Momotarō in the South Seas: Folklore, Colonial Policy Studies, and Parody

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Momotarō became a fixture in the education of Japanese elementary school pupils during the early Meiji period. In the early 20th century, his journey to the ogre island was often conflated with Japan’s advance toward the South Seas. In this article, I compare two rewritings of the folktale:Nitobe Inazō’s essay “The Folktale Momotarō” (1907) and Akutagawa Ryūnosuke’s story “Momotarō” (1925). Nitobe, Japan’s first professor of colonial policy studies, treated the tale of Momotarō as a pedagogical tool that could fire the imagination of insular Japanese youth, enabling them to look beyond the confines of the Japanese archipelago. By contrast, Akutagawa focalized his retelling of the folktale by adopting the point of view of humanized ogres living peacefully on an island paradise in the South Seas. In this iconoclastic version, Momotarō is portrayed as a cruel invader who plunders the island and reduces its inhabitants to slavery. At the intersection of folklore, propaganda and parody, Momotarō emerges as an embodiment of the defining of self and other in the age of empire.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13-25
Number of pages13
JournalBorder Crossings
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2020


  • Colonial Policy Studies
  • Folklore
  • Momotarō
  • Parody
  • Propaganda

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Literature and Literary Theory
  • Cultural Studies


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