The Peach Boy

“Japanese folklore, it’s one of the most famous ones about a kid and his grandson—granddaughter, or… grand-granddaughter and grand-grandson.  Once upon a time there was an old man and an old woman living inside a mountain.  Uh, in the morning, the old man will go to the bush—go to the forest to cut trees, and the old lady will wash clothes along the river.  They don’t have kids; they always wanted kids, but they never had one.  It’s either that they didn’t have sex or either that they’re infertile, but they don’t go to that much detail in the real story.  Um, so there’s a time where—there’s a day, no ordinary day, when the grandmother who’s washing clothes along the river, she saw a peach floating down the river.  Slowly, slowly along the wave.  Looking at this completely aberrant scenery, she was curious, so she took the peach on the shore.  It’s a giant peach—very, very large—it’s not like those you can hold on your hands; you’d have to carry it.  And, um, she brought it to the shore, and the old man came back and see the giant peach.  And, um, from the peach, there came a little baby.  So the peach can literally split open, and there was a little baby in there.  And, um, so they were happy and everything; there was a baby—a very fantastic thing—finally there’s a kid in their life, from a peach though.  So since he was born from a peach, they named him The Peach Boy.  At least that’s how I translated it.”

“So what is it in Japanese?”

“Momotarō.  So they fed him—at first, they fed him like a… not risotto, but, uh, how do you say 稀飯(xifan) in English?  Porridge.  Some sort of porridge.  Each day he would eat more and more, more and more, and he grew faster and faster and grew bigger and bigger until he was sort of grown up.  And it was around that time when there were a lot of other villages that were troubled by, uh, by demons—by evil spirits.  They’ll be like those monsters with one horn on their head, attacking villages, stealing everything, and raping women—although in the kids’ version they don’t rape women, they just steal stuff, do bad things, burn things.  And, um, they all live in one island that’s called, some sort of ‘Devil Island’ or something like that.  And he—The Peach Boy—had a really strong sense of justice, so what he did was he decided to, um, to fight them, you know?  To go on a trip to that island and fight everybody, alone.  So, sort of like what Rambo did, you know?  Uh, so in order to wish him luck, the grandmother made him a bag of snacks… it’s sort of those, um, how do you—rice cake?  Rice ball, rice cake, but those sweet ones, you know?  And they gave him a bag, you know?  In case he needs it.  So he went on a journey.  And on the journey, he met a dog…  See, I forgot the order.  It was dog, monkey, then last it was the flying thing… the bird.  The bird was definitely last.  So he met the dog first, and dog was like “What are you doing?”  And he said, “I’m travelling to Devil’s Island to hunt down all those monsters.  Do you want to come over?”…  Uh, actually, it was supposed to be they were attracted to Peach Boy because he got snacks, so he said “Can I have a snack?”  And he said, “Yes, but if I give you a snack, you should come over to hunt down the devils.”  So they agreed, so he gave them a snack, and they came over to fight the devils.  And the same goes for the monkey and the, uh, the bird.  So they all went to hunt the monsters down.  The monkey climbed on to all those devils and made them very, uh, messy… as in he scratched them everywhere; the dog chased them around, bit… something off; and the bird poked their eyes out, um, using her beak; and they conquered the island, fought every devil, conquered the island and, um, saved all the rest of the village from the trouble.  They became heroes after they came back, and the entire village lived happily ever after peacefully.”

My informant heard this story from practically everyone he knew when growing up in Japan.  The first time he heard it, though, was when just starting school from his teacher.  Because this tale is so widely known, my informant claims that it is one of the most famous—if not the most famous—folk narrative in Japan.  When I asked him why he thought it was so well-known and so popular in Japanese culture, he told me that, in his opinion, the Peach Boy acts to represent the “ideal loyal boy and do-good boy that every kid must admire to become.”  With this insight, it makes sense that school teachers and parents would tell this story to children at the forefront of their years of learning.  At the age of five or six (around when my informant had first heard this story), children are for the most part extremely impressionable and will take seriously the wise words of their elders.  For this particular tale to be told to children at this age, it sets the stage for how Japanese children should live their lives: brave, honest, courageous, and loyal.

I asked my informant what determines the popularity of the narrative—what gage, other than lots of adults lecturing him about the same story, did he have to make that assertion?  He recalled his home in Japan, remembering a framed, hand-woven portrait of the Peach Boy that resided in one of the house’s hallways.  He said that this portrait was given to his mother on his birthday (the literal day of his birth, not the annual celebratory day in remembrance of one’s birth) by his mother’s colleague.  To my informant, this meant that people outside of the nuclear family—even as distant as an acquainted colleague—were familiar with the tale and cared enough about the values that it taught to present it as a gift.  In this way, my informant’s mother’s colleague is presenting her hopes and wishes of good fortune that my informant would embody the Peach Boy.

Lastly, I asked my informant whether or not he has tried to follow the example of the Peach Boy throughout his life thus far.  Again, my informant recalled the hand-woven portrait to tell me that the portrait had been displayed in his home in Japan in the hallway to the bathroom, so it was a constant reminder of the Peach Boy during each trip to the toilet.  He also recalls having had a lot of time to contemplate the Peach Boy and his endeavors while in the restroom, and that contemplative time did help him try and become a courageous and loyal young man.

I agree with my informant about much of what he interpreted about the tale of the Peach Boy—it is told to teach values, and the popularity of the story has had an impact on the traditions of respect that are practiced during ceremonies of birth.  But looking at the tale a little closer, there is also an emphasis on the ability to procreate—since the old woman and old man could not have a child of their own, they were unhappy.  I think that this small detail points to a more family-oriented culture.  The story of the Peach Boy seems to be an important teaching tool for Japanese children, a memorable way to instruct the younger generations on how to behave.