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Intertextuality/Intermediality Paper

Jap 70 – Intertextuality/Intermediality Paper:

Professor McKnight; Discussion 1A

Michelle Embury




Momotarō, one of Japan’s most iconic folklore characters, appears in many textual and medial works around throughout Japanese history. Each rendition of Momotarō conveys the story differently. Perhaps most interesting among these differences is the relationship between Momotarō and the animals. In Sazanami’s and Tsuchimoto’s respective renditions of Momotarō, Momotarō represents a figure who unites all, but the way that he is represented as a leader is unique to each work. In Sazanami’s written rendition of Momotarō, the animals originally have some form of rivalry and tension amongst themselves, but are united by their loyalty to Momotarō and the obedience he demands. Momotarō’s authority and strong sense of bravery are emphasized through his interactions with the animals in the story. However, in Tsuchimoto’s film adaptation, Momotarō’s Sea Eagle, the animals already get along well enough independent of Momotarō. He still acts as a uniting figure as their commander of armed forces, but the film focuses mainly on the soldiers and their story in battle. The role Momotarō takes on in different works of art speaks to his national prestige and reputation.


Sazanami’s interpretation of Momotarō follows Momotarō and the animals he encounters upon his journey to defeat the ogres. Such events project Momotarō’s influential and courageous qualities, establishing him as an influential figure in Japanese youth culture.While on his journey to find the ogres, Momotarō encounters the Lord Spotted Dog. After receiving an unfriendly greeting from the dog, Momotaro “laughs mockingly” (23) and states: “‘I, myself, will cut you in half from your head downwards!’” (24), if the dog wouldn’t let him by. Momotarō’s response to the dog’s threat allows him to demonstrate his authority over the animals. At this point, the dog “suddenly put his tail between his legs” and says that if “[Momotarō] will command [him] to be [his] humble servant, to accompany [him], [he] shall be grateful for [his] fortune” (24). Putting his tail between his legs shows the dog’s deference for Momotarō and suggests that he clearly understands Momotarō’s abilities and powers. Referring to himself as a “humble servant” that would be “grateful” to accompany Momotarō on his quest to defeat the ogres illustrates the dog’s loyalty and respect. Each animal that comes into contact with Momotarō offers his or her complete allegiance – the Lord Spotted Dog; the Monkey, who wants to be Momotarō’s “humble servant” (26); the Pheasant, who “offers [his] formal surrender” (31). The animals see Momotarō as an admirable, commanding figure, bringing justice to the land.


Although the animals pledge an unwavering allegiance to Momotarō in the story, their relationship with each other has a rockier beginning. Momotarō must bring the peace and force cooperation among his comrades. For, “The influence of a great General is a wonderful thing! From that time forward, all three animals were the best of friends and obeyed Peach-Boy’s commands, heart and soul” (32). Momotarō serves as the common link to all animals and enforces support and harmony amongst them all. In Sazanami’s interpretation of Momotarō, Momotarō demonstrates certain qualities of strength and courage to be instilled in the youth of Japan.


In Tsuchimoto’s film adaptation, Momotarō’s Sea Eagle, Momotarō holds a completely different role – although he still brings solidarity amongst the animals, his role is less present than that in Sazanami’s story. Because this film was created as Japanese propaganda during the WWII period, the attention is geared more toward the soldiers – everyday men – and their experience during war. Momotarō appears in the beginning of the film when the animals are running across deck on the battleship to get in line. At this point Momotarō, surrounded by the different animal groups, communicates that they are to besiege the ogres of Onigashima. Through his provision of information to the animals surrounding him, Momotarō establishes himself as the authoritative figure on the ship. However, as he states: “I your captain, will await your return,” the audience realizes that he will not hold a prominent role throughout the film. Instead, the film will focus on the animal comrades and their fight against the enemies. In fact, Momotarō seems to serve mainly as a national symbol within the film – because Momotarō’s a very renowned folktale character in Japan, he’s a figure with which the audience can easily relate. Seeing a character known for his authority and courage provide strategic information about the attack (location, route, status of the soldiers, etc.), allows to audience to be put at ease because of his reputation outside of the film. However, aside from these informational scenes and some random shots, Momotarō doesn’t make much of an appearance.


The film focuses more on the animals and their relations with each other. Tsuchimoto purposely emphasizes the relationship between the comrades to inspire solidarity and support for the soldiers at war. While preparing for battle, the animals tease each other – tickling each other with their tails and laughing at clumsy attempts to put on bandanas – but their interactions are light-hearted and affectionate. As some of the animals board their planes, the soldiers remaining on the ship shake their hands and pray, demonstrating their strong connection and camaraderie. Their support for one another is again illustrated as the rabbits make noise and wave their hats during sendoff of the other animals to battle. The length of this scene endures for a considerable length of time, emphasizing the amount of support and affection amongst the animals. Although the soldiers consist of a variety of animals – dogs, rabbits, and monkeys – their bond is clearly depicted. Because this film was created to instill national pride and unity amongst Japan during WWII, it was important to depict the soldiers in a positive light. Focusing on the happy times and the strong bond between soldiers allows for the audience to create a positive image of their country’s army and actions during wartime.


            Throughout Japan’s history, Momotarō has appeared in many different works in literature and media. Each version of the story has a unique take, oftentimes tailored to serve a certain cause. Sazanami’s folktale of Momotarō follows Momotarō as he journeys to defeat the ogres, focusing on his ease in commanding others and displaying powers of a leader. The main purpose of Sazanami’s folktale is to instill esteemed morals and qualities in the youth in Japan. On the other hand, Tsuchimoto’s film adaptation focuses less on Momotarō as it does on the animals. Momotarō serves as a national symbol, but the animals represent the everyday man – something easily relatable to the audiences at home. For this reason, Tsuchimoto’s film adaptation serves as an effective propaganda piece, expressing national pride and solidarity among the country. Momotarō appears in many different Japanese works, each rendition with a unique stance on his character. Momotarō’s versatility in different works speaks to his prominence in Japanese culture. Although folktales were originally intended for children, Momotarō’s presence in Japanese culture demonstrates the large impact that folklore has on society as a whole. 


Multiforms and Momotarō

Mythological tales and stories remain deeply embedded in oral tradition and written literature because they are pervasive and persistent.  From Japanese folklore originates the story of Momotarō, whose heroic travails against the world’s demons have been detailed since the Edo period of Japan (as early as 1723).  Furthermore, numerous multiforms, or variations, of the original folktale have materialized since its conception including Iwaya Sazanami’s Momotaro = the Story of Peach-Boy and the film Momotarō no Umiwashi (1943) directed by Seo Mitsuyo.  By comparing and contrasting these two multiforms, one can not only determine the impact of the similarities and differences have on the fundamental story pattern but also better understand the historical context of each variation.

