Legends
Narrative

The Legend of Momotarou

This folklore was acquired on my friend’s Japanese Cultural day at her Japanese school. The school was filled with many different aspects of Japanese culture, whether it was ancient Japanese culture or modern Japanese culture. It was during the day, and there were many people who had heard the tale and would interject quotes, filling in the story. With so many people, the meaning this story had grew exponentially as the emotionally charged atmosphere gave the story strength. This in particular was one of the older stories that were told from generation to generation. She had learned this story from her parents, but had constantly heard it in Japanese school as one of the traditional stories that would never be forgotten as an integral part of Japanese culture. It reflected the nature of the people, according to her, in being brave when necessary, filial, pious, and ultimately harmonious. All of these attributes were part of the culture of the Japanese, and this was definitive proof of this.

Once upon a time, long, long ago, there lived an old man and an old woman; they were peasants, and worked really hard to earn their daily rice. The old man used to cut grass for the farmers around, and while he went and did that the old woman, his wife, did the household chores and managed to take care of their own little rice field. One day the old man went as usual to cut grass and the old woman took some clothes to the river to wash. It was almost summertime so the country was very beautiful as the two went on their way. The grass on the riverbanks looked like dark green fields, and the trees that lived on the edge of the water were shaking out their branches rather lightly. The breezes blew and moved the edges of the water into wavelets, and caressed the cheeks of the old couple who, strangely, felt very happy that morning. The old woman found a nice spot by the river bank and put her basket down and started to wash the clothes; she took them one by one out of the basket and washed them in the river by rubbing them on the stones. The water was as clear as crystal, and she could see the tiny fish swimming to and fro and the muddy river bottom.

As she was washing her clothes, a large peach drifted down the stream. The old woman looked up from her work and saw it. She was sixty years of age, but she had never seen a peach like that before.

“How delicious that peach looks!” she said to herself. “I must get it and take it home.”

She stretched out her arm to try and get it, but it was too far out. She looked for a stick, but there was no stick in sight, and if she went to look for one she would lose the peach.

Immediately, the answer came to her because she remembered an old spell for similar situations. Now she began to clap her hands to keep time to the rolling of the peach downstream, and while she clapped she sang this song, “Distant water is bitter, the near water is sweet so pass by the distant water and come into the sweet.”
As soon as she said her charm, the peach began to come nearer and nearer the bank where the old woman was standing, till at last it stopped just in front of her so that she could pick it up in her hands. The old woman was delighted. She could not go on with her work because she was so happy and excited that she put all the clothes back in her bamboo basket, and with the basket on her back and the peach in her hand she hurried back home.

She had to wait a very, very, long time for her husband to return home from working. The old man at last came back as the sun was setting, with a mound of grass on his back so big that he was almost hidden and she could barely spot him. He seemed very tired and used the scythe for a walking stick, leaning on it as he walked along.

As soon as the old woman saw him she excitedly called out to him, “Husband! I have been waiting for you to come home all day!”

“What is the matter? Why are you so impatient?” asked the old man, wondering at her unusual eagerness. “Has anything happened while I have been away?”

“No,” she said, “nothing much happened except… I have found a nice present for you!”

“That is good,” said the old man. He then washed his feet in water and stepped up to the veranda.

The old woman now ran and brought out from the cupboard the big peach. It felt even heavier than before. She held it up to him, exclaiming, “Just look at this! Did you ever see such a large peach in all your life?”

When the old man looked at the peach he was greatly astonished. He readily agreed and asked where she had bought it.

“I did not buy it,” answered the old woman. “I found it in the river where I was washing.” She told him the whole story, explaining all the details regarding the peach.

“I am very glad that you have found it. Let us eat it now, for I am hungry,” said the old man.

He brought out the kitchen knife, and, placing the peach on a board, was about to cut it when, the peach suddenly split in two and a voice called, “Wait a bit, old man!” and out stepped a beautiful little child.

The old man and his wife were both scared out of their minds, but the child spoke again:

“Don’t be afraid. I am not a harmful spirit. Actually, Heaven is blessing you because you cried every day and every night that you had no children to care for you in your old age. Your cry has been heard and I am sent to be the son of your old age!”

On hearing this, the old man and his wife were very happy. They had cried unendingly out of sorrow that they had no child to help them in their lonely old age, and now that their prayer was answered they were so lost with joy that they did not know what to do. First the old man took the child up in his arms, and then the old woman did the same; and they named him Momotarou, or “Son of a Peach,” because he had come out of a peach.

The years passed quickly by and the child became fifteen years old. He was taller and far stronger than any other boy, he had a handsome face and a heart full of courage, and he was very wise. The old couple was exceedingly happy when they looked at him, for he was just what they thought a hero ought to be like.

