Category Archives: propaganda

Feasting Together

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.


Momotaro: Akutagawa’s Concerns

“Of course, the fruit that bore Momotaro had long ago flowed away into the mountain stream. But an unknown number of prodigies still sleep within those fruits. When will that huge Yadagarasu next stir the branches of this tree again? Yes, an unknown number of prodigies still sleep within those fruits…”


This quote is the concluding sentence of one of the most famous Japanese writers Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s Momotaro. Akutagawa criticizes the government’s repurposing of folk stories for propagating national ideology. This was because there was a background when Japan was in the time of imperialism facing China (Qing) and Russia during the Meiji era. The government was setting Momotaro as a symbol for heroism and propagating the need of war to the people of those days. As Gerow in the course reader says, while Momotaro became a central figure in Japanese moral education, he was frequently used during WW2 to represent nationalist military value. According to Morita, an instructor at Nagasaki University Japan, there are at least 63 Momotaro stories in Japan. Akutagawa was one of those who ironically criticized the government by publishing a whole new Momotaro story in 1924. I will compare the second Momotaro story in the reader with 3 versions of Momotaro which are “Momotaro’s Sea Eagle”, Iwaya Sazanami’s “Momotaro” and Akutagawa’s “Momotaro” in terms of “the motive for going to the demon’s island” through Momotaro’s characteristic. The reason why I compare them with the second Momotaro story in the reader is because it depicts the simplest and most generally known Momotaro story.

The Momotaro story itself is very simple. Long ago there was an elderly couple and they found a peach floating downstream. The old women brought the peach back home and when they tried to cut the peach to eat it, a boy appeared from inside who was named Momotaro. Momotaro grew up to become strong and was prepared to fight against the Demon. Momotaro sets off to defeat him, giving millet dumplings to a monkey, a pheasant, and a dog to enlist them as vassals (Gerow, 2007). After defeating the Demon, he brought back the treasures and lived happily ever after. This is more or less the plot of Momotaro, but the 3 stories slightly differ or include some other elements still sticking to this fundamental story. The reason why I focus on the motive for going to the demon island is because the second story in the reader does not provide a clear motive, but the other 3 versions do which will be discussed later. The “Momotaro’s Sea Eagle” is a movie animation made during World War 2 by the Ministry of the Navy of Japan. The plot of Momotaro vs. Demon is depicted in a war situation and there is a cute rabbit included in addition to the main three characters. Millet dumplings are also used as a ration before the animals attack the island. The animals successfully attack the demon’s island and eventually all came back safely. Iwaya’s Momotaro also pretty much follows the fundamental plot but the big difference is that it has a clear reason for Momotaro to defeat the demon which will be examined later on in this paper. For Akutagawa’s Momotaro, the plot is reversed: Momotaro is depicted as a lazy, evil character who tries to conquer the “palm trees soar over it, birds of paradise chirp in it, and it’s a beautiful land of natural paradise” as the demon’s island. Momotaro gets kicked out of the old man and women’s house after he tells them that he does not want to work at all. Since he did not want to work to live, he planned to go to the island to get the treasure and live a life with all the money. From the following paragraph will show each analysis for Momotaro.

The Akutagawa version is quite a shocking work of Momotaro showing many violent scenes when he pillages against the defenseless innocent demons. He depicts Momotaro and the animals as a complete “evil”. Momotaro says “Forward, forward! Kill the demons without leaving any behind as soon as you find them!” and “Like a storm, they chased after the fleeing demons. The dog killed a young demon with just one bite. The pheasant pecked demon children to death with its hard beak. And the monkey—the monkey, simply by being a cousin of us humans, before strangling a demon girl to death, ravaged her to his heart’s content.” Turning over the pages, your image of Momotaro and the animals will totally collapse. After Momotaro’s massacring of the demons, the demon chieftain (along with the other demons that narrowly escaped death) come up to Momotaro for forgiveness but he says “Now, with my exceptional mercy, I will allow you to live. In return, you will present me with every piece of treasure on Demon Island”. In addition he takes his child as a hostage. Akutagawa also includes the revenge by the demons: “When the demon children became adults, they bit the guard pheasant to death, and absconded to Demon Island at once. In addition, occasionally the survivors of Demon Island would cross the sea, and set fire to Momotaro’s mansion or try to break his sleeping neck.” Overall, obviously not the Demon but Momotaro and the animals were the “evil” in this story. This was Akutagawa’s way of cautioning the audience that since Momotaro is always a “hero”, there are people who take advantage of to make propaganda. He concludes his story by saying that even though this Momotaro is dead, the fruit within the 2nd or 3rd Momotaro will keep on condemning the predatory nation. Back in those days Japan was conducting wars of invasion and he was concerned about the cyclical battles for revenge: he feared that the cycle of war would continue.

