Back in 1990, I took a Japanese kite-making class as part of the San Jose Japantown Centennial. The image on my kite was the Japanese folk hero Momotaro, often referred to as Peach Boy in the United States. The modern version of the story begins with an old, childless couple finding a giant peach floating in the river. Opening the peach to eat it, they discover a child inside. The couple name the child Momotaro (momo meaning peach, and Taro for the eldest son), and raise the boy as their own. After reaching adulthood, Momotaro sets off to fight the Oni monsters who have been terrorizing the village. He is joined by a dog, a monkey, and a pheasant, who assist him in return for a dumpling each. Momotaro and his friends are victorious, and return to the village with the treasures that had been stolen by the Oni.
Image: The cover of a colorful Japanese children's book about the adventures of Momotaro. Photo by Ralph Pearce
After my son was born, I hung the colorful Momotaro kite up in his bedroom. When his Japanese grandmother would visit, she would often hold him in her arms facing the kite, and sing the Japanese folk song* about Momotaro's adventures. The first two stanzas in Japanese (written phonetically) are:
o-koshi ni tsuketa kibidango,
hitotsu watashi ni kudasai na.
Kore kara oni no seibatsu ni
tsuite iku nara, yarimasho.
*Published in 1911 by the Ministry of Education. Melody by Teiichi Okano
Here's the English translation:
You have dumplings in the pouch at your waist
Please give me one.
I'll give you one, I'll give you one,
For the future of the oni-demon expedition,
I'll give you one if you come.
Image: While traveling in Japan in 1997, I discovered this Momotaro statue in front of the Okayama City train station. I learned that Okayama City is considered the home of the folk tale, and a point of local pride. I even found images of Momotaro on their manhole covers. Coincidentally, my mother-in-law's family village was only a short distance away. Photo ©Ralph M. Pearce
Image: On May 26, 1957, the cities of San Jose and Okayama became "sister cities" following the inception of the national Sister Cities program of 1956. In 1993, Okayama City gifted the City of San Jose with a replica of the statue that stands outside their train station. The beautiful statue stands rather hidden in Guadalupe Park, around the corner from the entrance to the Center for the Performing Arts. Photo ©Ralph M. Pearce
Further Reading in the California Room:
- California Room Index: Okayama
- California Room Index: Statue
- California Room Index: Public Art
- Japanese Children's Favorite Stories by Florence Sakade
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