One day Momotarou came to his foster-father and said:

“Father, by a strange chance we have become father and son. Your goodness to me has been higher than the mountain grasses which you cut, and deeper than the river where my mother washes the clothes. I do not know how to thank you enough.”

“Why,” he replied, “it is only natural that a father should take care of his son. When you are older it will be your turn to take care of us, so after all there will be no profit or loss between us… All will be equal. Indeed, I am rather surprised that you should thank me in this way!” and the old man looked bothered.

“I hope you will be patient with me,” said Momotarou; “but before I pay back your goodness to me I have a request to make which I hope you will grant.”

“I will let you do whatever you want, for you’re so different from all the rest of the boys!”

“Then let me go away at once!”

“What do you say? Do you wish to leave your old father and mother and go away from your old home?”

“I will surely come back again, if you let me go now!”

“Where are you going?”

“It is strange that I want to go away,” said Momotaro, “because I have not told you my reason.”

Explaining carefully, Momotarou recounted the rumors that far away to the northeast of Japan there was an island in the sea. This island was known as the stronghold of a band of devils. Having heard many stories of how they invade this land, kill and rob the people, and carry off all they can find, he had concluded that they were terribly wicked and utterly disloyal to our Emperor in disobeying his laws. In addition, he explained that they were also cannibals because they kill and eat some of the poor people who are captured. In hearing this, Momotarou told his father that he had to go in order to defeat them and restore the land where they lived to its former and proper status, safe from the invasions and other harmful things that might threaten it and its inhabitants.

The old man was much surprised to hear all this from a mere boy of fifteen. He decided to let the boy go because Momotarou was strong and fearless. Besides, the old man knew he was no common child, for he had been sent to them as a gift from Heaven, and he felt quite sure that the devils would be powerless to harm him.

The father agreed to let Momotarou go, telling him to go as soon as he could and become a hero by defeating the demons and bringing peace to Japan.

“Thank you for all your kindness,” said Momotarou, who began to pack for his journey. He was full of courage and did not know what fear was.

The old man and woman decided to pound rice in the kitchen mortar to make cakes for Momotarou to take with him on his journey.

At last the cakes were done and Momotarou was ready to start on his long journey.

Parting is always sad, and the eyes of the two old people were filled with tears and their voices trembled as they wished him will, saying, “Go well. We expect you back victorious!”

Momotarou was very sorry to leave his old parents even though he thought that he would be back immediately after accomplishing his task, for he thought of how lonely they would be while he was away. But he said “Goodbye!” quite bravely.

“I am going, so take good care of yourselves while I am away. Goodbye!” And he stepped quickly out of the house.

Momotarou now hurried on his way till it was midday. He was feeling slightly hungry, so he opened his bag and took out one of the rice cakes and sat beside a tree in the shade along the side of the road to eat. While he was happily consuming his meal, a dog as large as a colt came running out from the high grass. He ran directly at Momotarou, and while baring all of his sharp teeth, fiercely told Momotarou, “You are a rude man to pass my field without asking permission first. If you leave me all the cakes you have in your bag you may go; otherwise I will bite you to death!”

Momotarou only laughed scornfully:

“What is that you are saying? Do you know who I am? I am Momotarou, and I am on my way to subdue the devils in their island stronghold in the northeast of Japan. If you try to stop me on my way there I will cut you in half!”

The dog’s manner immediately changed. His tail dropped between his legs, and coming near he bowed so low that his forehead touched the ground, the utter picture of reverence and obeisance.

“Do you speak the truth? You bear the name of Momotarou? Are you indeed Momotarou? I have often heard of you in many, many, places. Not knowing who you were, I have behaved in a very stupid way. Have mercy on me, and please forgive my extreme rudeness! You said you were on your way to the Island of Devils did you not? If you will take such a rude fellow with you as one of your followers, I shall be very grateful to you.”

Momotarou agreed to take him along, if the dog wanted to follow.

The dog expressed his thanks but asked for food, as he was exceedingly hungry having been unable to fill his belly with much food.

“This is the best kind of cake there is in Japan,” said Momotarou. “I cannot spare you a whole one; I will give you half of one.”

The dog thankfully ate the half, taking the piece thrown to him.

Then Momotarou got up and the dog followed. For a long time they walked over the hills and through the valleys. As they were going along an animal came down from a tree a little ahead of them. The creature soon came up to Momotarou and chattered, “Good morning, Momotarou! You are welcome in this part of the country. Will you allow me to go with you?”

The dog felt a spark of jealousy at this and snapped back, “Momotarou already has a dog to accompany him. Of what use is a monkey like you in battle? We are on our way to fight the devils! Get away!”

The dog and the monkey began to fight between themselves, for these two animals always hate each other.

