On a recent road trip to Okayama, my Japanese friend decided to kill time by telling me the legendary story of Momotaro.
Having never heard this famous Okayama-born story before, I was naturally intrigued. My friend jumped at my curiosity and processed to tell me using her unique mix of Japanese and English.
“So,” she said “Let me tell you a story.” Below is what I remember of that story and some comments for there were some elements that I just couldn’t wrap my head around.
The story begins long ago In Okayama, where there lived an old man and an old woman who had no children. (whether this was by choice or not is unclear and, judging by the era, I’m pretty sure IVF wasn’t an available option)
One day, (as all good stories start), the old woman went down to the river to do some laundry. There she found a peach, which she took home to share with her husband. On splitting it open, out popped a child. (How they managed to avoid slicing the child is unclear and never fully explained). The child said that he had been sent from heaven to be their son, so they named him Momo (peach) and Taro (first son in the family).
After he was grown, he declared to his mother and father that he was to go on a quest to demon island, to defeat all the demons and save the world. (it’s impossible not to have issues with this sudden turn of events such as, how long did he know this was his destiny? Did he suddenly wake up one morning and decide today was the day to fight demons, again this is unclear.)
Before leaving, his mother gave him some kibidango for the road. ( Kibidango is a kind of Japanese sweet that is actually quite delicious). Momotaro told his mother that he was not hungry and that he wouldn’t need them, but she insisted, and off he went. (I believe Momotaro’s mother was a very patient woman. If my child talked back to me like that, they’d get what’s coming to them, let me tell you!)
On his way to demon island he happened across a dog. The dog followed him for a while before Momotaro turned around to confront him and asked,
“Why are you following me?”
The dog replied, “I can smell your kibidango. If you give me one, I will go with you to demon island.” (Okay, so like who wouldn’t have issues with the talking dog, come on! Really? A talking dog!)
Momotaro agreed, gave the dog some sweets, and they both continued walking. The same exact exchange happened twice more, when Momotaro came across a Monkey and a Pheasant. (A talking monkey and pheasant, mind you. And really, a pheasant? What kind of heroic bird is that? One that doesn’t belong in a legendary story, that’s for sure).
So Momotaro and his three animals went off to fight the demons on demon island. They killed them all, returned home triumphant and that is where the story ends.
(Nope, not kidding. That’s it. I’m not even sure it had a point)
But you have to admit even though it’s a confusing tale, it’s thoroughly entertaining.
Now I want some Kibidango.