In the same way that the classic fairy tale “Cinderella” has become part of Western culture, the fairy tale “Momotaro” has become ubiquitous in Japanese culture, with references to it cropping up in comic strips, movies, comedy shows, posters, anime, manga, advertisements, toys, and even government propaganda. There is even a Hello Kitty anime version of the tale available on DVD.
One illustrated telling of that story is Momotaro or Little Peachling, found in the Japanese Fairy Tale Series. This book tells the tale of an old couple that finds a peach, and from that peach pops up a little boy. They adopt him and he grows up strong and goes off to the island of the devils to take their riches. Joining him are three animals:
Then first a dog came to the side of the way and said; “Momotaro! What have you there hanging at your belt?” He replied: “I have some of the very best Japanese millet dumplings.” “Give me one and I will go with you,” said the dog. So Momotaro took a dumpling out of his pouch and gave it to the dog. Then a monkey came and got one the same way. A pheasant also came flying and said: “Give me a dumpling too, and I will go I along with you.” So all three went along with him.
There is a battle with a great multitude of the devil’s retainers, and then with the chief of the devils, called Akandoji. At the end Momotaro triumphs and returns to his adopted parents. There is a happy ending for everyone, except for the devils.
I had heard about the story for decades. This was the first time that I actually read it. Reading it as an adult, I had qualms about the legality of Momotaro’s actions. But then children don’t normally concern themselves with the property rights of devils.