The “Momotaro’s Sea Eagle” does not clearly convey any information on why Momotaro is attacking the demon’s island, but since the audience knows the immediate time is WW2, it is obvious that the attack represents the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor. As it is a propaganda film, although Momotaro is shown as a person who exhibits strong rigid leadership against their enemy, Momotaro himself just gives orders to the animals and does pretty much nothing. Since the film is for children in Japan, the audience can see the cuteness of the animals which we cannot see in texts. There are no “treasures” but the victory at Pearl Harbor should be it. In spite of Akutagawa’s awareness of Momotaro’s use as propaganda, this film was made 20 years after his Momotaro.

Iwaya’s Momotaro has a clear, pure reason for going to the demon’s island: Momotaro is sent down by the command of god to protect Japan. Long ago Japan was inhabited by the Ogres and Momotaro needs to get the treasure back from them. The heroism of Momotaro was not only during WW2 but also in the Meiji era when this was published. Especially in the Meiji era, still the power of the Emperor was strong and it met people’s needs for a strong leader. Akutagawa’s concerns arouse from these days and leads to his version in the Taisho era.

There are a variety of Momotaro stories in Japan which has a strong connection to the history of Japan. Akutagawa was one of those who were concerned about Japan as a predatory nation and he was the one who repurposed the Momotaro story as no one has ever done before. Japan did move on to the war, but his work still stood out in literature because of his innovative work of reversing the image of Momotaro and the demon which brought a big impact to convey his critique.

Momotarō and Food: Unifiers of the Japanese

Although Momotarō originated as a simple folk hero in the early Edo period, he has transformed into a national symbol capable of creating strong bonds within the Japanese people. His portrayal has also changed with his evolution. The adult themes of the Edo period transformed to become more child-friendly before again morphing to a more militaristic attitude in war propaganda. However, the use of food in Momotarō stories has remained consistent: the establishing and strengthening of strong community bonds. Between media and through time, Momotarō is a national symbol and the use of food in his portrayals act as a way to cement community bonds.

In the original tale, Momotarō uses food to establish both camaraderie and loyalty among his vassals. The original story narrates how an old couple finds Momotarō in a large peach and raises him. “Peach Boy”, as Momotarō translates to, grows up and journeys to Oni Island to defeat the demons living there. On his voyage, he enlists the help of a dog, monkey, and pheasant using the millet dumplings his parents prepared for him. He returns from his expedition triumphant and laden with treasures. The food in the original version is instrumental in the story. The millet dumplings Momotarō gives to the animals wins him their loyalty. While winning their support, he also establishes dominance and leadership between him and his vassals. This is especially apparent when he “[places] himself between them [the dog and the monkey] and carrying in his hand and iron fan, according to the custom of all high military officials in those days […]” (28, Iwaya). Momotarō clearly establishes himself as a strong leader and the dominant figure of his vassals. He is seen as an assertive person to be looked up to and trusted. The comparison to a high military official furthers this idea s well as hints at Momotarō’s coming military might against the demons. His leadership is also apparent when he “pushed them [the dog and monkey] both apart […]” (26, Iwaya). He is responsible enough that he stops them from fighting and even has the foresight to recruit the monkey as another one of his vassals. The millet dumpling shared between the dog and monkey establishes camaraderie between the two. The food also binds the band together on their journey to Oni Island. Not only do they no longer argue, they fight alongside each other with loyalty and bravery. The millet dumplings convey the theme of camaraderie and loyalty on their journey.

In Mitsuyo Seo’s 1943 film Momotarō’s Sea Eagles, Momotarō and the millet dumplings are used to mobilize the Japanese people for the war effort. In the film, Momotarō leads a “Japanese” army of dogs, monkeys, pheasants, and rabbits against the evil demons of Oni Island, representing the American and British enemies in World War II. The film’s main purpose is to promote World War II and rally the Japanese people; in contrast, the original tale is aimed to teach and entertain children. However, the propaganda film gains power from using Momotarō as a symbol because people already identify with the original folk hero as a good, strong leader. This idea is furthered with the utter defeat of the Western “demons” and the fact that the “Japanese” army is completely unharmed. This idealized view of war only serves the film’s purpose as propaganda. Millet dumplings also rally the Japanese people together. Strong community bonds and intense loyalty are the Japanese’s strengths and the key to winning the war, and the millet dumplings represent this. In the film, the food does not simply establish these bonds, but actually makes the animals physically stronger.

