demon Island. The film clearly characterizes the villains as drunkards who are cowardly and clumsy. In Sea Eagles, the enemies have a very definite, recognizable face whereas the Ogres in the folk story are a hazy idea.
Even with all the differences between the film and the folk story, one similar idea is the utilization of food as a unifier. The millet dumplings in the folk tale create a feeling of familiarity and companionship. This is also apparent in the movie where crewmembers serve millet dumplings and alcohol after the victory against Demon Island. Food constructs a feeling of friendship and togetherness during times of triumph and success. Dumplings are rewards to the animals after the success on Demon Island. Food is a way to join forces together. The use of food as something that combines powers together is most evident in the original folk tale. In the well-known story, Momotaro gives millet dumplings to create a united front. There is a sense of unification and cooperation despite the different animals. With the dumplings, there are no longer any differences with the varying animals; they all have one objective and one brain to rule them all.
Throughout the years, there have been different interpretations of Momotaro. However, one thing very similar is the importance of food. It is something that unites the different characters and their different skills. With food, the group, or crew, create a community with one objective. Sharing food creates companionship and kinship in the world of Momotaro, a trait needed to fight against their enemy.
Gerow, A. (2007). Momotaro’s Sea Eagles. UCLA Course Reader Solutions, Japanese 70:
Images of Japan: Literature and Film, 173.
Sazanami, I. (1938). Momotaro = the Story of Peach-Boy. UCLA Course Reader Solutions,
Japanese 70: Images of Japan: Literature and Film, 174-192.