The Adventures of Momotarō in the South Seas

Robert Thomas Tierney

in Tropics of Savagery

Published by University of California Press

Published in print May 2010 | ISBN: 9780520265783
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520947665 | DOI:
The Adventures of Momotarō in the South Seas

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This chapter analyzes Momotarō (peach boy), Japan's most famous folktale, and Momotarō's transformation in the early twentieth century into an allegory for Japanese expansion toward the South Seas. To overcome the dearth of overseas adventurers in Japanese history, advocates of imperial expansion championed the mobilization of this folklore hero to spark the interest of Japanese youth in the acquisition of overseas colonies. Nitobe Inazō saw Momotarō as a pedagogical tool that could fire the imagination of Japan's insular youth and spur them on to colonize the South Seas. Other writers believed that Momotarō was, at best, a flawed model for Japanese colonialism, and even blamed the failures of Japanese colonial policy on his harmful influence. In 1925, Akutagawa published a satire of Momotarō in which the peach boy is portrayed as a cruel invader who brutally attacks a group of humanized ogres living peacefully on an island paradise in the South Seas. At the end of this story, young ogres counterattack and fight to win the independence of their homeland. At the intersection of folklore, propaganda, and parody, Momotarō emerges as a contested site for debating the Japanese imperial project and for defining self and other in the age of empire.

Keywords: Momotarō; Japanese folktale; imperial expansion; colonialism; self; peach boy; empire

Chapter.  18554 words. 

Subjects: Asian History

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