The historical context of each multiform under consideration must be established. The first multiform to consider is Iwaya’s Momotaro = the Story of Peach-Boy, and it was published in 1894 during the Meiji era, a period in which Japan began to emerge as a modernized nation.  This particular multiform essentially follows the fundamental story pattern of the original but deviates in its loss of erotic elements; it becomes a story much more suited for adolescents.  The second multiform under consideration is Seo Mitsuyo’s Momotarō no Umiwashi.  Produced in 1942, the animated film was released in 1943 as propaganda.  The animation strays from both the original and the first multiform under consideration mainly with its modern setting, ship vessels, and aircrafts.  However, it does not stray far from the basic plot of the original folk tale; the protagonist Momotarō still defeats his enemies at Onigashima (Demon Island or Ogre Island) with the assistance of his animal companions.  One must recognize that the two multiforms under consideration originate from distinguishable periods in Japanese history; Iwaya’s Momotaro = the Story of Peach-Boy came during the rise of modern Japan in the Meiji era, while Momotarō no Umiwashi was conceived in the wake of Japan’s military strikes on Pearl Harbor.

In order to better highlight the impact of the differences found within the two multiforms, the principle similarities must be established; specifically, they follow the fundamental story pattern of the folktale of Momotarō.  First, the two multiforms both have a youthful boy named Momotarō as the main protagonist.  In Iwaya’s Momotaro = the Story of Peach-Boy, the “name of ‘Peach-Boy’” (Iwaya 16) is explicitly given to the protagonist, and he is aged at “fifteen years old” (Iwaya 16) at the commencement of his journey.  Peach-Boy derives from the English translation of Momotarō.  Seo’s film never explicitly labels the boy as Momotarō, but the viewer implicitly identifies the name in the title of the animation, Momotarō no Umiwashi.  In addition, Momotarō carries the appearance of that of a young boy and speaks with the voice of an adolescent.  Both multiforms share similar protagonists.  Momotarō’s animal companions (or subordinates) compose the next feature from the fundamental story pattern that the two multiforms share.  Momotarō holds three types of animals under his command in Iwaya’s Momotaro = the Story of Peach-Boy; these “The Spotted Dog” (Iwaya 26), “The Monkey” (Iwaya 27), and “The Pheasant” (Iwaya 30).  Seo’s version of the multiform includes a multitude of creatures in the service of “Captain” Momotarō (Seo).  Including dogs, monkeys, pheasants, and rabbits, the animals serve in Momotarō no Umiwashi to place the animation in accordance with the second principle feature.  The final shared feature between both multiforms is that the protagonists of each have common enemies.  In Iwaya’s Momotaro = the Story of Peach-Boy, Peach-Boy intends to “wage war against” (Iwaya 19) those at “Ogre’s Island” (Iwaya 19), while in Seo’s Momotarō no Umiwashi, Captain Momotarō leads his forces to “attack Demon Island” (Seo).  Although the translations differ amongst the two multiforms, the target is the same – enemies at Onigashima (Demon or Ogre’s Island).  Both multiforms of the folktale follow the fundamental story pattern.

The first multiform under consideration must be placed into its historical context.  Iwaya’s Peach-Boy has humble beginnings.  He is “sent down…by the command of the god of Heaven” (Iwaya 16) to “an Old Man and an Old Woman” (Iwaya 9) and born from a “peach split suddenly in half” (Iwaya 15).  However as earlier stated, Iwaya’s multiform removes the erotic elements of the original in which Momotarō comes from aftermath of intercourse between the elderly couple and the Old Woman’s return to youth after eating a peach.  The changes in Momotaro = the Story of Peach-Boy transforms the original folktale into a story more susceptible to children; in turn, this transformation into a children’s story allows Iwaya’s multiform to become a learning source for building a strong national character – in line with the Meiji era and Japan’s rise as a modern nation.  In addition, Peach-Boy’s manners with his parents become an example for the adolescents who read the first multiform under consideration.  Before departing on his journey, Peach-Boy respectfully thanks his adopted parents.  He remarks that their kindness “has been higher than the mountain from which you cut grass and deeper than the river in which the washing is done” (Iwaya 17), and he begs his Old Man to “bid farewell” (Iwaya 18).  This scene demonstrates good behavior perhaps for those who have come of age.  In Momotaro = the Story of Peach-Boy, the reader must also recognize the method by which Peach-Boy acquires his animal companions.  He recruits them one after another as he travels the different terrains of Japan.  After meeting Peach-Boy with agression, the spotted “dog of the woods” (Iwaya 23) joins him after hearing his name.  Later, the “Monkey of [the] Mountain” wishes to accompany Peach-Boy (Iwaya 27), and “as they were crossing a moor” (Iwaya 28), the pheasant is made into a subordinate.  Peach-Boy travels actual terrain, and as he travels through Japan, he is either met with aggression or respect; this is akin to the folktales’ origins in the Edo period because it is almost as if he is uniting daimyos of different regions.  With every new ally, he also gives each half of one of “the best millet dumplings in Japan” (Iwaya 25).  The millet dumplings play a nationalistic role in this multiform – food to reaffirm that camaraderie is earned, cultivated, and homegrown.  In its historical context, Iwaya’s Momotaro = the Story of Peach-Boy is a children’s story from the Meiji era for building and teaching a strong national character with roots in the feudal Edo era.

The second multiform under consideration must now be placed into its historical context.  Seo’s Momotarō no Umiwashi abandons the backstory behind Momotarō, and instead commences with his armed animal army already in his command.  This resonates with the fact that at the time of the film’s production, Japan was already a unified nation at war.  The story did not exactly need Momotarō’s humble beginnings to create a unifying theme as Japan as a country was already a power.  It must also be stated that the cartoon is clearly propaganda for children.  The animals are cute and even includes an additional species amongst them compared to the original and first multiform – bunnies with long ears.  Cartoony music accompanies these characters in the background. The animation and non-diegetic sound in the film are both playful, but the film still maintains a tone of nationalism by incorporating Japanese elements.  Many of the animals sport hachimaki head scarves with the red sun, and the koinobori (carp streamers of Japan’s Children’s Day) seen throughout the film attach feelings of connection for Japanese children.   In addition, Momotarō no Umiwashi also loses the millet dumplings that once cultivated the relationships between Peach-Boy and each of his additional companions, but the characters are already homegrown.  The audience must also acknowledge Seo’s choice of antagonist in the film.  At Onigashima, the “demons” appear as Western men dressed in sailors uniforms.  In its historical context, Momotarō no Umiwashi is absolutely film propaganda for children to justify what happened at Pearl Harbor and, like the first multiform, to build a strong sense of nationalism.

In conclusion, the story of Momotarō remains as one of Japan’s most pervasive and persistent folktales, and as the multitude of multiforms have manifested over time, it has become a lesson-teaching and national pride-building story for children.  Iwaya’s Momotaro = the Story of Peach-Boy (1894) employs the folktale as an example for children to build a strong national character, coinciding with the emergence of Japan as a modern nation.  The animated film Momotarō no Umiwashi (1943) directed by Seo Mitsuyo also uses the folktale to build national pride, but it also depicts World War II themes in order to justify Japan’s actions at Pearl Harbor.