The monkey's muscles become visibly larger after eating the millet dumplings.

The monkey’s muscles become visibly larger after eating the millet dumplings.

The millet dumplings, and symbolically the camaraderie between the Japanese, give strength to Momotarō’s army. The food in the films not only encourages camaraderie but also distinguishes the good Japanese and the demonized Westerners.

The beer makes the demons drunk and cowardly

The beer makes the demons drunk and cowardly

In contrast to the strength the millet dumplings give to the Japanese, food and drink make the Westerners lazy and cowardly. This distinction further unites the Japanese. The biased portrayal dehumanizes the enemies and makes their total defeat more righteous, again typical of a propaganda film. Food in Sea Eagles helps promote enlistment in the war and draws power from the national symbol of Momotarō.

Momotarō is not used only in literature and film, but also as a real world rallying point. In Tsuchimoto’s 1971 documentary, Minamata: The Victims and their World, the citizens of Minamata suffer from mercury poisoning caused by polluted waters. A neighboring factory owned by the Chisso Corporation had been pollution the water for thirty-four years. The film documents the victims’ fight for justice. One scene portrays the march of the victims to the annual Chisso Corporation shareholder meeting in Osaka. In one particular moment, a victim alluded to Momotarō, and the folk hero becomes a rallying point. In fact, the speaker for the victims referenced the corporation as “blue and red ogres”, a clear reference to Momotarō’s Oni Island.

The speaker references Momotarõ as a way to gain sympathy from the strangers in Osaka.

The speaker references Momotarõ as a way to gain sympathy from the strangers in Osaka.

Momotarō’s popularity as a defender of good and a strong leader made him an ideal symbol for the victims. His story is well known; likening the corporation to the infamous ogres serves to unite the strangers in solidarity and bring the issue closer to home. The long journey and gathering of supporters is also a parallel to Momotarō’s journey and gathering of vassals, again around food. However, the poisoned food is a weapon of the enemy rather than something to encourage camaraderie.  The reference to the familiar character of Momotarō as a defender of good also elicits sympathy for the victims, and the strangers as well as the audience join and support their cause. The ability of the victims to garner that much attention using Momotarō is a testament to the folk hero’s power. From page to screen to the real world, Momotarō retains his popularity and power.

Despite moving between media, or even because of it, Momotarō is a national symbol with a lot of influence, and he serves as a rallying point for multiple causes. Food also connects the various genres and becomes a unifier for the people involved, whether through camaraderie, or sadly, suffering. While the goal of each media was different, the three portrayals of Momotarō all shared the folk hero and food as the banners under which people came together. People tend to rally around strong leaders, and Momotarō is the ideal unifier for the Japanese people, even across time periods and media.

Social Enrichment Through Food

Evoking sharp, sensory emotions; promoting marvelous, cognitive associations; and communicating traditional, symbolic expressions, food elicits a profound quality throughout many cultures: unification of people. The Momotaro stories particularly embrace the idea of “uniting others” with food—mainly through positive associations of camaraderie. In comparison, Noriaki Tsuchimoto’s documentary highlights community strengthening through food’s symbolic power; instead, however, the characters join together through negative connotations of suffering. Food’s function as a unifier can be analyzed between both literary texts and visual films. Represented through Iwaya Sazanami’s Momotaro = The Story of Peach-Boy and Tsuchimoto’s Minamata: The Victims and Their World, food operates as a figurative symbol and a material object that unifies estranged communities.

Iwaya Sazanami manipulates his writing to indirectly relate a smaller unification with a large-scale unification. In his Momotaro story, he describes an old couple who appears distraught over lack of children. However, once the old woman finds “a huge peach, big enough to fill her arms” (10 Iwaya), a little boy pops out of the fruit to explain his purpose: He intends to provide joy to the couple after “seeing that they are both so sad” (16 Iwaya). Sazanami develops a small, but significant community by employing a peach as a figurative, food symbol—an old woman and an old man become united with a child of their own. Comparably, this community development epitomizes the wide-ranging scale of unification that occurs in contemporary times: how ratatouille encapsulates the French; how pasta envelops the Italians; how lumpia bonds the Filipinos; and how ramēn/sushi unites the Japanese. In this case, the peach revitalizes a couple’s marriage, establishing a novel connection. Food not only has a physical attribute to forming happiness, but it also has a metaphorical element to uniting hopeless souls.

