It is said that a family who feasts together, stays together. For most people, food is seen as a source of energy and nutrition for the body, a necessity of life, but it is also a way for people form bonds others. In most cultures, families and communities come together to eat which establishes a connection between each other because when people share food at the table, they also share stories and experiences which elicits responses of laughter or even sympathy. Being able to connect on a personal level creates unity and a sense of community with others as illustrated by the Momotaro stories of Japan. Momotaro, a Japanese folk legend, leads his trusty squad into quests and battles in order to destroy the enemies that threaten the safety of Japan. In both visual and literary texts, food ties Momotaro and his crew together while also giving them the strength they need to carry on and become victorious in their quests.
In Iwaya Sazanami’s rendition of Momotaro, food represents providence and good fortune for the old couple as well as used as a sign of respect and trust that creates a band of warriors who are loyal to Momotaro and his quest. When the old couple finds Momotaro, he is actually within a peach which happens to be a fruit that is highly valued and often associated with the gods in Japanese folklore. This implies that Momotaro is a blessing from the gods, meant to bring the couple together and to grant them happiness. Although Sazanami never mentions anything about the man and woman having any lack of nutrition, they work very hard so when the peach comes floating down the river, it is a significant event for the old couple becomes it is a reason for celebration and a reward for their work. It makes their life “healthier” in a sense with the appearance of Momotaro in their lives. He is a healthy addition to their lives and is very beneficial to their lonely life because his presence gives them joy and he helps out the old couple in their daily burdens. The old couple is so grateful for Momotaro and his influence on their lives that they willingly let him leave them for his quest to save Japan.
Momotaro begins his journey after the old couple makes him millet dumplings in order to ensure his well-being. Millet dumplings are a material objects that originally were only to serve the purpose of guarantee Momotaro’s well-being but instead they become a symbol of trust and acceptance into Momotaro’s followers. He offers half a millet dumpling to each of his new followers in order to feast with them and create a fellowship with the dog, the monkey, and the pheasant. Furthermore, by offering food to his followers, this situation begins to mimic the parent-child relationship where the parent provides for the child, which, in this situation, makes the three followers his dependents. Throughout the whole book, Momotaro is referred to as “Peach-boy” and even refers to himself as “Peach-boy” reinforcing the idea that he was a gift from the gods as sustenance to the old couple’s lives. After his quest, his role as sustenance is extended to Japan because he helps the country well-being in his victory over the Ogres.
Misuyo Seo’s Momotaro’s Sea Eagle reinforces the idea of food as a way to form bonds but chooses to focuses on food as a unifier of Momotaro’s forces rather than an initiation of his followers as his forces head to the Demon’s island to face the enemy. In the film, the troops consume millet dumplings just as Momotaro and his followers did in Sazanami’s story, however, it is a feast among his many troops. Food becomes something to rally behind because it not only creates unity among the troops, but also gives them the strength to conquer the enemy. This is illustrated when one of the monkeys quickly wolfs down a millet dumpling and he suddenly becomes muscular enough to overwhelm the enemy with whom they are in combat with. As a propaganda film that was premiered in the midst of World War II, it paralleled the events that were occurring in the war and influenced citizens to cheer for Momotaro and his troops. Though it was Momotaro’s great leadership that led to the victory over the demons, the millet dumplings were what gave them the ability to do so and thus they are a representation of the strength of the Japanese people in the war. Millet dumplings were something that could be shared by all and creates a sense of camaraderie among the Japanese people and its troops.
Although the Momotaro tales are often associated with a noble journey and a victorious quest or purpose, Tsuchimoto’s Minimata: The Victims and Their World, alludes to the stories as people victimized because of food. Sustenance united Momotaro’s troops yet was the source of problems in Osaka. When people of Osaka consumed the fish of the nearby polluted waters, they also consumed mercury which resulted in a mass of innocent civilians with severe cases of Mercury poisoning. They relate their suffering to the people of Japan by equating their pain with living in “the land where blue and red ogres dwell” in order to convey the devastating the effects of mercury poising that ravaged their city. In alluding to the Momotaro stories with the ogres, the victims illustrate their situation simply because of the familiarity of the Momotaro stories to the Japanese people. This epidemic caused people to unite against the company that had polluted the water, to fight for justice and reparations. Although food caused this plague, it also brought people together to combat injustice and to band together in order to make a difference in the victims’ lives.
Having a sense of community is hard to find in a world that has many enemies and suppressors, but in partaking with others, a bond is formed between people who defend each other. In the Momotaro tales and film, food is a unifier that brings a group of people together to find strength to defeat the enemy as well as a reminder of one’s roots. The millet dumplings become a tie between the troops as they follow Momotaro into war. As for Minimata, the food that the community often shared together was poisoned, and thus, because of food, the people come together to fight the injustice of the big businesses that have polluted their lives. In each context, it is food that influences their actions and their outcome because it is an act of fellowship. Although food gives them strength to overcome the enemy, their victories did not stem from the consumption of food. Rather, it came from their ability to unite because of the personal connection formed in the act of partaking the food together.