Fairytale – Japanese

Momotaro (???)

My father said that when he was a little boy my grandmother sometimes would tell him bedtime stories.  His favorite story was a japanese fairytale called Momotaro.  In direct translation Momotaro literally means Peach Taro, Taro being a common name for a Japanese boy.  However Momotaro is often translated as Peach Boy.  I asked my father to tell me the story but he said he didn’t remember all the exact details of the fairytale.  He said the story starts off with an old couple living in rural Japan.  The couple desperately wanted to have children but couldn’t.  Then one day the old man found a giant peach in a thicket of grass near the edge of the river.  He brought it home to his wife and when she cut it open there was a small boy in it, and they named him Momotaro (Peach Boy).  My father said what was special about Momotaro was that he fought off demons.

My grandmother speaks fluent Japanese and English, however my father only knows English.  My grandmother used to tell him this story in English.  As a kid I remember hearing this story, but my mother read my the tale from a book of Japanese children’s stories.

Below is a version of the Momotaro from a book cited in the annotation.  This is the version I remember my mother reading to me from Japanese children’s story books:

Once upon a time there was an old man and his old wife living in the country in Japan. The old man was a woodcutter. He and his wife were very sad and lonely because they had no children.

One day the old man went into the mountains to cut firewood, and the old woman went to the river to wash some clothes.

No sooner had the old woman begun her washing than she was very surprised to see a big peach come floating down the river. It was the biggest peach she’d ever seen in all her life. She pulled the peach out of the river and decided to take it home and give it to the old man for his supper that night.

Late in the afternoon the old man came home, and the old woman said to him: “Look what a wonderful peach I found for your supper.” The old man said it was truly a beautiful peach. He was so hungry that he said: “Let’s divide it and eat it right away.”

So the old woman brought a big knife from the kitchen and was getting ready to cut the peach in half. But just then there was the sound of a human voice from inside the peach. “Wait! Don’t cut me!” said the voice. Suddenly the peach split open, and a beautiful baby boy jumped out of the peach.

The old man and woman were astounded. But the baby said: “Don’t be afraid. The God of Heaven saw how lonely you were without any children, so he sent me to be your son.”

The old man and woman were very happy, and they took the baby to be their son. Since he was born from a peach, they named him Momotaro, which means Peach Boy. They loved Momotaro very much and raised him to be fine boy.

When Momotaro was about fifteen years old, he went to his father and said: “Father, you have always been very kind to me. Now I am a big boy and I must do something to help my country. In a distant part of the sea there is an island named Ogre Island. Many wicked ogres live there, and they often come to our land and do bad things like carrying people away and stealing their things. So I’m going to go to Ogre Island and fight them and bring back the treasure which they have there. Please let me do this.”

The old man was surprised to hear this, but he was also very proud of Momotaro for wanting to help other people. So he and the old woman helped Momotaro get ready for his journey to Ogre Island. The old man gave him a sword and armor, and the old woman fixed him a good lunch of millet dumplings. Then Momotaro began his journey, promising his parents that he would come back soon.

Momotaro went walking toward the sea. It was a long way. As he went along he met a spotted dog. The dog growled at Momotaro and was about to bite him, but then Momotaro gave him one of the dumplings. He told the spotted dog that he was going to fight the ogres on Ogre Island. So the dog said he’d go along too and help Momotaro.

Momotaro and the spotted dog kept on walking and soon they met a monkey. The spotted dog and the monkey started to have a fight. But Momotaro explained to the monkey that he and the spotted dog were going to fight the ogres on Ogre Island. Then the monkey asked if he couldn’t go with them. So Momotaro gave the monkey a dumpling and let the monkey come with them.

Momotaro and the spotted dog and the monkey kept on walking. Suddenly they met a pheasant. The spotted dog and the monkey and the pheasant were about to start fighting. But when the pheasant heard that Momotaro was going to fight the ogres on Ogre Island, he asked if he could go too. So Momotaro gave the pheasant a dumpling and told him to come along.

So, with Momotaro as their general, the spotted dog and the monkey and the pheasant, who usually hated each other, all became good friends and followed Momotaro faithfully. They walked a long, long way, and finally reached the sea. At the edge of the sea Momotaro built a boat. They all got in the boat and started across the sea toward Ogre Island.

When they came within sight of the island, they could see that the ogres had a very strong fort there. And there were many, many ogres. Some of them were red, some blue, and some black.

First the pheasant flew over the walls of the fort and began to peck at the ogres’ heads. They all tried to hit the pheasant with their clubs, but he was very quick and dodged all their blows. And while the ogres weren’t looking, the monkey slipped up and opened the gate of the fort. Then Momotaro and the spotted dog rushed into the fort and started fighting the ogres too.

It was a terrible battle! The pheasant pecked at the heads and eyes of the wicked ogres. And the monkey clawed at them. And the spotted dog bit them. And Momotaro cut them with his sword. At last the ogres were completely defeated. They all bowed down low before Momotaro and promised never to do wicked things again. Then they brought Momotaro all the treasure they had stored in the fort.

It was the most wonderful treasure you can imagine. There was much gold and silver and many precious jewels. There was an invisible coat and hat, and a hammer that made a piece of gold every time you hit it on the ground, and many other wonderful things. Momotaro and his three helpers carried all this in their boat back to the land. Then they made a cart and put all the treasure in the cart and pulled it back to Momotaro’s house.

How happy the old man and woman were when they saw their son return safely from Ogre Island! They were very rich now with all the treasure that Momotaro had brought, and they all lived together very, very happily.

Annotation: Sakade, Florence. Japanese Children’s Favorite Stories. Toyko: Charles E. Tuttle Company: 1958.

Momotaro is a Japanese folktale but is seems to follow Propp’s sequence fairly well and contains many of Propp’s 31 functions.  For example,  the story starts with a lack of something.  The old couple lacks a child/children, but then they find Momotaro in a peach.  Then their son or rather the hero of the hero of the story grows up and leaves home (departure) on a quest to defeat the demons on Ogre Island (villainy).  Momotaro meets some obstacles along the way (i.e. the dog and the other animals) but cleverly gets them to join and help him on his quest.  Then there is the struggle which is the fight between the ogres and Momotaro and his friends.  Finally Momotaro earns his victory over the villainous ogres and returns home a hero with riches.  It is interesting to see Propp’s Functions can be applied to folklore from many different cultures.

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