Friday, June 27, 2008

Momotarō: A Japanese Fairy-Tale

Momotarō: A Japanese Fairy-Tale as retold by Justin M.

Once upon a time, in the land of Japan, there lived an old couple who had no children of their own. For years the couple had prayed to the gods to bless them with a child, and finally the gods consented.

One day while the old woman was down by the river washing clothes, and her husband was off chopping wood, a giant peach came floating down stream. The old woman had never seen a peach of such size and scooped it up deciding it would make for an excellent supper. That night the old woman presented the peach to her husband who picked up a knife and prepared to slice open the magnificent fruit.

But before the old man could make the first cut the peach split open and a human boy popped out. The boy then told the old man and woman that he had been sent by the gods to be their son. Overjoyed, the old man and woman picked the boy up in their arms and named him Momotarō, which means "Peach-Boy."

Momotarō soon grew into a fine young man under his surrogate mother and father’s tutelage and when he was fifteen-years-old asked their permission to go off on a quest. For some time now, the village in which Momotarō’s family lived had been plagued by a horde of oni who lived offshore in a castle on Oni Island. Momotarō’s plan was to slay the troublesom oni and liberate the villagers. Naturally, Momotarō's parents were very worried for their son’s safety but agreed to let him go, knowing that he was a most exceptional child. Biding him goodbye, Momotarō’s parents blessed their son with two final parting gifts; his father’s ax and a basket with three rice cakes in it which his mother had made.

It was then that Momotarō set off for the oni’s island home. Along the way he encountered a spotted dog that was very hungry. Spotted dog barked at Momotarō and bared his teeth. But Momotarō was not afraid and gave the hungry dog a rice cake. After filling his belly with the delicious rice cake the spotted dog’s mood improved greatly and when he heard of Momotarō’s plan to go and slay the oni of Oni-Island he decided to accompany him.

As Momotarō and spotted dog set off they soon encountered an angry monkey who threw sticks at them. Momotarō gave the monkey a rice cake and the monkey soon calmed down. When Momotarō shared with the monkey his plan to fight the oni on Oni Island monkey quickly agreed to come with. A little while later the trio came upon a vigilant pheasant. This pheasant, like spotted dog and monkey, turned out to be very found of rice cakes as well, but not very found of the troublesome oni living on Oni Island and also agreed to help Momotarō.

Soon the Momotarō and his three animal companions reached the shore and stared out over the sea at the ominous outline of what was Oni Island. Momotarō then fell some trees and the four friends began constructing a boat which they then boarded and sailed across on to the island.

Once there Momotarō had pheasant fly high above the castle walls and scout out what was going on inside. When pheasant reported back that the oni inside were fast asleep, Momotarō instructed monkey to scale the walls of the castle and unlock the gate from the inside. Once this was done Momotarō and spotted dog rushed inside. Spotted dog bit the heels of the oni causing them to loose their balance and fall to the floor where their necks then met the vengeful blade of Momotarō’s father’s ax. It was not long before all the oni were dead.

Momotarō and his three friends then heaped all the treasure and goods that the oni had stolen from the villagers onto their boat and sailed back home where they returned what had been stolen to its rightful owners. Momotarō then returned home to his surrogate mother and father and they all lived happily ever after.

At Top: Momotarō and companions in front of the Okayama Station in Japan.

Center: Hell's Frozen Over. Snow covered oni welcome visitors to Hokkaido, Japan's famous "Hell Valley."

Sources: Realm of the Rising Sun: Japanese Myth (Ed. 2008), by Toney Allen, Michael Kerrigan, and Charles Phillip.

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