Impact of Food in the Different Mediums of Momotaro

Momotaro is an iconic folk character in Japanese culture. Momotaro, literally meaning peach-boy, is a child hero who gathers a troupe of animals to defeat the Oni (ogres) and save Japan. Since the original folktale in the Edo period, the Momotaro stories have undergone several alterations in style and tone, depending on Japan’s social and political milieu at the time. This mishmash of elements makes this folk tale an open-source story. The definitive version of Momotaro was published in textbooks by Sazanami in the late 19th century, with the purpose of establishing a national identity during the Meiji period. In the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, an allegorical anime movie called “Momotaro’s Sea Eagle” was produced, pitting Momotaro and his animal troops against the demonized ogres who represented America and the Allied Powers of WWII. Momotaro also loosely influences the documentary “Minamata: The Victims and Their World” by Tsuchimoto. This essay will examine the role that food plays in restoring youth, forming communities, and characterizing Momotaro and the drunken soldiers across the different versions of the Momotaro stories.

First, food is symbolic of youth and longevity in the Momotaro story of the Edo period. In the original plotline, an infertile old woman with no children discovers a peach floating in the river and decides to eat it. Suddenly, she discovers that her beauty and youth have been rejuvenated afterwards, and she proceeds to share the fruit with her husband. They engage in sexual intercourse afterwards, and Momotaro is born as a consequence. Therefore, the peach was symbolic of fertility and youth in this version of the Japanese folk tale. Furthermore, since Momotaro later goes on to defeat the ogres, it is possible that the peach gives one the ability to fight evil creatures.

In the other two versions of the Momotaro story, the plot point in which the old couple makes love is omitted from the story, lessening the power of the peach symbolism. One must consider the historical context in which Sazanami’s story and “Momotaro’s Sea Eagle” took place.  Sazanami’s story was published during the Meiji Restoration, when the Japanese were attempting to embody Western ideals in order to become a modernized nation. This diffusion of Western ideas caused Japanese society to view topics related to sexuality to be taboo. Consequentially, they changed the story to have Momotaro magically appear out of the peach as the old couple was cutting into it. This fantastical element would also appeal to the children who would be reading the textbook. The peach symbolism is not relevant to “Momotaro’s Sea Eagles” since the film takes place presumably after his birth, when he’s already a fully developed leader of his animal troops.

In addition, food plays an impactful role in the formation of communities, particularly between Momotaro and his animals. In both the Edo period and Sazanami’s versions of the stories, Momotaro embarks on his journey to defeat the ogres and encounters 3 different animals: a dog, a monkey and a pheasant. The spotted dog threatens to kill him if Momotaro does not give him all of his food. Once Peach-boy convinces the dog to join his voyage, the dog asks for one of the “best millet dumplings in Japan.” However, Momotaro only gives the spotted dog half of a dumpling. By denying them a whole dumpling, Momotaro asserts power over his recruits and puts him on a higher level than the animals. The food in this instance is being used as a material good to pay for the animals’ services to fight the ogres. Momotaro goes through the same initiation with the monkey and the pheasant, using the half dumpling to bind them as his retainers. Their relationship is comparable to an employer paying wages to his employees. As a human, Momotaro is on a higher level in the social hierarchy than the animals. This similarity emphasizes Momotaro’s effective leadership ability. The sharing of the dumpling works to unify Momotaro and his animals on their voyage to Ogre’s Island. The dumplings symbolize the camaraderie they have established with one another in their unified quest to defeat the Oni.

The millet dumplings also play a significant role in “Momotaro’s Sea Eagles.” In the animated film, the tone of the film is more serious than in the textual versions, since Momotaro is presented as a war general figure who leads a force of animal troops to fight the demons at Onigashima. The purpose of the film was to serve as a propaganda piece to improve morale and unify Japan in fighting the Allies in World War II. Consequentially, there is less of a focus on food in the movie adaptation, but the dumplings do appear. For example, one of the monkeys in Momotaro’s forces refuses to take action unless he receives his millet dumplings. Much like the textual stories, these dumplings act as material compensation for the animals to work for Momotaro, and a source of strength and sustenance. Right before the animal troops strike, they all consume the dumplings, an act which unifies them as a national body to defeat the Americans.

Furthermore, food has the power to unify communities in the Tsuchimoto documentary “Minamata: The Victims and Their World.” However, in contrast to the bonds of camaraderie formed in the other versions of the Momotaro stories, the people of Minamata are unified in their suffering. The denizens of Minamata ingested fish that had been heavily corrupted by mercury, causing them to suffer from Minamata Disease, which is a sickness characterized by damage to the nervous system. The fish contained high levels of mercury as a result of the production of fertilizer by Chisso Factory. Tsuchimoto depicts the victims’ unified struggle to survive the disease and receive just compensation from Chisso for their suffering.

The climax of the documentary arguably occurs at the scene in which the victims who seek more compensation visit Osaka, the location of the Chisso stockholders’ meeting. The victims invoke Momotaro as a symbol to unify them together. Their struggle with big business corporations parallels Momotaro, the underdog hero, against the ogres. There is an explicit allusion to Momotaro’s story when one of the speakers states, “We have arrived in the land where red and blue ogres dwell.”  This moment contains a lot of power due to its intertextuality; moreover, by invoking the Momotaro story, Tsuchimoto is dramatizing the victims as good, and Chisso Factory as the evil Oni. Utilizing a national folkloric figure such as Momotaro strengthens their cause by allowing the audience to relate and understand their struggle.

Food plays a large role in the characterization of Momotaro, his parents, and the drunken soldiers.” In the folkloric and Sazanami versions, right before Momotaro departs for his quest, his parents prepare millet dumplings for him. The act of providing food and sustenance for Momotaro characterizes the old couple as loving and caring people who support Momotaro wholeheartedly. Momotaro’s gratitude towards them supports the notion that food can strengthen familial bonds. On the other hand, Momotaro’s relationship with his animal caretakers is fairly different. Momotaro acts very stingy with the amount of dumpling he gives each animal. The act of only giving half of a dumpling to each animal characterizes Momotaro as having the most power. He views himself as superior to them, and is able to violently order them around to do his bidding. In this case, food acts as a way to manipulate the animals to form a community of voyage with him to the Ogre’s Island.

Food is also used to characterize the characters in “Momotaro’s Sea Eagles”. There is a stark contrast between the millet dumpling rations of Momotaro’s naval fleet and the alcoholic beverages on the enemy ships. Since “Momotaro’s Sea Eagles” is an allegorical propaganda film about Pearl Harbor, Momotaro’s fleet represents the Japanese forces while the enemy represents the forces of the United States. Having the animal troops consume the millet dumplings indicates a nationalistic pride in Japanese cuisine. The dumplings have more sustenance to them when compared to the alcohol in the American ship. One of the sailors of the American ship resembles Bluto from Popeye, subliminally characterizing American troops as overweight drunkards who do not have the honor and ability that Japanese troops have. The animated film, targeted towards Japanese youth, masterfully uses the Momotaro myth to subtly cloak the political message of the movie, which is to unite the Japanese nation and encourage them to defeat the Allies in World War II. This film was released after the Battle of Midway, which was a crushing defeat for Japan. Perhaps one of the purposes of this film was to boost the morale of Japanese citizen and give them hope that the war could be won. This method of utilizing the Momotaro myth in political propaganda is also seen in “Minamata: The Victims and Their World.”