The historical context of Momotaro sets him in the late 19th century, with the English translation coming in the pre-WWII era. He epitomizes the popular hero who remains entangled in Japanese folklore. His figure also appears in countless wartime films and cartoons that appeal to the Japanese citizens as propaganda. In these widespread media portrayals, Momotaro usually represents the Japanese government; the citizens signify the animals; and the United States characterizes the demonic figure. The food and treasure that Momotaro and his animals receive after defeating the demon reflect the lost glory of Japan’s empire. Food’s presence in these stories holds another symbolic meaning: Food represents the attachment between the Japanese government and its people—just like how a chemical bond connects two atoms. Nevertheless, the Momotaro stories utilize food to cultivate strong relationships and lasting communities.

Tokiyoshi Onoue's personal testimonial compares to the whole Minamata community's experience.

Tokiyoshi Onoue’s personal testimonial compares to the whole Minamata community’s experience.

In similar fashion, Tsuchimoto applies food to compare one man’s suffering with a whole community’s suffering. He uses Tokiyoshi Onoue’s testimonial to illuminate a population’s distressful unity. As the Minamata disease forms a resilient community through people’s suffering, the Momotaro stories arrange cohesive communities through people’s comradeship: the contrasting quality between Sazanami’s writing and Tsuchimoto’s media. In the film, Onoue reveals his pain and anguish that the poisoning fish produced. The food’s contamination forcefully disables any consumers—blinding vision, restricting sound, and damaging basic motor skills. Upon recognition of the disease, Onoue begins to lose a certain amount of respect and trust of food’s safety. This personal relationship symbolizes the overall relationship that Minamata residents have with their seafood. The local fishermen, the close families, the dying individuals all start to discount their association with food’s unifying demands. Food’s figurative role as a uniting symbol emerges through the depths of people’s suffering. Minamata’s community develops a strong connection through everyone’s discomfort and torture.

The historical framework of the Minamata disease places it during a post-WWII era—a close similarity with that of Momotaro’s propaganda setting. Minamata’s remote location also sets it apart from the Japanese mainstream culture. This sets the stage for Minamata to create its own society and community. Since the residents did not have plenty of outside interaction, they had to combine their efforts with one another. The poisoned food ultimately matures the population through a tormenting array of sorrow. Even though the citizens become hampered to produce everyday tasks, they still overcome such obstacles to unify. Nevertheless, food embodies the metaphorical epitome of industrializing a spirited community.

Now implemented as a material object through the Momotaro stories, Sazanami employs food as a physical unifier between characters. He uses millet dumplings to bond Momotaro and a dog: “he accepted the half-dumpling and having eaten it he went on with Peach-Boy” (25 Iwaya). He continues to use millet dumplings to connect Momotaro and a monkey: “I will give you half of one of the best millet dumplings in Japan, and you may follow me” (28 Iwaya). He finally unites another pairing between Momotaro and a bird: “I now charge you to accompany me in the same way as the dog and the money in my expedition” (31 Iwaya). Once again, this small community of a hero and his comrades exemplifies the larger picture—how a massive community between the Japanese government and its citizens ripens. Food’s function as a unifier travels beyond the scope of just forming a community; it reaches the extent of establishing companionships and relationships. Sazanami manipulates food to serve as his community development initiative. He implements food to directly institute a bonding association—since the monkey, dog, and bird openly accept the dumplings. This illuminates how food works to build communities through certain respects of camaraderie and materialism.

The comparison between “Momotaro and his companions” and “the Japanese government and its citizens” signifies Sazanami’s purpose to portray community progression. The millet dumplings operate as a food symbol in the story, and the food represents the Momotaro stories in reality. Since the dumplings form a community between the hero and his acquaintances, the Momotaro stories form a community between the government and its people. Together, both communities develop a passionate sense of unity and accord to battle worldly evils. In Momotaro’s case, they travel to defeat the ogres at Ogre Island; in Japan’s case, they journey to conquer the Unites States at Pearl Harbor. Food manages to characterize a potent unifier that continues to produce fervent societies.

Community outreach and development.

Community outreach and development.

