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Momotaro and Yanagita

. Onipedia - 鬼ペディア - Oni Demons - ABC-List - Index - .
Onigashima 鬼が島  - see below

Momotaro 桃太郎 and Yanagita Kunio

. Momotaroo 桃太郎 Momotaro the Peach Boy - Der Pfirsischjunge .
- Introduction -

. Yanagita Kunio 柳田國男 . - Minzokugaku folklore
(July 31, 1875 - August 8, 1962)

. Momotaro 桃太郎 Regional Food Specialities .

. Momotaro Legend in Misaki Town 三咲町の桃太郎伝説 Okayama .


quote from
- source : www.japanime.com

Yanagita Kunio’s Folklore Studies in the early to mid 1930s
by David Henry

Momotaro (Peach Boy) is Japan’s most famous tale and has been constantly
retold not just by mothers and fathers but by famous authors including Iwaya Sazanami,
Ozaki Kōyō, Akutagawa Ryunosuke, and Dazai Osamu, to name just a few. Scholars
studying the tale have included Takizawa Bakin in the Edo period and Namekawa
Michio and Nomura Jun in the postwar period. Yanagita’s Kunio’s research on
Momotaro helped to define it as central to Japanese identity during the time that he was
changing the name of his research from kyōdo kenkyū (local studies) to minzokugaku
(folklore studies) in the early 1930s. At the same time that Yanagita was defining
Momotaro as a mukashibanashi (folktale) that was tied to the nation, relatively unknown
kyōdo kenkyūsha (local researchers), like Hashimoto Sentarō (1890-1940) in Shikoku,
were turning Momotaro into a densetsu (legend) that was tied to local places. Looking at
how Momotaro was defined at the national and local levels not only shows the tensions
inherent in the development of minzokgaku (folklore studies), but it also reminds us of
the surprisingly enduring value of Yanagita’s research.

Yanagita’s 1933 work Momotaro no tanjō (The Birth of Peach Boy) begins with the following reminiscence.

It was exactly ten years ago now that on a bright spring morning as I strolled through an art museum in Florence, I found myself standing in front of Botticelli’s renown painting The Birth of Venus. And while standing there I enjoyed a pleasant noon daydream, imagining that at some point in time, people in my own homeland of Japan could newly discover the birth of Momotaro as an issue and similarly reflect upon it.1

This comparison between a classical Italian painting and a Japanese folktale at
first seems odd, but Yanagita’s rhetoric points out how both works are centered on a
natal theme. Birth is one of the most basic artistic subjects throughout the world. But
while the birth of Venus is a single event in Botticelli’s famous painting, in Yanagita’s
usage the birth of Momotaro immediately implies three distinct references. First is the
main plot event of the Momotaro story, the birth of a boy from a peach. Second is the
title of Yanagita’s work that was derived from this plot event. Third, and most important,
is a self-conscious allusion to the birth of a new academic field—the disciplinary
consolidation of minzokugaku (folklore studies) that he himself was leading at the time.
By 1933, the some point in time when Japanese could newly discover their own folktales had arrived. Laying claim to the paternity of this field, Yanagita recalls that he ad dreamed of this moment ten years earlier when he was in Europe serving as one of Japan’s delegates to the League of Nations. Whether the sight of Botticelli actually brought Japanese folktales to his mind at the time is perhaps beside the point.

By bringing together a treasure of Italian art and Momotaro, Yanagita is insisting upon the
value of mukashibanashi (folktales) and the need to look upon them with new eyes.
Why did mukashibanashi in general and Momotaro in particular become a focus
around which Yanagita’s minzokugaku took shape? One reason is that while Yanagita
was interested in all aspects of rural culture, he saw oral tales as a particularly effective
means of gaining access to the inner worldview of the Japanese folk. Types of oral tales
that he studied included kaidan, shinwa, densetsu, setsuwa, and mukashibanashi. He
was particularly drawn to kaidan in the 1920s and mukashibanashi from the 1930s.
Writing about minzokugaku (folklore studies), Ronald Morse concisely notes, “if there is
one unifying theme to Yanagita’s work it is the search for elements of tradition that
explain Japan’s distinctive national character.”2 Mukashibanashi imagined this national
character more effectively than studies of local dialects and architecture or farm
practices and mountain villages could. Momotaro was particularly useful to Yanagita
because of its nationwide fame. But it is important to remember that this fame was
largely a product of the huge boom in written media for children from the 1890s.
Momotaro was widely used in both government approved textbooks and children’s
literature, such as Iwaya Sazanami’s famous version that inaugurated his highly
successful Nihon mukashibanashi series published by Hakubunkan between 1894 and 1896.