Therefore, the different elements of food in the Momotaro variants, such as the peach, millet dumplings, mercury infected fish and the alcoholic beverages work to symbolize youth and life, form communities, and characterize certain characters in the stories. It is clear that since this folk tale was told in the Edo period, it has immensely grown in popularity and is extremely iconic in Japanese culture. Inevitably, the story of Peach-boy will continually be used to unify groups of people who need to unify under a common goal, despite their differences.


Know Your Enemy and Know Yourself

Know Your Enemy and Know Yourself

Momotaro is one of the oldest and most beloved characters in Japanese culture. Passed down from a time before written history, Momotaro has become “a central figure in Japanese moral education” (Gerow). The story begins with an elderly couple finding an enormous peach floating down a river. The peach opens up to reveal the child Momotaro whom they raise as their own. Momotaro grows into a strong adolescent and leaves home to battle the oni who are tormenting the people of Japan. The story of Momotaro has been told countless times in numerous forms. This paper will analyze three instances of the Momotaro story. In both Iwaya Sazanami’s “Momotaro” and The National Diet Library Newsletter’s “Momotaro,”  the story is told with a combination of text and illustration. In Mitsuyo Seo’s Momotaro’s Sea Eagle, the story is told as a cartoon battle resembling the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor. All three versions vary in their specific detail, but they all share one important detail. Every version of the Momotaro story clearly differentiates good from evil by depicting the benevolent and courageous characteristics of Momotaro and his retainers in direct comparison to the cruelty and cowardice portrayed by the oni.

The protagonist in any legend is meant to be an ideal representation of humanity. Momotaro is no different; he provides the Japanese people with a hero who is strong, skillful, and dutiful. Momotaro is always depicted as a powerful young man by having him wear a military uniform (Seo) fine clothing (Sazanami 39), or armor (Goro).  He is portrayed as a skilled warrior s with a sword always at his side (Sazanami, Goro, & Seo). While he is depicted as being capable of personally fighting the oni (Goro 4), his ability to command others is emphasized in each version of his story. In Momotaro’s Sea Eagle, Mitsuyo Seo has Momotaro assertively lay out the attack plan to his squadron as well as the audience (Seo). Throughout the film, Momotaro maintains a vigilant gaze over his men as he leads them to victory (Seo). As true leader, Momotaro knows the strengths and abilities of each of his warriors and utilizes them in the most efficient way. Sazanami has Momotaro send the pheasant to scout the Oni’s fortification (33) while Seo’s Momotaro tasks his monkeys with climbing on top of one another in order to destroy the oni’s airforce (Seo). Momotaro’s familiarity with his retainers and his ability to command them decisively causes him to be respected and loved by his followers.

Along his path to fighting the oni, Momotaro came across three strong warriors: a spotted dog, a monkey, and a pheasant (Sazanami, Goro, & Seo). Momotaro was confronted and challenged by each of his retainers as he journeyed toward Demon Island, but he was able to win each of their loyalty and friendship with by offering them one of his prized millet dumplings (Sazanami & Goro). The dumplings are used to represent loyalty and affection in the stories of Momotaro. The retainers show complete faith in their leader Momotaro in all versions of the myth, and they also develop a strong camaraderie with one another. Sazanami writes that the dog and the monkey were enemies prior to encounter with Momotaro (Sazanami-26), but with the guidance and example of a strong leader, the once-enemies can become allies and even friends. Mitsuyo Seo portrays this friendship by having the dog and the monkey embrace one another after the monkey risked his life to save civilians from accidentally being killed by a rogue torpedo.

            In that scene of Momotaro’s Sea Eagle, a torpedo is accidentally launched in the direction of a civilian area; the monkey selflessly dives from the plane and redirects the missile to its appropriate target (Seo). This is a perfect example of how the Momotaro story expresses the importance of generosity and kindness for one to be on the side of good. Mitsuyo Seo shows this again when the monkey and the dog rescue a baby eagle who gets stuck on the wing of their plane. The whole reason that Momotaro and his retainers are engaged in their righteous battle is for the sake of the people of Japan. Momotaro leaves to defeat the oni only because of the harm that they are doing to Japan (Sazanami 18), and once the oni were defeated, the heroes immediately go about returning the stolen treasures to their rightful owners (Goro 5). In order for one to truly do good in the world, it must be done for the sake of others.

            In one scene of Momotaro’s Sea Eagle, a monkey gets stuck in the hatch of a demon bomber plane that is about to explode; when another monkey notices the situation of his comrade, he takes careful aim and with one shot frees his friend from certain death (Seo). Strength and skill are vital attributes to a good warrior. Momotaro and his retainers are all armed with high quality weapons (Sazanami, Goro, & Seo), they work hard to keep them pristine (Seo), and they know how to use them with deadly precision (Sazanami, Goro, & Seo). The Momotaro story is depicting the importance for a warrior of good to be constantly vigilant and prepared to go to battle. When they go to battle, they must be able to do so skillfully. As with the scene from Momotaro’s Sea Eagle, Iwaya Sazanami also shows the exceptional skill of the retainers by having the pheasant defeat each of his opponents by easily dodging their blows and killing them with a single strike (Sazanami 35). Good warriors need strength as well as skill. In Momotaro’s Sea Eagle, a dog and a monkey obtain strength directly from eating millet dumplings, and the audience witness as in popeye-like fashion their biceps grow from the dumplings powerful nutrition (Seo). In the literature, the strength of the retainers is shown in their armor (Sazanami & Goro).

            The physical appearance and clothing are distinct ways of differentiating good from evil in all the various Momotaro telling’s. Whereas the retainers wear sharp military uniforms (Seo) or battle armor (Sazanami & Goro) and carry well maintained swords and pistols, the oni walk around in loin-cloths (Sazanami & Goro) or mismatched uniforms (Seo), and they fight with clubs (Sazanami & Goro). This shows that the oni are disorganized, and that they don’t care about their appearance. This lack of concern is emphasized by Sazanami when one of the oni doesn’t bother to arrange is loin-cloth before attacking the pheasant (34). In contrast, the dog in Momotaro’s Sea Eagle takes specific care to make certain that his headband is on properly before going into battle (Seo).

            The oni don’t care about their appearance, nor do they place any importance upon their battle preparation or discipline. Depicting this perfectly in Momotaro’s Sea Eagle, Mitsuyo Seo has the first oni that the audience gets a glimpse of sleeping against handle of a broom. This total lack of discipline and preparation is further shown when Seo has the oni sailors running around confused in all directions during the attack. To contrast this,  Seo has all of the maneuvers and formations of the animal retainers done with proficient straight lines and coordinated teamwork. All versions of the Momotaro story exemplify the ineptitude and the cowardice of the demonic  oni. In the National Diet Library Newsletter’s “Momotaro”, the oni are illustrated cowering in fear or running away from battle (Goro 4), in Sazanai’s “Momotaro”, the oni’s attacks are easily dodged and they are killed with ease (35), and in Momotaro’s Sea Eagle, the drunken oni commander has bottles of alcohol falling out of his pockets as he whimpers and cries, never actually engaging in the battle raging around him (Seo).