Through another comparison, Tsuchimoto highlights how food can symbolize the basis of constructing a vehement community. He chronicles the Minamata residents as they band together to confront the death-providing Chisso Corporation—the instigator who polluted the Minamata waters with mercury compounds. Indirectly speaking, the diseased food connects the people of Minamata as a single neighborhood, fighting to voice their harrowing pain and traumatic anger. An example of this cohesive community can be described through the documentary’s dramatic climax: Tsuchimoto films the residents attending a Chisso biannual, shareholders meeting. They collectively demand that the company president accept full responsibility for Chisso’s offenses against the environment and humanity. Food resumes its constant duty to unify communities—with love in its intentions and conviction in its production.

The story of Minamata’s fight for justice not only suggests historical importance, but it also reveals the determined spirit that a group of people is willing to deliver. This community struggle holds the potential to inspire other communities who also suffer from the hands of an indifferent bureaucracy. Although each family and individual embrace their own personal account of sorrow, they all combine their efforts and tales to form a community of simple, conscientious people. Tsuchimoto’s filming tactics fully epitomize the meaning of how food brings people into unison.

While Tsuchimoto and Sazanami develop contrasting works of art, they both succinctly illustrate the same, basic message: Food not only functions as a figurative symbol to unify communities, but it also works as a material object to unite others. Whether a situation expounds anguish, happiness, friendship, or violence, people always find a way to become intertwined through food’s bitter taste; food’s sweet taste; food’s rare taste; or food’s repulsive taste. Food grasps that special power to unify communities under the best conditions, or the worst conditions. It remains as a symbol that refers to any aspect of a culture’s or individual’s history and identity.

Food Things: People as Food

The whole notion of people as “things” is paradoxical at a most basic level, yet in the struggle between the proletarian and bourgeoisie classes, it is a common form of classification. Kobayashi Takiji’s The Factory Ship illustrates how people can be treated as lifeless, inanimate and (as is often the case with Kobayashi) grotesque “things”. His story describes the unrelenting life of laborers turned sailors on-board the Hakko Maru, a Japanese factory ship of the coast of Kamchatka. Kobayashi uses food related metaphors and images to intensify the thingification of people, thus helping him convey the inequality of Japanese society at the time.

Kobayashi often uses repulsive metaphors when referring to the laborers. A commonly used and vivid metaphor is seen when mentioning the factory hands. These young men who are living under absurd conditions were described by the narrator as “rotting, fly covered corpses infested with maggots” (43). Such a metaphor links the image of food; in particular, rotting meat. This image is very accurate; for like rotting meat, the laborers are not totally worthless, but they will end up rotten anyway. Yet this is of very little importance to the capitalists who are profiting of the dying laborers. The bourgeoisie “don’t think of any of you as human beings” (24), one laborer complains, and this is the essential dilemma they face. Laborers, in the opinion of capitalists, are expendable pieces of rotting meat, which will inevitably be replaced as they rot into oblivion.

Kobayashi also uses food to help dramatize the violent environment laborers faced on a day-to-day basis on-board the factory ship. The laborer’s hands are described as “raw and red as crab claws” (11). This image portrays the workers struggle and hardship, as the comparison to crab claws reveals a sense of suffering that can be perceived in the laborer’s hands. In addition, the use of words such as “raw” and “red” alludes to the blood laborer’s lose as they are forced to work. Kobayashi does not stop there, and describes the flesh being “torn from the workers’ bodies like filets of fish” (40). This image is a sort of continuation of the previous one, but the toll the factory ship has taken is now evident in the workers’ bodies. Nonetheless, this struggle was justified because it was for the “sake of the nation” (40), but no one believed that in the end, especially those who stood at the very top.

Kobayashi used food to help dramatize the thingification of the laborers on board the Hakko Maru. The images he chose to use were those of despair, lifelessness and deterioration. These images help reader’s understand how laborers were seen by the capitalists in charge. Consequently, the underlying propaganda used to motivate the worker’s reveals itself. The laborers were told to work for the empire and its people, only to find out this was a facade the bourgeoisie employed for personal gain. In conclusion, it was the proletarian realization of unity that would overcome abuse, thus making laborers more than just things.

Battleship Potemkin: Injustice, Lower Social Status, and Religious Rhetoric

Battleship Potemkin is a Russian silent propaganda film directed by Sergei Eisenstein that dramatized the conflicts between the proletariats and their commanding officers.  Through the symbolisms of food, the proletariats take over the battleship and fights the injustice faced by the poor sailors.  Eisenstein is able to sway his audience more to the extreme left with food by pointing out the injustice the poor sailors experienced, the higher social status among the Japanese, and the religious rhetoric.