In the early 1930s, Yanagita shifted the name by which he identified his overall
research from kyōdo kenkyū (local studies) to minzokugaku (folklore studies). This
change was less related to his increasing focus on mukashibanashi than with the rising
popularity of folklore studies and how this broad interest was redefining the term kyōdo
kenkyū. The term kyōdo had long been associated with education. One of its earlier
appearances in print was in the 1891 Basic Elementary School Guidelines Law where it
appeared twice.3 The first recorded academic use of the term kyōdo was by the
educator and statesman Nitobe Inazō (1862-1933) for his Local Studies Group (kyōdo
kai) that ran from 1910 to 1918. 4 Trained in agricultural economics, in 1898 Nitobe
published A Theory of Agriculture in which he considered local areas under the category
of jikata gaku, which he later identified as the precursor of the term kyōdo kenkyū.
Yanagita was the most prominent member of Nitobe’s group and began to chart a more
independent direction from March 1913 when he and fellow folklore researcher Toshio
Takagi (1876-1922) first published the inaugural issue of the journal “Kyōdo kenkyū.”5 As
with the formation of the field of minzokugaku many years later, Yanagita developed
kyōdo kenkyū through an oppositional rhetoric. In the inaugural issues of Kyōdo kenkyū
he criticized the dominant approach of shigaku (history) which established the facts of a
local area but did not take the extra step of constructing a larger interpretive framework
out of them that described local lifeways.

Based in Tokyo the need to research local areas meant that Yanagita either
journeyed to the countryside himself, relied on others to make the journey, or used
teachers working at rural schools as informants. This meant that he was constantly in
close contact with educators all over the countryside, but these relationships were often
fraught with tensions. For example, in a 1918 article Yanagita wrote about his desire to
use school teachers as informants to investigate local customs.6 But he lamented that
teachers had often been posted from outside the local areas and only possessed a
cursory knowledge of those areas which led Yanagita to sometimes depend on local
youths for his research instead. Through much of the early 1920s he insisted that if
teachers were from outside of an area they needed to put down roots in the community
where they were teaching in order to better understand their students.7 He also urged
them to do local research in order to compile supplementary materials to the nationally
produced textbooks that gave relatively little mention of the very communities in which
students lived. From the first half of the 1930s onward this research was often compiled
in the form of kyōdo tokuhon (local readers). Ironically it was just as kyōdo tokuhon
began to boom from 1929-1931 that Yanagita began to most intensively criticize local
studies and the local education movement.

Yanagita’s sometimes contentious relationship with local educators and the shift
in his research is well represented in a speech titled kyōdo kenkyū to kyōdo kyōiku
(local studies and local education) that he gave to the Yamagata kyōdo kenkyū kai.
Speaking on November 5, 1932 in Yamagata City to a packed house of over six
hundred people—composed mostly of educators—Yanagita expounded on the uses
and abuses of local research for just over two and a half hours. In effect he was
criticizing his audience in fairly direct terms.

Our local studies (kyōdo kenkyū), in contrast to how other people use the
term, has at least two very major differences. The first one is, we did not
take the local area (kyōdo) as our object of research. In contrast to this,
all of you are saying that you will research the local area. But we did not
mean to use the word ‘local studies’ in this way. We did not mean to study
the local area (for itself), we meant to take the local area as a place to
study something. If we ask what that ‘something’ that we want to study is
specifically, it is the lifeways of the Japanese (nihonjin no seikatsu), in
particular the past history of this race group. Our plan was to tie together
our studies by looking at the case in each local area and working through
the distinctive affect (ishiki kankaku) of people in particular areas.8

Always a master rhetorician, Yanagita starts by invoking “our local
studies” (wareware no kyōdo kenkyū), a move linking him to membership in a
community of scholars to which his audience is clearly not a part. This serves to
emphasize his authority in the field before he begins to chastise his listeners for the two
errors of only researching a single local area and then taking this research almost
immediately into their own classrooms. Yanagita’s comments are all the more striking
considering that the assembled teachers spent the morning discussing their own local
research only to spend the afternoon listening to him criticize it in his speech. By stating,
“We did not mean to study the local area (for itself), we meant to take the local area as
a place to study something” he is asserting that the local area is a means not an end in

itself. Comparing research on local areas from across the nation did allow for a broader
perspective and provide deeper insights to Japanese culture as a whole. But it also
disallowed the value of local research that had not been tied into a national network and
considered only a single locale. In effect it posited that local identity was only legible
through national identity. As I will consider shortly, this same dynamic was at work in the
framework through which Yanagita interpreted mukashibanashi (folktales) generally and
Momotaro in particular.

At this point in 1932 he was still identifying his folklore studies as kyōdo kenkyū
although he mentioned in his Yamagata speech about the term that “the term has a nice
ring to it but is somewhat deficient for academic discourse.”9 There were hints of a name
change already. In an article titled “Food and the Heart” in Shinano Education in
January 1932 Yanagita mentioned “I am earnestly hoping for the flourishing of a new
academic field to take root in Japan in the future.”10