            Cowardice and selfishness are innate characteristics of the oni. In an attempt to bolster his courage in Momotaro’s Sea Eagle, the commanding oni quickly drinks a bottle of alcohol in a scene directly mimicking the earlier scene of the dog and monkey eating the millet dumplings; instead of developing muscles and courage, the drink merely causes the oni to fall down and flail like a drunken fool (Seo). The bumbling fool of an oni then runs around the ship haphazardly not caring who he runs into or knocks down (Seo). This shows how the oni have no respect for anyone, whether enemy or ally, and that they are completely shelfih. In Sazanami’s “Momotaro” the oni mock the pheasant for being small (34), in Momotaro’s Sea Eagle the oni commander forces several of his comrades out of a lifeboat in an attempt to save himself (Seo), and one cannot forget the treachery, thievery, and people eating that spurred on Momotaro’s campaign from the start (Sazanami & Goro).

            It is vital in life to distinguish good from evil. In battle, it is necessary to differentiate between ally and enemy. The tale of Momotaro has become a guide for doing just that. Each version of the Momotaro myth clearly depicts the characteristics of the good Momotaro and his retainers the dog, the monkey, and the pheasant as well as those of the evil oni. Wwarriors on the side of good are strong, skilled, compassionate, prepared, respectful, and ruthless when it really matters. Warriors on the side of evil are weak, selfish, crude, incompetent, and cowardly. The three interpretations of the Momotaro story examined in this paper each demonstrate the characters of good and evil in their own way. Even in their vastly different tellings of the story, however, all three still manage to demonstrate the clear cut distinctions of good and evil that are definitive of the legend of Momotaro and his battle against the oni.




Works Cited

Goro, Arai, and Shuppan Koyosha. Momotaro. 1951. Illustration. National Diet Library    Newsletter, Osaka. Web. 15 November 2013.    <http://www.ndl.go.jp/en/publication/ndl_newsletter/109/0942.html&gt;.       

Gerow, Aaron. “Film Comments of Momotaro’s Sea Eagle.” Pamphlet from DVD. (2007): 10.       Print.

Sazanami, Iwaya. “Momotaro” (Tokyo: Hokuseido Press, 1938). 9-40. Print.

Seo, Mitsuyo, dir. Momotaro’s Sea Eagle. Art Film Production, 1942. Web. 15 November 2013.



5 Page Paper: Of Food and Friendships

          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.


In Momotaro’s Sea Eagles, Momotaro acts as a Captain to the animal crew. He does not fight with the animals, but commands them and their actions. In the animated film, the connection between Momotaro and the animals is much more constrained and there is no sense brotherhood that is evident in the folk story. This lack of connection could be that in the film, millet dumplings are only shared between animal to animal and Momotaro takes no part in it.

            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. 


Momotaro’s Sea Eagles portrays the villains as lazy, clumsy, and cowardly. It is distinct and definite. However, in the original folk tale, the enemy is unclear to the audience. The folk tale has an obscure view of villains, while the film itself shows very clearly who the enemy is.

        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.



As seen in these screenshots, food and alcohol are objects that unite a whole community together. After their victory at Demon Island, all animals join for a feast to celebrate. Food is a unifier of different animals and creates a sense of kinship with everyone.

        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.






Momotaro and Minamata

Momotaro is a Japanese folk character. In the folk tale, he was born of a peach floating in water. An Old Man and an Old Woman bring him up. When he becomes fifteen years old, he, together with a spotted dog, a monkey, and a pheasant, goes to the Orges’ Island to defeat Orges and save those islanders. In the movie Momotaro’s Sea Eagle, Momotaro is a commanding officer of an aircraft carrier. The troops succeed in the conquest of Demon Island by bomb attacks. In both the folk tale and the movie, Momotaro is not alone; he develops a community of his followers to support himself in the attack. Food is a tool used by to unite “people” in a common struggle.

In the Momotaro stories, food is a symbol of best wishes, responsibilities and trust in the development of community. In the folk tale, Momotaro has three followers – a spotted dog, a monkey and a pheasant. Momotaro forms his own troops by giving each of his followers half of a millet dumpling made by his parents. The homemade millet dumplings are a symbol for the wish of returning home. Momotaro’s parents made him those millet dumplings and expect him to win the war and come back home safely. By sharing the millet dumplings with the three animals, Momotaro is sharing the wish of returing home successfully and safely with his followers. Since Momotaro is sent down by the command of the god of Heaven, he has his responsibilities as a child of his parents and also as a leader of his people. He views saving those suffering people on the Orges’ Island as one of his responsibilities. By sharing the millet dumplings with the three animals, Momotaro is sharing his responsibilities for those islanders and his trust with his followers.

The movie shows nothing of Momotaro’s family and depicts him merely as a commanding officer. Momotaro loses his responsibilities as a child and is only left with the responsibilities for his people. Though Momotaro appears to be alone and does not have much communication with the troops, he is still the spiritual leader of the army. Instead of giving real food, he gives an encouraging speech to the animals. His encouragement is the food for his follower’s soul, supporting his soldiers to defeat their enemies. His troops include rabbits, monkeys and pigs. Before the bomb attack, a rabbit gives some food to a pig, conveying her best wishes and trust.

While the folk tale and the movie both use food to transmit wishes and trust, not like in the folk tale where food is a tool to develop followers, in the movie food is passed from one soldier to another, showing the audiences that the soldiers are solidly united. The folk tale depicts the development of community in details while in the movie the community has already formed. Since the movie is derived partly from the folk tale, it is taken for granted for audiences who know the folk tale that Momotaro has developed a community of “warriors”. Without knowing the folk tale, one might feel confused about who Momotaro is and where the troops come from.

Though the Momotaro movie relies on the folk tale, the movie is different from the folk tale in the background of the story and their targeted audiences. The omitted passing food scene in the movie also helps to show the change from a simple folk tale to a military movie. Unlike the folk tale, the Momotaro movie is closely related to reality. In the folk tale, there is no specific description about the space and time that the story happens, but only some description like “Very, very long ago”, “in a certain place”. However, in the movie the Orges’ Island represents the Pearl Harbor. Momotaro leads the troop to attack Orges’ Island symbolizes Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor during WII. The movie conveys a strong belief of Japanese people that Japan is going to defeat the United States just like Momotaro defeats the Oni. In other words, the Momotaro movie is to spread Japan’s military thoughts during WII to audiences, particularly children.

As the media changes from folk tale to movie, the targeted audiences also change from everyone to children in particular. Partly based on the folk tale, the Momotaro movie also borrows American animation figures like Bluto, a villain in Popeye stories. He becomes a captain addicted to alcohol in the Momotaro movie, giving audiences an image of irresponsible captain. For people who know the Popeye stories, Bluto has one more image – “a bad guy”. The Momotaro movie uses Bluto to represent the American army in order to show audiences that Momotaro and his troops are going to defeat those bad guys to maintain justice. Since the targeted audiences are children, the movie uglifies Bluto to make children tend to favor Momotaro more.

By sharing homemade millet dumplings, Momotaro develops his own troops. Similarly, in Minamata movie poisonous fish brings the Minamata disease victims together because the chemical factory Nitsuchi refuses to acknowledge its actions of poisoning the sea and causing the disease. In both the Momotaro stories and the Minamata movie, food is a unifier to form communities of voyage. However, the journeys differ in the roles that water plays in Momotaro and Minamata. Water, as the food for life, is an unstable factor since it is affected by human actions.

