Guest Author - Ching Kin Min
“Momotaro” AKA “Peach Boy” is one of, if not the most well-known fairy tales in Japan. Everyone in Japan knows the story, having heard it since young. In summary, the story goes like this:
Long, long ago, there lived an old man and his wife. They had no children. One day, while the wife was doing the laundry at the riverside, a huge peach floated down the river. She took it home. The old man cut the peach in half, and to their surprise, inside lay a baby boy. They decided to take him in as their own son, and named him – you guessed it – Momotaro, or Peach Boy.
Fast forward a couple of years. A group of ogres popped by Momotaro's village, terrorizing the villagers, looting and taking their valuables. Momotaro decided to go to the ogres' hideout to teach them a lesson. Before he left, his mom made him some dumplings known as “kibi dango”, which would later become instrumental in his journey.
Along the way to the bad guys' hideout at a cave on Onigashima (Ogre's Island), Momotaro encountered first a dog, then a monkey, and finally a bird, who became his companions after Momotaro gave them a kibi dango each.
The four of them arrived at Ogre's Island, where they fought and defeated the ogres. The ogres promised not to terrorize the village again. Finally, Momotaro and his companions returned to the village with the ogres' loot, hailed as heroes.
In typical Japanese marketing strategy, there are several Momotaro motifs in Okayama. For instance, just outside JR Okayama Station, you can see statues of Momotaro and his gang, along with a postbox with a figure of Momotaro on top. If you walk along the main street in the direction of Okayama Castle, the main local tourist attraction, you will pass by an apparel store named “Momotaro Jeans”, complete with a sign featuring a peach split in half, with Momotaro in the center, wearing jeans... Plus, don't forget the souvenir business – “kibi dango” with various designs and flavors are available for sale throughout the city.
The interesting thing about the story of Momotaro is that it was based on another legend. In Okayama, west of Osaka, there is a nice, rural flatland called Kibi Plain, a pretty famous tourist attraction. Kibi Plain was part of the Kibi Kingdom in the 4th century. To cut a long story short, a prince called Prince Kibitsuhiko traveled to the Kibi Kingdom and defeated a big, bad ogre, thereby bringing peace to the region.
There is a 15 kilometer long cycling route through the Kibi Plain, which loosely follows the route Prince Kibitsuhiko took, passing through a number of significant shrines, temples and burial mounds along the way. You can rent a bicycle at either Bizen Ichinomiya Station or Soja Station and cycle along the route, dropping off the bicycle at the other station.
Ogre Island is also supposedly based on a real island called Megijima, a small, charming island near Takamatsu. Takamatsu is the capital of Kagawa Prefecture in Shikoku – very near Okayama. On Megijima, there's a cave where the battle between Momotaro and gang and the ogres was apparently held. The cave contains a series of interconnected chambers, some of which feature large, cartoon-like ogre figures... which actually serve to make the place feel less authentic. The cave is not very large, and can be explored in less than half an hour. Visitors can receive a guided tour of the cave... in Japanese.
It is possible that another origin of Momotaro's legend is based a true story of a group of people who went to Megijima to defeat pirates terrorizing the nearby villages.
The cave is located near the peak of a mountain, and can be reached in a short but infrequent bus ride. At the final stop, you'll have to walk up a couple of stairs, past a souvenir shop before reaching the cave entrance.