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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Momotaro in Nakano ward

中野区の桃太郎

Okubo-dori Street walkway, Nakano ward, Tokyo.

Tokyo’s Nakano ward is just west of Shinjuku ward. Nakano Post Office is on Okubo-dori Street, which is too narrow to safely accommodate pedestrians. Therefore, there is a parallel walkway behind, and running all the way alongside, the row of houses lining the southern side of the street.

As you can see in the photo above, the walkway is done in paving stones. Every few meters there is a set of picture tiles depicting a scene.

The first four you come across walking from Nakano Post Office towards Shinjuku are scenes from the legend of Momotaro, or Peach Boy.

The legend of Momotaro is originally a fertility legend. An old woman washing her clothes by the river sees a giant peach floating by, and takes it home.

Momotaro legend: the old woman finds the peach.

In the original story, she eats a piece of it and suddenly finds herself magically restored to her youthful vigor. Her husband, after having to be convinced by her that she actually is his wife and not a stray young maiden, also eats some, and the same happens to him.

As would be expected, their sex life is also suddenly invigorated, and as a result of their subsequent copulation the wife becomes pregnant and gives birth to a boy they call Taro, a common traditional Japanese boy’s name. Momo-Taro literally translates as Peach-Taro.

As the word “peachy” in English also suggests, the peach, in Japanese culture, is symbolic of sex, its softness, roundness, and the cleavage it sports resembling a woman’s breasts or buttocks.

Momotaro legend: the old woman cuts open the peach and finds Momotaro.

However, it is believed that during the Meiji Period, the influence of Western “delicacy” surrounding the topic of sex saw the legend bowdlerized to become the one depicted on the Okubo-dori Street tiles, where the woman takes the peach open, cuts it open, and finds a ready-made boy inside.

Momotaro legend: Momotaro grows up to be very strong.

Momotaro grows up big and strong (seen here play fighting with his father). Momotaro eventually assembles a band of animal helpers who, together, make a journey to an ogre’s castle, and defeat him. Momotaro returns home with a massive booty and lives with his parents happily ever after.

Momotaro legend: Momotaro and his animal band goes off to fight the ogre.

Read more about Momotaro as the mascot of Okayama City, or about the Momotaro Festival in Inuyama in Aichi prefecture.

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