Momotaro is the leader of the community that he develops while in Minamata the disease is “the leader” that brings the victims together. Momotaro is a waterborne food sent down by the command of the god of Heaven. He rallies his troops to protect humans from Orges. In the Minamata movie, poisonous fish in water polluted by human actions carries Minamata disease. The Minamata disease victims go on a journey to protect themselves. What Nitchitsu does to the victims is equal to what Orges do to the islanders. Orges can be viewed as human actions that destroy the nature and finally harm humans in return.

Since ancient times, water is the place that gives life; water is the food for life. Similarly, Momotaro comes from water and the Minamata disease spread through water. In Momotaro stories water generates lives while in Minamata water destroys lives. “The water that bears the Boat is the same that swallows it up.” Human intervention of the nature turns the water from a “mother” that generates live into a “killer”.

Food helps to unite people with the same goals together to protect other people or themselves. However, food may also become harmful when humans do harm to the nature.

A Mighty Figure and its link – Millet Dumplings

Momotaro story, as a well-known Japanese folklore, is being positioned in such state when people use to refer characteristic like leadership, camaraderie and loyalty. There has numerous folklores are been passed by from older generation to younger generation throughout the history of Japan. For instance, the story of Yuki-onna, the story of Kaguya- hime and the story of Urashima Taro and the Ryugu-jo.  Unlike the other Japanese folklore stories, the story of Momotaro tends to be more portraying on family warmness, loyalty of bushido and advocating righteousness. Moreover, the protagonist of this story, Momotaro, also represents heroic characteristic like brave, kindness and adamancy Food is placed in significantly important role in the story. Whilst Momotaro, or Peach-Boy, is named after his birth from a giant peach, however, the keystone food that links Momotaro with his family, and relationship between Momotaro and his three animal followers is millet dumplings.

The story opens up with background of how is the Old Man and the Old Woman’s life before they find that giant peach. Here is a hidden flag that neither the Old Man or the Old Woman is being bothered by Oni, or in other word Ogre, which Momotaro is going to conquer later in the story. The husband and wife have lived peacefully in a certain place for about 60 years. One day, the Old Woman finds a giant peach which flows down with the river. She plans to give it to her husband as a surprise gift in his 60-year-old birthday. When they try to cut the peach in half to feast for the birthday, a voice comes out from inside of the peach, and Momotaro appears to them as the peach is divided into half by itself. Momotaro tells the two that he is sent by god of the Heaven to them as to be their son. The husband and wife have not yet gotten any children, so they are extremely happy and appreciate to god for the gift. Many years pass by and Momotaro has grown up to a fifteen old young man. He recalls his quest promises his family will be return to them after he conquer the Oni island. With tears and cares, the Old Man and Old Woman have prepared millet dumplings for Momotaro upon his departure for his journey. In his way to Oni Island, Momotaro is able to meet and make the Spotted Dog, the Monkey and the Pheasant become his servants. When he makes these animals be his servants, he gives out half of a millet dumpling to each of them. In end of the story, Momotaro and his servants conquer the Oni Island and bring out all the treasures the Ogres have hidden; as Momotaro has promised, he returns to the Old Man and the Old Woman at very end of the story.

Momotaro’s intension to conquer the Oni Island is somehow differs from other stories. First, neither he or the Old Man or Old Woman are lived under threat from Oni. Usually a hero in a folklore builds up his heroism through steps like first undergoes difficulty that relates to its regional life, then as story proceeds, the hero overcomes his weakness and finally his enemies, and at end his story becomes an epic that is remembered by others. Notwithstanding Momotaro’s heroism is not built in steps as above process, by conquering the Oni Island and eliminating the threat to people, his heroism is represented even more superior than ordinary heroism. It’s because, first, Momotaro is not been forced to conquer the Oni Island. He has had choice not accept this task at beginning since neither him or his family are threatened by the Oni. He accepts this quest for not beneficial to him nor his family, but to all people that live under threatening. It implies that Momotaro is actually transfigured as a Godlike character in the story. In combat with the Oni, the story describes the Pheasant, the Monkey and the Spotted Dog are fighting hard in the battlefield, except that no word on Momotaro’s action in battlefield from the content. In the movie Momotaro’s Sea Eagle, it also reflects the idea of Momotaro has become a mighty figure in the film.


Mighty figure

This scene is where Momotaro gives out conclusive speech of the campaign and announces the survival of lost comrades is being confirmed. Mighty figure, in respect to the meaning in Bible, it automatically makes people think of similarity with Jesus. Likewise Jesus has told his servants that the bread is his body and wine is his blood, and offers bread and wine to his servant; in Momotaro’s story, there is also a food that similarly connects the Mighty and its servants.

Millet dumplings, as a farewell gift received from his parents, has an inestimable effort on relation between Momotaro and his servants. As prove of master-servant relation, each animal has given half piece of a millet dumplings. Millet dumplings links Momotaro, “the great General”, with his servant as their loyalty to Momotaro as “obeyed Peach-Boy’s commands, heart and soul.” (Pg32) There is a discussable point where Momotaro only gives out half of a millet to his servant. Momotaro has told the Spotted Dog that “these… are the best millet dumplings in Japan. I cannot give you a whole one, I will give you half-a-one.” Literally, it seems be to clearly explained that the reason Momotaro gives out only half a millet dumplings is because he think the dumpling is the best in Japan, so he can only give out half of one piece. However, millet dumpling is given to the Spotted Dog in response to its request, but neither the Monkey nor the Pheasant have asked for the dumplings. Therefore, it’s oblivious that dumplings offer to the Monkey and the Pheasant is from Momotaro his own will. And by giving out only a half, it is considerable that the purpose of it is not only for faireness, but Momotaro himself wants to establish a connection with those servants.


Monkey is holding his millet dumpling in the film

In the film, it also indicates the importance of millet dumplings to those servants, like the scene above. After all, millet dumplings in its original role, have fed Momotaro and his servants from starvation as food, a material object. In addition, it also symbolizes as attestation of honor and loyalty, and as a role of unifier to the Mighty Momotaro and his loyal servants.

At last, the whole story is linearly well-organized and content of story can give positive influence to young children. In addition, albeit the literary text and visual text versions are mostly in common, but the ending of these two versions are different. In literary text, Momotaro and his servants carry those treasures that are seized from Oni Island is being used by Momotaro themselves. As the ending indicates that “they with Peach-Boy, had more and more power, and they lived happily ever after, in the midst of their ever-increasing dependents and retainers.” In contrast to the other version, it indicates that “they took the ogres’ hidden treasures and piled them on a cart to give them back to their rightful owners.” As folklore’s essence, those stories are being told and spread over hundreds of years, specific contents may have been changed into many different versions. In respect to the literary version, it can possibly think that the background of that age is in Daimyo period, which Momotaro himself is likely acting like a daimyo. As of the visual version, may consider to be closer to the original folklore.

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.