Momotarou forced his way in between the two and forced them apart, talking to them the whole while.

“It is not at all dignified for you to have such a creature as that following you!” said the dog.

“What do you know about it?” asked Momotarou; and pushing aside the dog, he spoke to the monkey:

“Who are you?”

“I am a monkey living in these hills,” replied the monkey. “I heard of your expedition to the Island of Devils, and I have come to go with you. Nothing will please me more than to follow you!”

“Do you really wish to go to the Island of Devils and fight with me?”

The monkey replied in the affirmative.

“I admire your courage,” said Momotarou. “Here is a piece of one of my fine rice-cakes. Come along!”

So the monkey joined Momotarou. The dog and the monkey did not get on well together. They were always snapping at each other as they went along, and always wanting to have a fight. This made Momotarou very cross, and at last he sent the dog on ahead with a flag and put the monkey behind with a sword, and he placed himself between them with a war-fan made of iron.

As they were walking on their way, a bird flew down and just in front of the little party. It was the most beautiful bird Momotarou had ever seen because on its body were five different robes of feathers and its head was covered with a scarlet cap.

The dog at once ran at the bird and tried to seize and kill it. But the bird struck out its spurs and flew at the dog’s tail, and the fight went hard with both.

Momotarou, as he looked on, could not help admiring the bird; it showed so much spirit in the fight. It would certainly make a good fighter.

Momotarou went up to the two combatants, and holding the dog back, yelled, “You rascal! You are hindering my journey. Surrender and I will take you with me or I will set this dog to bite your head off!”

Then the bird surrendered at once, and begged to be taken into Momotarou’s company.

“Please forgive me, because I only saw your servant and decided to fight with him, but even more forgive me because I did not see you. I am a miserable bird called a pheasant. It is very generous of you to pardon my rudeness and to take me with you. Please allow me to follow you behind the dog and the monkey!”

“That is the correct choice,” said Momotarou, smiling. “Come and join us in our raid on the devils.”

“Are you going to take this bird with you also?” asked the dog, interrupting.

“Why do you ask such an unnecessary question? Didn’t you hear what I said? I take the bird with me because I wish to!”

“Humph!” said the dog.

Then Momotarou stood and scolded all of his companions, “Now all of you must listen to me. The first thing necessary in an army is harmony. A wise saying says that ‘Advantage on earth is better than advantage in Heaven!’ Union is better than any earthly gain. When we are not at peace amongst ourselves it is no easy thing to subdue an enemy. From now, you three, the dog, the monkey and the pheasant, must be friends with one mind. The one who first begins a quarrel will be discharged on the spot!”

All the three promised not to quarrel. The pheasant was now made a member of Momotarou’s team, and received half a cake. Because Momotarou’s influence was so great, his three companions became very good friends, and hurried onwards with him as their leader. After hurrying on day after day they at last came out upon the shore of the North-Eastern Sea. Unfortunately, they could not see anything that remotely resembled an island; all they could see was the never ending sea. Now, the dog and the monkey and the pheasant had come bravely all the way through the long valleys and over the hills, but they had never seen the sea before, and were exceedingly scared. They wanted to ask Momotarou how were they to cross the water and get to the Island of Devils?

Momotarou soon saw that they were daunted by the sight of the sea, and to try them he spoke loudly and cajoled them with, “Why do you hesitate? Could it be that all of you are afraid of the sea? Oh! How cowardly! It is impossible to take such weak creatures as you with me to fight the demons. It will be far better for me to go alone. I discharge you all at once!”

The three animals were taken aback at this sharp reproof, and clung to Momotarou’s sleeve, begging him not to send them away.

All three animals disputed this accusation that they were afraid, and each of them individually told Momotarou that they were not afraid at all; it was only his misperception that resulted in them thinking that they were afraid.

Having gained courage, facing the prospect of being left behind, they had now become much less fearful of the ocean, so Momotarou agreed to take them with him.

Momotarou somehow acquired a small boat, and they all got on board. The wind and weather were wonderful, and the ship went swiftly over the sea. It was the first time they had ever been on the water, and so at first the dog, the monkey and the pheasant were frightened at the waves, but by and by they grew accustomed to the water and they quickly became quite happy again. Every day they paced the deck of their little ship, eagerly looking out for the demons’ island.

When they grew tired of this, they told each other stories of all their accomplishments of which they were proud, and then played games together; and Momotarou found much to amuse him in listening to the three animals and watching their antics, because this way he forgot that the length of the journey and that he was so tired of being on a voyage doing nothing. He longed to be at work killing the monsters that had done so much harm in his country.

As the wind continually blew in their favor and did not send any storms in their way, one day when the sun was shining brightly, land was visible to the four watchers at the bow.