He only directly addressed the topic retrospectively, four years later and after
the change had taken place. He did this in a series of five lectures titled “Kyōdo kenkyū
to minzokugaku” (local studies and folklore studies) given across a span of seven
months in 1936.11 In his first lecture on April 20th he noted that the name change was
like a larva growing into a mosquito or a baby growing into a three-year old. Reading
Yanagita’s prose one is constantly reminded of his origins as a poet. He clearly delights
in language. And his example perhaps says more than he intends, because while he
himself saw the name change as positive, just as one’s own child is a pleasure to
behold, many kyōdo kenkyūsha likely found this change to be annoying like a buzzing
mosquito. In any case Yanagita’s rhetoric seeks to naturalize the name change because
in each case one thing grows out of the other as a natural development. Of course it
would be more accurate to note that he is responding to the developments in the field.
As the term kyōdo kenkyū gained favor among the public at large, it was simultaneously
losing favor to the term minzokugaku among more academic circles. The term
minzokugaku had already been around in Japan since the Meiji period and was already
well established in scholarly circles. So why the change at this point and not earlier?
While Yanagita does not address the question directly he hints at the reason by saying
that the term kyōdo kenkyū had become “just too plain” (amari ni futsū).12
In addition to increasing participation in the field by local educators, there was a surge in popular
interest in folklore studies by both city dwellers and rural teachers that presented a
challenge for Yanagita. While Yanagita himself wrote, perhaps half jokingly, that his
research could be called ‘Travel study’ (ryokōgaku), he clearly wanted to maintain a
distinction between tourism and research.13 He did not want to allow folklore research,
overwhelmed by amateur interest, to become merely another kind of ‘travelwriting’ (kikōbun).

The change from kyōdo kenkyū to minzokugaku suggested a new approach to
research. While kyōdo implies that a local place can be studied for its own sake, the
change to minozku (folk) means that local places were studied to help frame a picture of
the Japanese people as a whole. And while kenkyū suggests research that an individual
may carry out in their way, gaku refers to a discipline with standard methods of
investigation. Thus, minzokugaku needed an object of study that allowed it to imagine
the customs, lifestyle, and values of the Japanese people throughout the entire country.
Given this change it seems more than accidental that study of mukashibanashi gained

prominence around this time over other topics, such as of local dialects, architecture,
farm practices and so on. Mukashibanashi allowed the study of a single local place or
village to give insight into what Yanagita called “our collective feelings as Japanese.”14

Ironically, this was largely because by the time Yanagita was working in the 1930s, a
single, standardized version of the tale was known throughout Japan by means of
textbooks, and to a lesser degree children’s literature. This move, from studying
individual areas to making generalizations about the Japanese people as a whole, was
in part the result of the accumulation of research that Yanagita and others had access to
by the 1930s. It meant that Yanagita shifted his focus during this decade to begin
comparing data at his disposal and adding a theoretical superstructure to the field to
govern subsequent research. At the same time, it had implications for how folklore
studies imagined the nation. Pieces of research that could be fit into a picture of an
integrated nation would be cited, remembered and promoted. Culture that could not be
fit into this larger picture would be passed by or even forcefully reinterpreted within the
new framework. Momotaro was central to this process as Yanagita wrote two works that
guided the theory and practice of his minzokugaku.



From April 1930 to July 1932, Yanagita wrote the series of nine essays that
were collectively published in 1933 as Momotaro no tanjō. 15 Partly in response to the
increased interest in mukashibanashi that this work drew, he began his Thursday
meetings for students and scholars alike involved in this research. Also the flood of
increased information submitted by informants from around the country led him to issue
several field manuals, including the Mukashibanashi saishū techo in 1936. Beginning in
1936 and continuing through 1939 mukashibanashi would be Yanagita’s primary focus
as he traveled around the country collecting them and sorting through submissions of
collectors from around the nation. While an organized taxonomy of terms for oral tales
would only emerge after the war with Yanagita’s authoritative Nihon mukashibanashi
meii published in 1948, already by 1933 Momotaro no tanjo had already laid the
foundations for the theory of Yanagita’s minzokugaku.

Momotaro no tanjō is striking in its newly systematic and comparative focus on
tales. Yanagita stresses the relationships between both tales from Europe and among
different Japanese tales themselves. Up until this point his articles often connected tales
to the locality from which they were collected, a method more appropriate to kyōdo
kenkyū than to minzokugaku. In Momotaro no tanjō he considers several dozen
Japanese tales and his first move was to compare several of them to well known
European tales. In his first of nine chapters, his prime example is the Cinderella tale and
he compares it at length to various ubakawa tales, noticing the similarities in a magical
change of appearance.16 At the most basic level these comparisons are the result of
Yanagita’s familiarity with the Western corpus of folktales. The practical result of this is a
kind of datsua, or de-Asianization as Japan’s cultural heritage is reinterpreted so as to
make it analogous with a dominant West. By making these comparisons with European
tales, Yanagita gained needed prestige for a newly organized field. What was de-
emphasized in Yanagita’s case, however, was the sense of these tales as distinct
products of a local culture, and their possible Asian connections. In presenting a vision
of tales evolving thematically—gaining or losing story elements across time—and
migrating geographically within Japan he was ahead of more conservative scholarship
that saw oral cultures as fundamentally unchanging. At the same time this meant that
local culture was only to be understood through the larger nexus of national culture.
Analyzing a tale now came to mean comparing it with other variants collected from
around the nation and through time. Local culture became seen as one puzzle piece in
the larger picture of nationwide culture. While these pieces could be viewed in and of
themselves the new comparative focus implied that this reading was missing a bigger picture.

