Momotarou, the Japanese old tale
“Momotarou” is one of the very well-known folk tales in Japan, and it’s a quite popular character in Okayama where I live, so I felt this would be a good theme to start.
Like many children’s stories, Momotarou is about “The good defeats the evil forces”.
Once upon a time, there was an old couple who had no children.
One day, the husband went to a mountain to gather firewood while his wife went to a river to wash their clothes.
When she was washing, a huge peach was floating down to her.
She took it back home and cut it with her husband, then they found a baby boy inside.
The boy was named “Momotarou”.
(“Momo” means peach in Japanese, and “Tarou” is now rather considered as out-dated name but was a quite common for boys usually for the first son, meaning first, very best, greatest.
So, his name is like “Peach Max” in English)
He grew up fast and strong.
One day, the couple was suddenly told he was going to “Oni-ga-shima” to exterminate “Oni”.
(“Oni-ga-shima” is “Demons’ Island”. “Oni” is a Japanese demon/ogre, “shima” an island)
He left home with “Kibi-dango”, dumplings made with millet which the old woman prepared for him.
On the way there, a dog came to him and asked for a dumpling.
He answered “Yes, if only you help me to fight with Oni”.
The dog said OK in spite of such a high-risk and low-return deal.
Then a monkey and a pheasant joined him after the similar conversation.
At “Oni-ga-shima”, he attacked Oni with his sword, the dog bit, the monkey scratched, the pheasant pecked, and defeated them.
Momotaro & co. went back home with a mountain of treasure which Oni had stored.
There are many variants all over the country, but I guess this is the most common one.
Also, some places are claimed to be the origin of this story, and probably Okayama is the most famous among them.
I will tell you about it sometime later.
Yin-Yang (In Japanese, pronunciation is “On-myou”)
Some people say the “Momotarou” story is based on the theory of Yin-Yang.
In old times, the Oriental Zodiac was used for azimuth direction.
Clockwise from top:
*Mouse (“Ne” in Japanese pronunciation) – North
*Rabbit (“U”) – East
*Horse (“Uma”) – South
*Chicken (“Tori”) – West
North-east (a red “Oni” image for the direction), is called “Kimon”, the gate of “Oni” where evil powers come and go.
The opposite, south-west (a blue “Oni” image) is called “Ura-kimon”, the back gate of “Oni”, and it’s also thought to be another unlucky bearing.
To fight against “Oni”, the three animals in west were chosen to represent good power because the Pure Land in Buddhism is believed to be located in the western area.
(Although pheasant is not included in the Zodiac, it belongs to the same subfamily as chicken.)
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