Momotaro is a very popular folklore in Japan about the adventure of Momotaro, a boy who is born from a peach, and his animal followers in conquering the Ogres’ Island. There are many versions of the story but most of them are created based on the aforementioned plot. Here, I am going to focus on the similarities and difference of the building of Momotaro’s community in different versions based on the Momotaro stories written Iwaya Sazanami and Arai Goro. The two texts will be compared from a formal perspective and reasons for the differences will be suggested. Besides that, the role of millet dumplings in story, namely the community building of Momotaro as both symbol and material object will also be discussed.
To begin with, here are the similarities of the community building in the Momotaro stories and the first similarity is that the community is built around Momotaro and he is the leader of the group. The leading role and superior status of Momotaro can be seen from the use of languages from the stories. Looking at the titles used in Iwaya’s story, members of Momotaro’s community call themselves “servants” but call Momotaro “Lord Peach Boy” or “General Peach Boy”. On the other hand, Momotaro names himself “Lord Peach Boy” and describes the as “followers” or “servants”. Moreover, the conversations between Momotaro and the animals and their ways of speaking also reflect Momotaro’s higher rank in the group. Usually, Momotaro orders the animals but the animals talk to him in a humble and faithful way. For example, when Momotaro wants to recruit the pheasant to be his follower, he says “I now charge you to accompany me in the sane way as the dog and the monkey in my expedition to conquer Ogres’ Island, and see that you are faithful to me in all things.” (Iwaya, p. 31). Yet, the animals talk to Momotaro in a completely different manner. When the dog requests for becoming Momotaro’s follower, it behaves humbly and respectfully. It says “… if you will command me, your humble servant, to accompany you, I shall be grateful for my good fortune.” (Iwaya, p. 24). In another story written by Arai, the writer also describes that the animals are serving Momotaro (Arai). From the ways that Momotaro and the animals interact and communicate, the higher position of Momotaro in the community can be seen.
Secondly, Momotaro’s community is built on the same purpose in both versions, which is fighting against the ogres. At the beginning of the two Momotaro stories, Momotaro’s goal of defeating the ogres is clearly stated before he leaves home and starts his journey. In Iwaya’s version, after hearing about Momotaro’s intention of conquering the Ogres’ island, the dog, the monkey and pheasant voluntarily become Momotaro’s followers. Similarly, in Arai’s story, the animals also show willingness to help Momotaro to fight against the ogres.
Another similarity in Momotaro’s community building is the involvement of millet dumplings. The millet dumplings are made by Momotaro’s parents and given to Momotaro for his journey to Ogres’ island. More importantly, these millet dumplings carry special meanings in the creation of bonds among Momotaro’s community as both material objects and symbols. No matter in Iwaya’s story or Arai’s story, Momotaro gives the animals millet dumplings to affirm their memberships in the group and bring them together. Thus, looking at the millet dumplings from the materialistic perspective, they are the benefits given by Momotaro to attract the animals. As stated in Arai’s story, the animals decide to follow Momotaro and help him to fight against the ogres after receiving the millet dumplings. This shows that receiving millet dumplings is one of the main reasons for the animals to join Momotaro’s community. And in Iwaya’s story, the millet dumplings also serve similar functions. Whenever Momotaro has a new member in his group, he gives half of a millet dumpling to it. In this situation, the millet dumplings are similar to the rewards paid by the lord, Momotaro, to the subordinates for their hard work. Apart from the materialistic implications of the millet dumplings, they are also symbols of bonding and recognition. The millet dumplings are food prepared by Momotaro’s parents for Momotaro’s journey and they contain the love and care of his parents. However, Momotaro is willing to share these valuable millet dumplings with the animals and this shows the importance of the animals to Momotaro. Furthermore, Momotaro’s act of giving the animals millet dumplings when they join his community in Iwaya’s story represents Momotaro’s recognitions to the new members. So, millet dumplings are the symbols of Momotaro’s community and the confirmation ones’ positions in the group.
In spite of the mutual intentions and similar structure of Momotaro’s community in the two stories, the ways Momotaro uses to gather his followers are quite different. Momotaro employs more violent ways to build his community in Iwaya’s verion than in the one written by Arai. In Iwaya’s story, Momotaro’s community is largely built through intimidation or by force. For example, Momotaro browbeats to the dog that “If you [the dog] try to hinder me in any way, there will be no mercy for you; I, myself, will cut you in half from your head downwards.” (Iwaya, p.24). He also menaces the bird to be his follower or he will order the dog to “twist [the bird’s] head off [the bird’s] neck” (Iwaya, p.30). However, in Arai’s story, Momotaro does not use any violence and his community is developed in a much more peaceful way. He gathers his followers solely by “[sharing] his millet dumplings with a monkey, a dog and a pheasant” (Arai).
After looking into the similarities and difference of Momotaro’s community in the two stories, now come to the discussion on the factors leading to the difference. The different target readers is the first possible reason. Comparing the writing style of the two stories, Arai’s is written in a relatively simple way and lots of drawings are included in the story. Yet, the writing style of Iwaya’s version is more complicated and there are fewer pictures. Such differences in writing style suggest that the target readers of Arai are younger children and Iwaya is targeting at the older group. Therefore, the violent contents are avoided in Arai’s version.
Furthermore, the historical background is another factor that leads to the differences in how Momotaro builds his community. Iwaya created the story in 1938, a year before the outbreak of the Second World War. During that time, militarism and imperialism were spreading widely and Japan also had the desire to expand its power in Asia. Thus, Momotaro’s way to build his community is reflecting Japan’s military expansion to a certain extent. Yet, Arai’s Momotaro story was published in 1999. Entering the late 20th century, the world started to concentrate more on cooperation and the development of peace. Influenced by such global atmosphere, the building of Momotaro’s community is also carried out in a peaceful way through sharing of dumplings.
All in all, even though Momotaro has a standard story line about his birth and journey to defeat the ogres, details of the story sometimes vary in different versions due to the social environment and the target readers.
Iwaya, Sazanami. (1938). Momotaro.
Arai, Goro. (1999). Momotaro. National Diet Library Picture Book.