In addition to comparing Japanese tales to European tales, Yanagita links a
cluster of Japanese tales together by means of what he calls the chiisako theme. The
chiisako was a product of a propitious birth and supernatural heritage. He compares the
Momotaro, Urikohime, Kaguyahime, and Issunbōshi tales and notes that they involve
children born from or associated with unusual objects, such as peaches, melons,
bamboo and the like. In his opinion the main purpose of these objects is to graphically
demonstrate to the listener the small size of the child who could fit inside of them. The
chiisako theme does connect the several tales mentioned above and is obviously a
central part of the Momotaro tale. He makes Momotaro representative of Japanese
tales generally and invests great attention on it. In his reading of this tale Yanagita
stresses the links between clusters of thematically similar tales and how they evolved
together over time. However in the case of Momotaro he significantly differs from other
scholars, both before and after him, on the importance of the peach as a symbol.
Considering Takizawa Bakin’s Gendo Hogen (1818) he writes:

By citing many references to peaches in religion and folklore in his Gendō
hōgen17, Takizawa Bakin made an attempt to explain those origins of the
myth of the boy born from a peach. As a great man like Bakin made this
suggestion, it seems there have been many who have believed his
explanation. But even if these theories regarding peaches are true, it
really doesn’t matter that much. After all, the mysterious child in these
tales didn’t always come from a peach. The Urikohime tale existed at the
same time as Momotaro and was found all over eastern Japan and in some places in the west.18

Yanagita acknowledges that earlier scholars, in this case the famous author
Takizawa Bakin had focused on the peach’s symbolic meaning in the tale and gave
various answers about its meaning. But while Yanagita acknowledges the uniqueness of
the peach he also downplays its significance. Instead he chooses to emphasize the
chiisako theme as central and relates it to the Japanese system of religious belief. What
light does this tale shed on religious folk belief? Yanagita continues,

As the Japanese people moved inland toward the mountains, they began to believe that spirits came down from heaven, to the tops of the mountains and that they would occasionally come down from the mountains to visit the human world. It is not surprising that they conceived of a spirit entering our world floating down a mountain stream. 19

In Yanagita’s reading then, the tale evolved along with the Japanese people and
their collective movements. He is suggesting that Momotaro’s birth from a peach
reflected a folk belief in contact between the human and spirit worlds. Yanagita’s
approach to the tale is both provocative and original. His understanding here seems
very plausible although it must remain speculation of course and has not been taken up
in subsequent scholarship.

More problematic is his consideration of the tale’s ending and change over time.
It has been a very long time indeed since the Momotaro tale first took root in the Japanese soil, and it seems as if the very first form has long since withered away. The original form of the Momotaro story (one might say the myth [shinwa] rather than the folktale [mukashibanashi] ), like that of The Snake Bridegroom [hebi muko iri], no longer exists in our popular culture.20

For example, consider the goal of the expedition in Momotaro. As we
might expect, Japanese folktales [mukashibanashi] have been simplified.
The journeys of European ‘Momotarō’ figures often consisted of much
more than just gaining a treasure and bringing it back home. The treasure
was often used as a means of obtaining a wife, home, and children, and
securing a happy future. Here in Japan only Urikohime (The Melon
Princess) has this kind of happy ending, but in the West there are many
examples where a male adventurer finds some treasure and is then able
to marry a princess. It seems likely that this portion was deleted on
purpose from the modern Momotaro story [hanashi], not only because it
has a child as its protagonist but also because its audience was made up of only children.

Here Yanagita suggests that in an imagined original, and thus more authentic,
version of the tale Momotaro took a wife. Indeed, that the purpose of his quest was to
find a female partner. In the first passage quoted above he uses comparison with
another early tale, The Snake Bridegroom to bolster his argument. In the latter passage
he uses comparison with European tales to make his case. In his view more recent
versions of folk tales, which are found in textbooks or literature for children and
popularized by authors like Iwaya Sazanami from the Meiji period onward, are
corruptions of older and thus more authentic versions. This is a somewhat logical result
of stressing the chiisako theme in the tale. However, it is unsupported by the evidence
that Yanagita himself helped collect from around the country. Of the hundreds of
recorded versions collected only a handful include gaining a wife as part of the tale and
these versions have been judged by later scholars as actually being a mix of Momotaro
with other tales. Why then Yanagita’s insistence that Momotaro go looking for a wife?
The answer may lie with his arrangement of the 1936 Mukashibanashi saishū techō
(Notebook for the Collection of Folktales).

Coauthored by Yanagita and his contemporary Seki Keigo, it was self-published on August 10th, 1936 and distributed to folktale researchers across Japan.22 The size of a small Japanese paperback book (bunko bon), it contained one hundred representative stories.
Each example was listed on the right side of the page while the facing left page
was left blank. Folktale collectors listening to local tales were expected to compare any
stories they heard with the examples and write down the story opposite the tale it most
closely matched. For completely new or unrelated stories there was story number one
hundred, labeled as “Additional Stories” (hatenashi (no) hanashi). This was a story from
Nagoya that was found only in that local area.23 When researchers found other tales that
were similarly only known locally and did not correspond to tales one through ninetynine,
they were to be written down next to this final tale.