The doctor examines the maggot infested meat, but disregard the contamination and deems the meat good to eat.

In the silent propaganda movie, food is used as the catalyst that starts the revolutionary reaction.  The men of the ship were given low-quality, spoiled, and maggot-ridden meat to eat.  The men complain about the food and ask the superiors if they can have better quality food.  The doctor looks at the meat, acknowledges the maggots, but disregards the potentially health threatening consequences the maggots might have.  The doctor tells the sailors that the meat is safe and good to eat, which really escalated the tension between the common sailor and his commanding officers.  Interestingly, a Russian sailor aboard the Russian ship noticed and expressively exclaimed that the food the Russian prisoners of war aboard Japanese ships were fed considerably better.  Also, while washing the dishes, the sailors come across a plate with the words, “Give us this day our daily bread”, which absolutely outrages the sailor even more.

The higher ranking officials’ plates are inscribed with “Give us this day our daily bread”

The movie’s main goal is to sway the audience to rise against the rich, and support the poor, goals of the communist faction.  Eisenstein used the maggot infested meat in order to illustrate the high social gap between the rich and the poor.  While the rich and powerful are able to eat fresh and healthy foods, the poor have to eat whatever is left over even if it is rotten or spoiled.  The maggots and the doctor’s disregard represent the rich’s disdain towards the poor, never really considering the welfare of the proletariats.

The sailor’s remark about the Russian POWs in Japan demonstrates the social standing of the poor among the rich.  Basically, the sailor, knowingly or unknowingly, says that the Japanese hold their Russian POWs in higher regards than the Russian officers do to their own sailors.  Eisenstein tries to outrage the audience, by suggesting that even the enemies of the Russians, hold the poor people in higher status than the Russians themselves.

Lastly, the quote on the dish alludes to religion.  The movie not only uses the images of injustice and the ideas of higher social status in enemy territories, but it also included religious rhetoric.  The quote alludes to the symbolism in the Christian faith.   Bread symbolizes life as it is the nourishment that sustains life.  The biggest irony and injustice is that the officers eat off these morally sound plates, agree with the quote, but do not share the same benefits to their sailors.  Those, in the audience who are heavily religious, would be appalled and consequently outraged at this scenario, and would therefore sympathize with the proletariats.

Although food may seem to play a small role in the movie, food is actually abundantly used as a propaganda tool.  Eisenstein uses food to illustrate the images of injustice, higher social status in enemy territories, and religious disapproval.  Using food in these three critical ways, Eisenstein would successful anger his audience and sway them to the more socialist side.

During and before World War II, Japan had been working fervently to establish a solid national identity including several contributing ideologies.  Some of those ideologies can be seen in Momotaro’s Sea Eagle, a sort of short propaganda feature film intended for young children.

Momotaro sees the planes off as they head toward Demon Island

The very use of Momotaro helps the film to establish a sort of national identity.  The film itself does not provide any backstory to Momotaro, so the audience must fill in the details.  Momotaro is a legend in Japan, so it certainly wouldn’t be difficult for the children to associate his traits with the character in the film, who is the captain of the ship and seems to hold significant military authority as well.

There are probably thousands of stories of Momotaro, so I will not necessarily reference one in particular, but there are many common traits that the filmmakers relied upon for the insinuated sense of national identity imbued in “Captain Momotaro.”

Momotaro is generally portrayed as a strong boy – a leader, but also polite, considerate and not boastful.  Even as some kind of divine creature given as a gift to his adoptive parents, Momotaro is the ideal son, able and willing to help however he can.

As such, Momotaro does not seem the type who would be partial to unjustified violence.  At some point, Momotaro explains to his parents that he has a divine purpose, to go to an island inhabited by demons and put an end to their atrocities.  In at least one adaptation of the story, Momotaro specifically explains to his parents why he must go and fight the demons. “They hurt Japan,” he says.

The animated film starts with all of this unexplained, able to assume that the intended viewer will already attribute such a history as well as those noble characteristics typical of Momotaro to the captain of the ship simply by invoking his name in the title.