Entrées of Consolidation

When we eat, we establish a direct identity between our culture and the natural world. Food reflects social identities and membership in social groups.  It not only unifies people from all aspects of life, it serves as a facet of society and socialization throughout the world. People are able to gather together when food is present. It allows us to feel relaxed and socialize with one another even if there are stark differences between groups. Food allows us to strengthen social ties and serves as a unifier not only within cultural groups themselves, but between those groups. It reduces cultural differences to a minimum, reducing the disparities seen between groups of various races, ethnicities and even socioeconomic standing. This unification can be seen in the tales of Momotaro or Peach Boy, a Japanese folk hero whose stories have remained incredibly influential in Japan for the past three centuries. Food serves as a main unifier throughout the various adaptations of Momotaro. Whether they are in literature or film, food is used to symbolize community and functions as a method by which Momotaro can contract animals to help him with his quests. Throughout these variants of the story food remains a common element; food as a method to portray nationalism. The characters in the story represent different elements of Japanese society and are united by food.

In the original Momotaro story published by Iwaya Sazanami, food, specifically millet dumplings, play a crucial role in Momotaro’s development into a hero. At the very beginning of the folk tale, Momotaro’s adoptive parents discover him in a giant peach. They are “both so astonished at this appearance that they were frightened out of their wits, and they fell down” (15). The peach symbolizes life in Japanese culture and thus Momotaro’s appearance brings new life into the lives of the old couple. He is portrayed as coming from Heaven and thus has a mission on earth that he must fulfill. Once he reaches the age of fifteen, he feels an intense desire to go “wage war against them [the oni], to catch and crush them and bring back all their treasures” (19). He bids his family farewell but not before his father prepares “suitable food for a warrior on a journey” (21). This food, Kibi-dango or millet dumplings, may not seem out of the ordinary, but in reality it is these dumplings which are the means by which Momotaro can ultimately be successful at the end of his journey. As he goes about his quest, he gives half a millet dumpling to each animal he encounters on his journey. The dog, monkey, and pheasant each, in turn, become his honorable retainers and thus accompany him to the Ogres’ Island to defeat the oni. The dumplings serve as ways to bring the group together and to maintain respect and loyalty to each other. At first, the animals are incredibly aggressive towards each other but after receiving their dumplings, “all three animals were the best of friends and obeyed Peach-Boy’s commands, heart and soul” (32). The humility and esteem the dumplings bring the group into a familial connection. Prepared by Momotaro’s parents who love him dearly, these dumplings spread their love for him to the animals that end up becoming unconditionally loyal and respectful to him. His “influence of a great General is a great thing!” (32). Thus, with his new army, he is able to overcome the demons. The millet dumplings are what lead to the intense camaraderie between the group and shed light into the ability of food to bring together people from all different backgrounds for a common cause. Food is portrayed not only as a labor of love from his parents but also as a method by which Momotaro becomes a hero. With the support of this food, he accumulates all he needs to accomplish his goal and it allows him to reap the benefits of the spoils of victory.

Mitsuyo Seo’s adaptation of the traditional Momotaro lore, Momotaro’s Sea Eagles, utilizes some of the same food elements seen in the traditional tale. However, this adaptation is not used solely for the purpose of entertainment but takes on a slightly darker, propagandist twist. In the film, the millet dumplings don’t have the same emotional effect as seen in the original tale, but they seem to still have a significant effect on Momotaro and his minions. The millet dumplings, as seen in the hands of a monkey, give a reaction similar to the one seen in the American Popeye cartoons. They give him the strength and fearlessness needed in order to complete his mission for his country.

Image Image

                     The similarities between Popeye and the monkey in Momotaro’s Sea Eagle

The dumplings are also used as rewards for the retainers and are part of the spoils, which they take after defeating the demons. The benefits of the dumplings are evident as the soldiers overrun the demons’ ships and decimate their forces. This sweeping victory aims to showcase the Japanese superiority over their American counterparts. It lifts the attack on Pearl Harbor to a mythical level; Momotaro leads pheasants, monkeys, and dogs into a fight against evil demons. The millet dumplings are more complex in Sea Eagles; the sense of love and camaraderie seen in the traditional story takes on a much larger nationalistic meaning. The nationalistic approach sheds light on the dumplings effects versus those that of the effects of the alcohol on the captain of the demon ship. While his fleet gets destroyed, he squirms around in his drunken squalor helpless to stop the invasion. The stark contrast between Momotaro and the demon captain is apparent in that the captain continues to drink while Momotaro executes his plan to perfection. The captain is not only a drunkard but is also incredibly overweight. These two characteristics are obvious propaganda tools portraying the American diet as unhealthy while that of the Japanese is lauded for its benefits to its soldiers (such as with the monkey). Overall, food in Sea Eagle represents more than just a “superman drug,” it represents the desire for Japanese global dominance in World War II. The dumplings serve as the unique aspect of Japanese culture that is untouched by Western influence; this distinctiveness aims to show the Japanese as good while the Americans are portrayed in a much more negative light.

            Noriaki Tsuchimoto’s documentary Minimata: The Victims and Their World aims to show the negative effects that food has on communities as a whole. Unlike the Momotaro stories, this documentary shows the unity that families and communities have during times of intense suffering. Throughout the entire film, the audience is exposed to residents of Minamata and the mercury poisoning caused by the fish contaminated by Chisso fertilizer factory. The families suffer from deformities and other critical diseases and thus are subject to intense hardships due to lack of government effort and the slow response by the factory itself. The food itself is the reason why the people are in such a bad state yet they continue to share their food because of the rich culture and sense of community that is felt through these eating interactions. The endurance and love they show each other is inspiring, but the conditions for life is so fatefully tragic due to the seemingly endless amounts of mercury found in the nearby water sources. The food that they need to survive is what is actually killing them. This vicious cycle only continues even when they go to the shareholder meeting because of the lack of compassion Chisso shows for its victims. This film is a window into the anger, grief, and agony that lasted a lifetime for the people involved. Family members share the agonies endured by their loved ones before they died of the disease and show the consequences that the food around them had on their lives. However, throughout all the suffering and tragedy, the community grows closer together; the people unite under a common goal, much like in the Momotaro stories, and work hard together to overcome any obstacle in their way. The film serves as a disturbing reminder of the indifference of corporate entities to human welfare and stands as a testament to the power of community in overcoming that indifference.  

The theme that becomes apparent in all three works is the ability of food to be a uniting factor within and between communities. Food establishes bonds and maintains those same bonds throughout the test of time because of its cultivation, preparation, and consumption which all represent a cultural act. Food serves as a representative of unity and community. Whether it be the coming together to fight against demons or to fight against an insensitive, corrupt company, the fact of the matter remains the same: food is the facilitator of modern culture. Without food, we are left with a fragile society that lacks the intrapersonal relationships needed for a fully functioning humanity. Food is no longer just a normal material object; it is a symbol of the synthesis required for the successful advancement of a nation.   

Momotaro: The Symbol of Propaganda

The tale of Momotaro is widespread and has long been established as one of Japan’s classical heroic folklores. Due to its widespread knowledge amongst Japanese society, many derivations have been created from the original folklore in the form of intertextuality and intermediality. Momotaro’s Sea Eagles is but one example of intertextuality that achieves its propagandist goal through its manipulation of the original folklore of Momotaro. The commonalities between Momotaro’s Sea Eagles and the original Momotaro are quite evident, as both stories contain themes of unity, themes of triumph over evil, themes of leadership, as well as themes of animals as soldiers. Although these two stories contain similar themes, their driven purpose is drastically different.