While this was just one of eight manuals published it reflected wider trends
toward a formalization of research methods than were evident in journals in the field at
least four to five years earlier. For example, Yanagita singled out the journal Tabi to
densetsu (Travel and Legends) for praise noting that it was becoming more professional
in the early 1930s. This was primarily reflected in the continuing effacement of the
researcher within the written narrative. Until the early 1930s, articles in this journal were
written as travel narratives that included a wealth of personal information about the
author as well as the tales collected or the sites he visited. Generally, they began with
accounts of the train journey out of Tokyo: leaving out of Ueno station at such and such
a time, traveling for so many hours, and where the person changed trains. Details of
how the author felt, the nature of his interaction(s) with local people, how much things
cost and so on are all usual parts of these articles. There is a marked shift in the mid
1930s with more formalized accounts of tales (or local customs and culture) in the
journal that forego all of the above-mentioned information. They flatly state the author’s
name, the place and time of research and very little else. The marked loss of the
author’s positionality, in Spivak’s usage of the term, was the price for formalizing
accounts of tales. Some of the earlier articles in this style were submitted by Yanagita
and later copied by others, likely through his influence. The fieldwork manual, then, was
just formalizing changes that were already taking place in some of the major journals of the day.

Still the fieldwork manual created wide repercussions beyond just the way that
people reported their research. The most obvious effect was that it immediately created
a canonical set of tales.24 More important than what this new canon included however
may have been what it excluded. A researcher using this book to collect tales in rural
areas was given license, in the form of blank pages, to write about ninety-nine standard
tales that were known throughout the country. Tales that were unknown to this system
were at a disadvantage. Of course researchers could simply write them down on the
blank pages provided at the end of the notebook or continue in their own notebooks. But
through this action tales known only locally were already pushed beyond the margins
(quite literally) of Yanagita’s folklore project.

The contrast with the situation under which Yanagita himself wrote down tales
roughly twenty-seven years earlier for what became Tōno monogatari (Tales of Tono) is
quite instructive. As is well known, Yanagita collected stories from Sasaki Kizen and
later in the Tono region quite freely.25 If a researcher was using the Mukashibanashi
saishu techō however, none of the tales that fills Tōno monogatari would have been
acceptable. This should not be surprising because the tales of Tōno monogatari are
nearly all seken banashi (everyday stories). Notable features of these tales are that they
often claim to be literally true and the narrator is often either the originator of the tale or

he claims personal knowledge of the events told. This kind of tale is exactly what
Yanagita was constantly warning against during the 1930s as being unsuitable for
folklore studies. In both Japanese and English language-scholarship Tōno monogatari
is considered a starting point for Yanagita’s research when it gained fame upon its
republication in 1935. But I would suggest that Yanagita’s warnings against collecting
strange tales and oddities were at least partially a warning against his own Tōno
monogatari and the method that it implied. That is to say that Tōno monogatari’s
popularity in 1935 and after was not because it represented Yanagita’s project but rather
because it offered a romantic vision of freedom for the researcher that was rapidly being
closed off within minzokugaku as a field.

The theory of comparison for this field that Yanagita put into place with
Momotaro no tanjō was put into practice with the Mukashibanashi saishū techō. Local
tales were read as part of a larger group of tales shared by Japanese culture across
time and throughout the nation. One of the ways that the Mukashibanashi saishu techō
generated these new readings was through its arrangement of tales. Naturally the tales
can be read individually. But as Nomura Junichi insightfully points out their arrangement
also generates a meta-tale found in the story arc when the ninety-nine tales are read
together.26 It begins with birth, moves through childhood, goes on to challenges posed
by life and help from animal companions, and concludes with a happy end in the form of
marriage and children. This meta-tale was generated by placing tales about birth first,
tales about childhood second, and so on. Implicit in this arrangement is the assumption
that tales are not just about entertainment but reflect serious thought about the whole
cycle of human life. This was of course consistent with the meanings that Yanagita was
trying to read into these tales through the project of minzokugaku. Again following
Nomura’s lead, we can see that Momotaro carries within itself most of the important
elements of the meta-tale: birth, childhood struggles and help from animal companions,
and eventual overcoming of obstacles. But it lacks the elements of marriage and children.

If we take Momotaro by itself this is not a problem. Most commentators on this
tale that I have encountered have seen its major themes as birth, youth, and
overcoming challenges. But in the context of Yanagita’s meta-tale the omission of a wife
becomes a lack. Yanagita’s answer was to insist that an earlier, more authentic version
of the tale did indeed include searching for a wife (tsuma-motome). This must have
guided Yanagita in choosing the rather odd Momotaro variant from Iwate prefecture that
serves as his example of the story in the Mukashibanashi saishū techō. In this version
the old man and woman go to enjoy a bento lunch by the riverside, pick up a peach that
floats by and take it home. From it the peach boy is born. When he is older a letter
comes from hell from a princess trapped there. Momotaro goes and successfully
rescues her. The oni (devils) of hell give chase, but fail when their flaming chariot
(higuruma) falls into the sea and is presumably extinguished. Momotaro then lives
happily ever after in his village, returning with a woman and riches.

