Fairytale – Japan

“Peach Boy is the story of how a brave boy came to be. There was an old couple in the countryside who were lonely because they were unable to have children. One day the old woman was down by the river and a giant peach came floating along. She brought it home for dinner and was pleased to show the old man when he came home. As she was taking a huge knife to cut into the peach, a voice for from inside yelled, ‘No! No! Don’t cut me!’ Suddenly a baby boy came out of the peach and said he was sent to the old couple to be their son. The old man and woman were very happy and named the boy Momotaro, which means Peach Boy. They loved him very much and raised him as their own.

At the age of fifteen Momotaro wanted to go on an adventure to prove his gratitude for all the things he had. He told his father he wanted to go to Ogre Island to defeat the wicked ogres who had caused so much trouble in their land. The old couple were very proud of their son’s bravery and suited him up in armor with a sword and sent him along his journey with a lunch of dumplings. Momotaro headed for the sea and came across a dog who growled and barked at him, but Peach Boy gave him a dumpling and told the dog he was going to fight the ogres on Ogre Island. The dog said he’d go along with him to help.

Momotaro came across a monkey who started to fight with the dog, so Peach Boy gave him a dumpling and told him where they were going so the monkey joined them. They came across a bird who was about to start fighting with the dog and the monkey so Peach Boy gave him a dumpling and told him where they were headed so the bird went along too. So Peach Boy led the dog, monkey, and bird and they got in a boat to Ogre Island.

When they got to Ogre Island they could see the ogres had a very strong fort. The bird flew over and pecked at the ogres eyes and heads, the monkey clawed and scratched them, the dog bit them, and Peach Boy cut them with his sword. They had a big battle against the ogres and were able to defeat all the ogres. They promised Momotaro never to do bad things again, and before Peach Boy left, they brought him all the treasure in the fort. So Peach Boy and his three little friends brought all the treasure back to his house, where they were greeted by the happy old couple who were so glad to see their son alive. And now they were rich too and they all lived very happy altogether.”

Lori told me how she had seen this fairytale reenacted on several occasions because her two sons have been in children’s plays about Peach Boy many times over the years. She explained that because of her boys’ Japanese heritage from her husband, they were involved in many Japanese-American community affairs where Peach Boy is well known. She said she always uses Peach Boy as an example for her sons to have courage and confidence, telling them, “Be brave like Peach Boy. Be brave like Momotaro.” She explained that “taro” is used in names of first-born sons in Japanese families. Also, that “momo” means peach, and it is also used to describe girls’ breasts, as in “look at her momo’s.” But she clarified that Momotaro is named because he came out of a big peach.

This fairytale comes up in an article in Asian Folklore Studies journal written by Klaus Antoni. The article confirms Lori’s assertions that Peach Boy is a role model for her boys to be brave. Antoni writes that the story of Momotaro has been an important tool used by the state to propagate nationalist ideas in schools. The fairytale of Momotaro has been included in school readers as a means to exemplify a strong sense of nationalism and pride in the military, an important asset during times of war. Antoni goes on to detail how Momotaro reaffirms the Japanese value of family honor in bringing good fortune to a family name through virtuous acts of bravery and courage.

In addition to Peach Boy being a heroic role model for young boys to look up to, this fairytale also touches on issues of sexuality. Because “momo” means breast, this story can be read as a coming of age story to the point of reproductive maturity. Lori had said that the old couple were lonely and sad because they did not have children, possibly feeling inadequate because they could not reproduce a child of their own. This story then explains the importance for young boys to be brave and strong in order to grow up to be a sexually reproductive man in order to pass on his family name. Having a hero who is connected with the anatomy of the opposite sex can symbolize his reproductive success, and gives boys an early start on concerning themselves with sexual maturity.

Annotatoin: Antoni, Klaus. “Momotaro (The Peach Boy) and the Spirit of Japan: Concerning the Function of a Fairy Tale in Japanese Nationalism of the Early Showa Age.” Asian Folklore Studies. 50.1 (1991): 155-181. 29 Apr. 2008. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/1178189>.