The folktale of Momotaro tells us the story of a boy sent by Heaven, birthed inside a giant peach, to be the child of an elder couple. The boy then grows up and leaves his parents to combat a group of notoriously evil demons on a nearby island. On his journey there, Momotaro befriends a dog, monkey, and a pheasant, who ultimately help Momotaro defeat the island of demons and return home with the pillaged treasure. The main themes that are presented in Momotaro are simple: they’re traditional themes that are common with folklore stories, such as themes of unity, themes of triumph in adversity, and themes of bravery against unmatched odds. Momotaro’s purpose is also simple: it doesn’t quite have one! As folklore stories tend to simply be stories of pleasure and culture building, Momotaro did not have a directed purpose to its creation.

Contrast this to Momotaro’s Sea Eagles however, and many elements and themes are replicated, but not simply for the sake of cultural binding and the quick laugh (as it may seem through the adorable and hilarious animation style), but rather used by Mitsuo Seo to further his propaganda that this army composed of cute and cuddly animals is the “good” army, and their actions against the Americans are justified as righteous simply because “the Americans” are the enemies and who would be so evil enough as to oppose these cuddly animals? Now Mitsuo Seo obviously wasn’t advancing for the rights of cuddly animals by this film, but rather was advancing the propaganda of Japanese victory over at Pearl Harbor.

The film weaves intertextuality by taking the ever beloved Momotaro from common folk legend and making him this respected commander of an army of cute animals.  Contextually, the propaganda’s perfect target audience is the younger Japanese generation, and by the use of intertexuality, Mitsuo Seo really hits home.  The text from the original solidifies Momotaro and his animals as the heroes of the plot, and the demons as obviously the opposing evil force, and this context is indubitably influential and similar to the context in Momotaro’s Sea Eagles.

The film also utilizes the original Momotaro’s very vague nature and steers it heavily to transpose a concrete and specific meaning to its audience. There are several mediums between the two stories that differ slightly for the sole purpose of telling a different story. Examples of this include Momotaro’s changed role from a primitive pack leader to a stern military general, the change to represent Momotaro through cartoon-like animations, and also the massive, almost factory-produced army of animals replacing the meager three that accompanied the original Momotaro. This use of different mediums is what conveys the ultimately different message in Sea Eagles. Placing Momotaro as a military general does many things. For one, Momotaro is already established as a credible figure, and placing him as commander of an army that is similar to his target audience is a formula that is made to deliver on his propagandist idea – which is convincing the younger Japanese generation of Japan’s actions as “good” deeds at Pearl Harbor. Placing Momotaro as a military general also has the effect of over-glamorizing, belittling, and ultimately censoring the real brutality that comes as a consequence of war.  Military leaders typically aren’t going to be your favorite folklore hero, but rather the hardened, stern and strong-minded character that would never give an ounce of true respect until proceeded by in rank. This misleading portrayal of a leader ultimately does serve to lure and entice kids to believe in this propadanda.

The censorship of war also goes hand-in hand with the cartoony animation style of Sea Eagles. Momotaro’s Sea Eagles delves knee deep into the very unstable and emotionally charged topic of war, and this topic normally associated with bloodshed and loss of human life is instead sugarcoated with images of cute animals that seem to siphon all the grim seriousness that wartime brings. Death and struggle, which are commonplace issues during wartime, is never addressed as a theme in the film, but is instead replaced by the hilarious antics and mishaps of these adorable animals who face very miniscule resistance in achieving their goal. This cartoony style, innocent and fruitful in nature to captivate young audiences, is another medium different from the original Momotaro that serves to advance Mitsuo Seo’s propaganda that the Japanese’s actions at Pearl Harbor were righteous and dutifully so, regardless of the true massive loss of human life (which was never outright illustrated in the film).

Another aesthetic element that makes Momotaro’s Sea Eagles different from its original counterpart is the film’s portrayal of Momotaro’s companions as soldiers; the “depersonalizing” of the dog, monkey, and pheasant, and replacing these companions with an outright army, a seemingly innumerable, disciplined, factory-produced force. Mitsuo Seo uses this different aesthetic to advance his propaganda of Japan’s superiority as a world power, and to also engrain to the Japanese youth the idea of their “victory” at Pearl Harbor. This army of animals is representative of Japan’s own forces, it is representative of an army constructed in unity and tasked with the heroic opportunity to defeat a foreign enemy. This military mindset of sacrificing oneself for the greater good of your country is certainly an ideal that is illustrated and capitalized on through the army of animals. The selflessness of the animals simulates the amount of selflessness that Japanese soldiers have faced, and in some extreme cases of death for a greater cause (i.e Japanese kamikaze suicide bombers) this military like structure presented in Momotaro’s Sea Eagles serves as a subtle maneuver to get the younger Japanese generation to sympathize with the military’s efforts. This military presence is yet another form of intermediality that transforms the original story’s purpose through the manipulation of this medium.

Instead of simply cheering the spirits and putting children to sleep at night (which is the effect that a perfect folklore story like Momotaro has)  Sea Eagles conveys a different story, and ultimately a different purpose by drilling the subliminal message in the young audience’s mind Many mediums  differ between the two stories,  and in Momotaro’s Sea Eagles, each medium is tactfully integrated to advance their different purpose.

Food, specifically millet dumplings, is also a common object amongst both the text and the film. In Momotaro, millet dumplings serve as a powerful symbol of trustworthiness, and stands strong as a symbol of unity. Each animal that accompanied Momotaro initially were skeptics of him and it was only after a slight battle did they decide to join his ranks and consume half a millet dumpling. In the original context, half a millet dumpling was sacred to the animals and symbolized a strong connection with Momotaro.  In Momotaro’s Sea Eagles, the context of the millet dumpling changes a little. Millet dumplings still do symbolize a form of community, but is altered so that the millet dumplings seem to be crucial, almost drug-like and heavily relied on as a source of strength and comfort.  There was a humorous scene in the film with an animal refusing to take off without his generous bag of millet dumplings, which signified how different the millet dumplings are perceived in both the text and the film. In the text, a single dumpling is split amongst the dog, monkey, and pheasant, as if it is some sort of church communion bread, holy in all its glory. In the film, dumplings are taken and consumed with quickness, for a sense of strength and security, but also with a strong level of dependence, it is almost drug-like. Ultimately, millet dumplings serve as a symbol of unity for both Momotaro and Momotaro’s Sea Eagles. Intertextuality amongst both the film and the text adds a far deeper meaning to the millet dumpling, which otherwise would appear to be just a simple food. Through the original Momotaro, we can interpret just how complex and symbolic this simple dumpling is.

Momotaro’s Sea Eagles and Momotaro have the same themes, and in context, the film is repackaged with different elements to really hit home with its propagandist message. Intermediality as well as intertextuality allows certain elements to be changed and manipulated while still retaining the base themes and story, and this film is a classic example of that. Minutiae details come in to result in such a largely different story, as we see an original, classic folklore story with a simple enough premise transformed into a propagandist tool used to captivate and sway an entire young Japanese generation of millions.