It is important to note that there can be no definitive version of the tale, at least
before the 1890s when its inclusion in textbooks lead to an increasing standardization.
But even from the middle of the Edo period certain elements were standard in most
reiterations, such as the three animal retainers. These are missing from the variant that
Yanagita picked. This and the new addition of a woman leads Nomura, and myself, to
suspect that the Momotaro variant Yanagita picked as definitive is actually more closely
related to a story popular in Iwate prefecture about an amanojaku, a mystical creature
famous for deceiving people. But the feature of a woman in this version of the tale
makes it ideal for Yanagita’s reading, which insists on a marriage-minded Momotaro.

Looking at Yanagita’s minzokugaku inspired version of Momotaro we can
identify certain flaws with his analysis. But what other readings of Momotaro were
possible? At the same time Yanagita was turning Momotaro into a representative
mukashibanashi, in several areas around Japan kyōdo kenkyūsha were promoting
Momotaro as a densetsu (legends). As Kahara Nahoko notes, folktales are not specific
in their references to place, time or characters.27

They often begin with the set phrase “mukashi, mukashi.”
The functions of these tales were entertainment and passing down
folk wisdom. In an age before our now ubiquitous media, this entertainment function
carried an importance that is hard to fully appreciate today. In particular, Momotaro
pointed to the importance of children, of continuing a family line, and for boys to venture
out into the wider world and prove themselves. In contrast, densetsu are almost always
local and tie specific places and characters together. While mukashibanashi give us
recognizably generic characters and situations, densetsu abound in proper nouns and
quasi-historical events. This quasi-historical information helped residents to read the
landscapes surrounding them, adding interest and explanation to both manmade and
natural local features. Ironically, Momotaro as a densetsu was an entirely modern
creation, stitched into local history through often highly questionable connections. In the
prewar period, through a mixture of tourism and kyōdo kenkyū,

Momotaro was tied to
Okayama Prefecture, Inuyama in Gifu Prefecture, and Kinashi in Shikoku.

Today Okayama’s connection to the Momotaro tale is probably the best known
in Japan. Visitors arriving by train are greeted by a large bronze stature of Momotaro in
a prominent place in front of the station. This was a result of Okayama governor Miki
Yukiharu’s very successful campaign to use Momotaro as a symbol of the prefecture
during the 1950s. But it was rooted in research done earlier by Okayama residents
Namba Ginnosuke (1897-1973) and Shiida Yoshihide (1876-1946). At nearly the same
time Yanagita Kunio was working to identify Momotaro with the Japanese people,
Namba was rooting it in local history in Okayama. In May 1930 Namba published
Momotaro no shijitsu (Historical Facts of Momotaro), in which he came to the conclusion
that the Momotaro tale was based on Kibitsuhiko no mikoto, a legendary character
mentioned in the Kojiki. Namba focused on local archaeological sites, in particular a
Korean-style hill top castle locally known as a the Ki-no-jō (Ogre’s Castle) which he
asserted was the original model for onigashima. Next to build upon the connection
between Momotaro and Okayama was Shiida Yoshihide, a local researcher and
instructor in Japanese language and literature at the Sixth Higher School in Okayama.
In 1941 he published Momotaro no gairon (A Short Outline of Momotaro) which stressed
the connection between kibi dango and Kibitsuhiko jinja, suggesting that the sweets
were first made at that shrine.28 Both Namba’s and Shiida’s works are painstakingly
researched and seriously argued but can ultimately only present circumstantial
evidence to tie Momotaro to Okayama.

Meanwhile, in the Inuyama area just north of Nagoya, Kawaji Sōichi
(1894-1973) and graphic artist Yoshida Hatsusaburo (1884-1955) made no pretense at
academic seriousness but used Momotaro to produce a successful tourist attraction.
Yoshida was well known for his popular ‘Bird’s Eye Maps’ (chōkanzu), and his maps
helped to sell Momotaro jinja (Momotaro Shrine) which was founded by Kawaji in 1930.
As an easy day outing from Nagoya by train, tourists would visit the nearby Inuyama
Amusement Park, take a boat on the Kiso River billed as the Nihon Rhine for its scenic
similarity to the Rhine River in Germany, and wrap it up with a visit to Momotaro jinja.
The shrine was highly popular in the 1930s and even into the postwar period, with
Kawaji’s son, Kawaji Momomitsu, taking over as head priest. Today the shrine still exists
but has the air of a department store roof playground that has seen great days but is
slowly fading into the past.