Momotaro is instantly recognizable as the only human portrayed on a ship full of animals, over whom he clearly has command.  In most stories, Momotaro wins over the animals by essentially bribing them with “dango,” a kind of everyday food for farming Japanese of old.  In the animated film, Momotaro seems to have some other kind of authority over the animals, but the food does enjoy one prominent scene when a monkey makes the rest of the plane wait while he retrieves a bag of dango.  The dumplins are apparently necessary for their trip.

A monkey retrieves the dumplings he was about to leave behind


Each of these pieces of the legend help to establish the national ideology.  Japan is intended to be polite and hardworking, but strong and able as well.  Japan is clearly intended to be in a leadership role, ruling over the inferior “species,” which probably represent a variety of Japanese conquests during World War II.  As the leader of Asia, Japan will need to win support from its conquests – now allies – by providing them with sustenance and prosperity, as represented by the dango.  Furthermore, Japan is intended to be a nation with some kind of divine right, a nation who has been forced into violence because of an enemy who “hurts Japan.”  I


The Momotarō War Propaganda System

A peach, parents, a boy, animals, and war, these are the motifs that generally come to mind when recalling the traditional Momotarō folk tale. Such motifs respectively represent and advocate humble beginnings, filial piety, maturity, intelligence, and nationalism. These ideologies (both personal and national) however, are drastically altered when Momotarō, the traditional folk tale that is, is animated. For example, the 1943 film titled Momotarō’s Sea Eagles directed by Seo Mitsuyo, completely disregards roots and filial piety. That is to say, the film presents Momotarō as a parentless individual that is only mindful of the present and future not the past:


Momotarō looking forward and beyond.

In effect, the film unlike its textual counterpart undermines human sensitivity and encourages objective functionality. Accordingly, animated Momotarō is a reserved individual who effectively leads his crew towards victory. Similarly, Momotarō’s animal crew, a mechanically obedient bunch, efficiently carries out its given mission regardless of all the difficulties that arise along the way. Essentially, martial behavioral discipline is called for in Momotarō’s Sea Eagles.

Next, recalling the folklore design of Momotarō, “Japan is number one!” is a prominent message in the traditional tale that is effectively kept alive in the film. For example, the rising sun headband and the peach decorated banner that reads: “Nippon ichi,” are motifs present in the film that figuratively and literally scream: “Japan is number one!” This direct parallel infuses the Momotarō’s Sea Eagles film with a welcoming sense of timelessness that makes it more relatable and influential.


Nippon ichi! Japan is No. 1!

Last but not least, the animated version of the traditional Momotarō folktale implements a “cute” aesthetic that enhances its pro-war propaganda on many levels. First off, the Momotarō film unlike the Momotarō folk tale personifies its animal characters by clothing them and highly animating them. Hence, the animals in the film are charming entities that shine a positive light on their specialty: warfare.  War becomes an enjoyable act through them. Also, warfare, its instruments in particular, become less ominous under animal manipulation.


War as play.

Secondly, the animal characters in the film, again, are cute beings that are very child-like in manner. Like children, Momotarō’s furry and feathered soldiers prance around, cheerfully chat, and giggle amongst one another. This likeness in effect pulls young audience members into the film. Specifically, the animals function as comfortable step-ins for children. Through the animals, children carefully approach and observe war and its technicality when taking in the film.

In conclusion, the film titled Momotarō’s Sea Eagles directed by Seo Mitsuyo, intensifies the subtle pro-war ideology present in the traditional Momotarō folk tale. Specifically, its denouncement of sentimentality, its banzai zeal, and visual appeal influentially relate war is an engaging, fun, efficient commitment of great honor.

Propaganda in Momotaro

Momotarō’s Sea Eagle (1942) is wartime propaganda film dramatizing the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The film depicts various animals from the Momotaro folktale (including dogs, rabbits, birds, and monkeys) attacking Demon Island. This film is intended for children, but at the same time it is a propaganda meant to create a system of national ideology. Along with other propaganda-esque characteristics, the film makes various appeals to cuteness (due to the target demographic).

The main method the filmmakers utilize to create this system of national ideology is their appeal to the cuteness of the animals. The animals all have very animated and exaggerated features that resemble those that can be found in many children’s stories. This creates a very inviting and engaging story, and at the same time the viewers can begin to like the characters (they are obviously the “good” guys). The animals become a role model of sorts.