Momotarou knew at once that what they saw was the devils’ stronghold. On the top was a large castle. Now that he was so close, he was deep in thought wondering how he should begin the attack. His three followers watched him, waiting for orders. At last he called to the pheasant and told it to taunt the demons so that they would come out and be enraged. Essentially, he wanted to have them engage in combat.

The pheasant at once obeyed. He flew off from the ship beating the air. The bird soon reached the island and took up his position on the roof in the middle of the castle, and proclaimed loudly, “All you devils listen! The great Japanese general Momotarou has come to fight and defeat all of you. If you wish to remain alive, surrender at once, and break off the horns that grow on your forehead. If you do not surrender at once, make up your mind to fight, we, the pheasant, the dog and the monkey, will kill you all by biting and tearing you to death!”

The horned demons looking up and only seeing a pheasant, laughed amongst themselves saying, “A wild pheasant? It is ridiculous to hear such words from you. Just wait until you receive a blow from one of our iron bars!”

Thanks to the pheasant’s words, the devils soon became very angry. They shook their horns and their wild manes of blood red hair fiercely, and ran to their wardrobes so that they could put on tiger skin trousers to make themselves look more terrible. They then brought out great iron bars and ran to where the pheasant perched and tried to knock him down. The pheasant flew to one side to escape the blow, and then attacked the head of first one and then another demon. He flew round and round them, beating the air with his wings so strongly, that the devils began to wonder whether they had to fight one or many more birds.

In the meantime, Momotarou had brought his ship to land. As they had approached, he saw that the large castle was surrounded by high walls and large iron gates and was strongly fortified meaning that he would have a very difficult time reaching it.

Momotarou landed, and with the hope of finding some way of entrance, walked up the path towards the top, followed by the monkey and the dog. They soon came upon two beautiful damsels washing clothes in a stream. Momotarou saw that the clothes were blood-stained, and that as the two maidens washed, the tears were falling fast down their cheeks. He stopped and spoke to them asking them who they were, and why they were crying so much.

They explained that they were captives of the Demon King who were carried away from their homes in the dead of night to this island. Apparently, they were the daughters of Daimyous, and were obliged to be his servants until one day when they will die and be eaten, which was indicated by the blood stained clothes they were washing. They screamed out, asking who would save them from their misery, and their tears burst out afresh at this horrible thought.

Momotarou bravely exclaimed that he would rescue them from their misery, and that as long as they showed him a way into the castle, he would be sure to set them free. Then the two ladies led the way and showed Momotarou a little back door in the lowest part of the castle wall that was very small, but just big enough for Momotarou to fit in. The pheasant saw Momotarou and his little band rush in at the back.

Momotarou’s slaughtered the devils with the three companions that had followed him. At first their foe had been a single bird, the pheasant, but Momotarou and the dog and the monkey had joined the fray. The devils were extremely scared and confused for the four enemies fought like a hundred. Some of the devils were cast out of the castle and fell to their deaths by being dashed to pieces on the rocks beneath; others fell into the sea and were drowned; many were beaten to death by the three animals.

The chief of the devils at last was the only one left. He made up his mind to surrender, for he knew that his enemy was stronger than mortal man.

He came up humbly to Momotarou and threw down his iron bar, and knelt in front of Momotarou. He broke off the horns on his head in token of submission, for they were the sign of his strength and power and asked Momotarou to spare his life because he did not want to die.

Momotarou laughed.

“How unusual it is for a devil to ask that I spare his life! I cannot spare your life, because you have killed and tortured many people and robbed our country for many years.”

Then Momotarou tied the devil chief up and gave him to the monkey. Having done this, he set the prisoners free and gathered together all the treasure he found. The dog and the pheasant carried home the plunder, and Momotarou returned triumphantly to his home, taking with him the devil chief as a captive. The two poor damsels, daughters of Daimyous, and others whom were kidnapped as slaves, were taken safely to their own homes and delivered to their parents. The whole country made a hero of Momotarou on his triumphant return, and rejoiced that the country was now freed from the devils that had been a terror of the land for a long time. The old couple’s joy was greater than ever, and the treasure Momotarou had brought home with him enabled them to live in peace and plenty to the end of their days.

As the collector, the story was very intriguing. Surrounded by so many people believing the same story, it gave it a much greater weight that made it so much more meaningful. It was a reminder of how much people are bound together by their ethnicity and race, regardless of where they are in their walks of life. This story also connects to other folklore that is prominent in Japanese culture—where peach trees are sacred, and the wood of a peach tree will ward away evil demons as a powerful holy symbol. This story seems to express the pride and fierce believe in morality and honor that the people are expected to express. It has the people’s fierceness, and it is in no way lacking as a representation of the Japanese people.

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