Momotaroo 桃太郎 Momotaro the Peach Boy
from the cave of the Demon island Ogijima 雌木島 / 女木島(鬼ヶ島)- 男木島


Perhaps the most illustrative example of Momotaro as seen through local
studies, is in the Kinashi area just south of Takamatsu city in Shikoku where Hashimoto
Sentarō (1890-1940) sought to tie his hometown to Momotaro. As a young man,
Hashimoto listened to a speech by Meiji statesmen Okuma Shigenobu who commented
during a visit that the residents should be inspired by the town’s name and like
Momotaro should harbor no oni (demons) in their hearts. 29 In another example of how
local identity is actually read through the lens of national identity, this moved Hashimoto
to consider that perhaps his region was connected to the tale.

In addition to being a teacher, Hashimoto was an avid amateur historian and
archaeologist, often searching old documents for the origins of place names and even
making occasional digs for artifacts. Now he began collecting various local tales about
oni. First he published a series of articles in the local Shikoku minpo newspaper in 1930
under the collective title Dowa Momotaro no hasshōchi wa Kinashi (Momotaro
Originated in the Kinashi Area). Then in 1932 he published the book Kinashi densetsu
Momotaro-san: onigashima seibatsu (The Kinashi Legend Momotaro: Conquest of Ogre
Island). This book proved tremendously popular and went through 22 printings. In it
Hashimoto lists over 200 places he believes may be connected to the tale.30

focused more on the oni than on the hero. He conjectured that their real identity was
pirates who were based on the small islands of Megijima (Woman Tree Island) and
Ogijima (Man Tree Island) both located a few kilometers off of Takamatsu. Both islands
have man-made caves that might have been used by pirates active in the Seto Inland
Sea during the Muromachi period. With publication of Hashimoto’s book, Megijima also
came to be known as Onigashima and became a popular tourist attraction. Ferries ran
between the island and Takamatsu, bringing thousands of tourists a day in the summer.
People went to the island’s beach, swam in the ocean and enjoyed exploring the cave
which remained cool in the summer heat. In Hashimoto’s hometown of Kinashi, Kumano
jinja (Kumano Shrine) was renamed Kumano gongen Momotaro jinja. The official
renaming occurred in 1955 but it was popularly associated with Momotaro before the
war.31 Today the shrine still celebrates a festival (Kinashi Momotaro matsuri) with
various events focused on children on the first Sunday in April each year.

Momotaro is still popular today but he has been eclipsed somewhat by the girl
heroes produced by artists like Hayao Miyazaki, who has sought protagonists untainted
by connections to wartime propaganda. As historian John Dower and others have
pointed out, Momotaro was used extensively to promote wartime nationalism. English language
scholars have at times asked about the political charge of Yanagita’s work and
it is reasonable to ask this question in regard to his research into both Momotaro
specifically and mukashibanashi generally. Looking back, Momotaro as a
mukashibanashi does have its flaws, specifically Yanagita’s insistence on reading a wife
into the story, presumably in order to make it more representative of the Japanese
people as a whole. But while Yanagita’s research seeks to find and help define a unified
Japanese identity, it does nothing to directly link this identity to imperialism or war.
Ironically perhaps, often the work of kyodo kenkyusha from the late 1930s was more
directly nationalistic, even though they were working at the local level. In retrospect,
more than seventy years later, Yanagita’s investigation into Momotaro and other
mukashibanashi still appears careful, insightful and thought-provoking even today.