One feature apparent in the film is a sense of collaboration. The animals all work together to complete the ultimate task of bombing Demon Island. Not only do they fly planes together, but they also help each other out with the attack. In one scene, we see several monkeys creating a ladder out of their bodies in order to help other monkeys into a plane. Not only is this an illustration of teamwork and collaboration, but it’s also an appeal to the cuteness of the situation. The animals are attacking the “enemy” and it is implied, but not shown, that the enemy is dying. It could be a very gruesome scene, but with this appeal to cuteness, the actions of the animals are essentially justified, and thus a system of national ideology is created: the viewers want to be part of this animal team, attacking the enemy.

Comical, cute animal wearing Japanese headband.

With the cuteness of the animals justified, the enemy is displayed in stark contrast to them. The inhabitants of Demon Island are depicted as clumsy. The leader of Demon Island is extremely fat and it’s shown that he is very unknowledgeable and frantic. Clearly, he has no idea what is going on. Though this may be comical as well, but it is not cute. The filmmakers make the Demons appear ugly, and the viewers are meant to laugh at them. Clearly, we do not want to be like the demons. The animals are obviously superior.

The ugly Demon enemy depicted drinking.

While all these events are taking place, we are constantly reminded that the animals represent the people of Japan. The animals wear headbands reminiscent of Japanese headbands, and the planes they fly have Japanese flags on them. Their leader, Momotaro, wears clothes highly indicative of a general in Japan. This is another main method the filmmakers utilize to create this national ideology.

Monkeys working together to accomplish the goal.

Momotaro, depicted as a child, represents the leader of the collaborative animals. They all follow Momotaro’s orders and they fight for him. Since Momotaro is a child, this appeal is made to the young audience again. This is intended to evoke a sense of desire in children to want to become leaders. The film shows that it’s possible for children to become leaders of Japan to attack any enemies.

Momotaro’s Sea Eagles: Utilizing Tradition to Promote Patriotism

In the midst of World War II, relations between the United States and Japan had become increasingly tense. As a result of the American declaration of an embargo on crucial exports to Japan, the eastern Asian nation realized that it is had no other option but to declare war, and in 1941, Japan launched an attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor. Soon after the attack, Mitsuyo Seo’s Momotaro’s Sea Eagles was released in Japan. Directed at the nation’s youth, the animated propaganda film’s use of cultural tradition served to incite patriotism and garner support for the global crisis at hand.

The three animals present in the original folk story

In the original, historical folk tale, Momotaro or “Peach Boy,” is a young boy sent from the gods to save Japan from the beasts of Ogre Island, with the help of animal companions that Momotaro encounters on the way. The oral of tradition of the folkloric Momotaro, passed down from generation to generation in Japanese culture, has become an integral aspect of Japanese youth. The courageous nature of Momotaro has consistently served as a role model and idol to young children, engraining in them a sense of national pride. By using the culturally significant figure of Momotaro as the protagonist of his animated film, director Mitsuyo Seo successfully assembled support for World War II with his connection of the war with the folk story.

The animated film used as propaganda to garner support for the war

While World War II was taking place, life in Japan, especially for its youth, remained relatively unaffected by the crisis. In order to gain support for the military strike on Pearl Harbor, Momotaro’s presence in Momotaro’s Sea Eagles justified the nation’s actions. Because the traditional story of Momotaro is such a significantly defining feature and symbol of Japanese culture, the use of these characters in such a diverging narrative from the original is enough to convince viewers that Japanese participation in the war is justified and praiseworthy, even though the only similarities in the propaganda film seem to be the protagonist and his group of animal comrades. Because Momotaro led this air strike, Japanese youth were convinced that if Momotaro advocates the war, then it is only just to support the effort as well.

Momotaro preparing the animals for the strike

For example, at the beginning of the film while the animals are on the ship preparing to take off, Momotaro first appears as the leader of the strike, dressed in an authoritative uniform. Momotaro gathers all the animal soldiers, giving them a fervent pep talk before they embark on their mission to Demon Island. Reminiscent of the original story where Momotaro and the animals courageously journey to Ogre Island, this parallel in the propaganda film serves to unite the wartime story to the original, emphasizing the importance of nationalism and patriotism.

As an iconic symbol of historical culture and tradition, the character and story of Momotaro is widely recognized in the Japanese community. And during World War II, Momotaro appeared in several propaganda films and cartoons, including Momotaro’s Sea Eagles, promoting the war overseas. By tying together the roots of Japanese culture with the attack on Pearl Harbor, the film’s use of Momotaro served to associate Japanese culture with the war ultimately uniting Japanese youth while patriotically supporting the nation’s efforts in the global war.