1 Yanagita Kunio zenshū, (1998) Vol. 6, p. 241.
2 Ronald Morse. Yanagita Kunio and the Folklore Movement: The Search for Japan’s National Character and Distinctiveness. Garland Publishing, 1990. p. xvi.
3 Kyōdo kenkyūkai. Kyōdo: hyōshō to jissen. (Homeland: Representation and Practices) Sagano shoin, 2003. Sekido, p. 5.
4 Sekido, p. 4.
5 Ito Junro. Kyōdo kyōiku undō no kenkyū. (Research into the Local Education Movement) Shibunkaku, 2008. p. 242.
6 Ito, p. 240.
7 Ito, pp. 235-239. This was another center-periphery tension inherent in Yanagita’s research. He wanted teachers to be deeply versed in local knowledge, both for the benefit of their students and so the teachers could be helpful to Yanagita in his own research. But he did not want to these teachers to conduct their own research independently of Yanagita and his guidance.
8 Ito, p. 4.
9 Ito, p. 4.
10Ito, p. 5.
11 Yanagita Kunio zenshū, Vol. 6, pp. 383-404. He delivered them to the Hizen Historical Society (Hizen shidan kai) and they were serialized in the Society’s gazette from April to October.
12 Ibid., pp. 383.
13 Yanagita Kunio zenshū, Vol. 29, p. 183. From Ryokō no jōzu heta (Traveling Well or Poorly) originally published May 1, 1934 in Fujin no tomo.
14 Yanagita Kunio zenshū, Vol. 29, p. 384. 60
15 Momotaro no tanjō has a somewhat tangled publication history. The 1933 book was a compilation of nine separately published articles, written over a roughly two-year span between April 1930 and July 1932. Six of these were published in the quasi-academic journal with which Yanagita had close ties, Tabi to densetsu, one by Iwanami publishing, one in the journal Kyōdo kenkyū, and one in the prestigious intellectual journal Chuo kōron. The first and last chapters were written together in June and July of 1932 and rhetorically they serve as bookends to his argument, summarizing it and giving clarity to what is otherwise a very eclectic consideration of many different folktales. My own consideration focuses primarily on his opening and closing chapters.
16 Yanagita Kunio zenshū, Vol. 6, p. 243.
17 Bakin’s Gendō hōgen (1818) was a collection of essays considering aspects of folk life including the Momotaro tale, famous cherry trees, tanuki, and a range of folk beliefs. It was divided into sections on the heavens, earth, plants, and people. I will consider it in an earlier chapter.
18 Yanagita Kunio zenshū, Vol. 6, p. 256.
19 Ibid., Vol., 6, p. 257.
20 Ibid., p. 248.
21 Ibid., p. 258.
22 It was published by the Minkan denshō no kai, which was the group Yanagita led to investigate orally transmitted tales. It was funded by donations of wealthy patrons.
23 This is a rather dreary story of a rat that leaves its village and starts to cross the sea to reach another land where there may be more food. At the midway point in his journey he meets another rat who is doing the same thing. Recognizing the hopelessness of their situation the rats throw themselves into the sea and drown.
24 Before this the ‘five famous tales’ (godai otogi: Momotaro, Kachikachiyama, Shitakirisuzume, Hanasaki jiisan, and Sarukani gassen) were the best-known grouping of tales. These were known as such from roughly the middle of the Edo period.
25 The relationship between Yanagita and his famous first informant, the young Sasaki Kizen from the Tono region in Iwate has been often considered in scholarship on Yanagita. One of the more concise and eloquent summaries in English-language scholarship is in Gerald Figal’s Civilization and Monsters: Spirits of Modernity in Meiji Japan (Duke University Press, 1999), pp. 106-112.
26 Nomura Junichi. Shin-Momotaro no tanjō. (The Re-Birth of Momotaro) Yoshikawa kobunkan, 2000. pp.
27 Kahara Nahoko. “Mirai e muketa dentō tsukuri—「Momotaro densetsu chi」Okayama no keisei
(Making traditions for the future: the formation of “Momotaro’s legend area” in Okayama), in Momotaro wa ima mo genki da (Momotaro is still alive and well today). Okayama: Okayama Momotaro kenkyūkai, 2005.pp. 108-149.
28Ichikawa Shunsuke. Okayama no Momotaro: Okayama bunko, 233. (Momotaro in Okayama Prefecture) Okayama: Nihon bunkyo shuppansha, 2005. pp. 92-93.
29 Saito Jun. “Momotaro densetsu,” in Kokubungaku: kaishaku to kansho, tokushu tsukurareru densetsu. Volume 70, no. 10 (Oct 2005), 174-177.
30 Kahara, pp. 127-128.
31 Furukawa Katsuyuki. Momotaro densetsu chi wo tazunete, (Visiting Places Associated with the Momotaro Legend) in Momotaro wa ima mo genki da. Okayama Momotaro kenkyūkai: Okayama, 2005. 158-204. 61


Mukashibanashi Saichu Techo 昔話採集手帖
- reference -
(1936, Folktale Fieldwork Guide).

Momotaro - by David A Henry

- - - - - Details are here :
. Yanagita Kunio 柳田國男 .


. Onipedia - 鬼ペディア - Oni Demons - ABC-List - Index - .

saihan momotaro mukashigatari 再板桃太郎昔語 Old Stories of Momotaro
Old prints to illustrate the story of Momotaro

桃太郎一代記 - 北尾政美

桃太郎 - by 歌川国丸

桃太郎後日譚 - by 恋川春町

- - - More in the WIKIPEDIA !


Onigashima 鬼が島 / おにが島 Island where the Demons live - Demon Island

Onigashima, officially called
Megishima 女木島 Megijima

- quote -

Onigashima, officially called “Megishima” (女木島), is located in the sea of Japan (瀬戸内海) and belongs to Kagawa Prefecture, Shikoku District. It is said that the tale of Momotaro originated in Kagawa prefecture.

- Cavern of Onigashima

In 1914,
the cavern was found by Sentaro Hashimoto, a local history researcher, and started to be exhibited as “Onigashima” cavern in 1931. This cavern is thought to have been made in around 100 B.C. and is also similar to fortress caverns of Ancient China. Its length is about 400 meters long, and the all-around size is about 4000㎡.


You can take a ferry
from the Port of Takamatsu to Megishima directly, the trip takes about 20 minutes.
From the Port of Megishima, you can either take a bus to the cavern (it takes around 10 minutes) or walk there (around 30 minutes).
- source : jpninfo.com/6894 -

There are other islands in Japan named Onigashima.


. Momotaroo 桃太郎 Momotaro the Peach Boy .
- Introduction -

- - - #momotaroyanagita - - - - -

. Join the MINGEI group on facebook ! .  

. Urikohime 瓜子姫 Princess born from a gourd .

. Regional Folk Toys from Japan .

. Japan - Shrines and Temples .

. Tohoku after the BIG earthquake March 11, 2011



1 comment:

Gabi Greve - Darumapedia said...

Legends from Okayama