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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Momotaro Shrine Inuyama


Japan has all sorts of quirky shrines: phallic shrines, fox shrines, even a shrine partially submerged in the sea.

Momotaro bursts from the peach

Another bizarre shrine to add to the list is the Momotaro Shrine in Inuyama. The Momotaro legend is popular with children and it's kids and their parents and grandparents who make up the majority of visitors to this rather shabby shrine.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Momotaro fairy tale, there are a couple of versions.

Momotaro is the "Peach Boy" ("momo" means peach) found inside a giant peach floating down the river by an old woman and is then adopted by her and her husband becoming their son sent from heaven.

An earlier, racier version of the story has the old woman becoming rejuvenated back to being the sexy babe of her youth after eating part of a giant peach she finds floating in the river. Her husband is gobsmacked to discover this stunner when he returns home but he too, after eating part of the peach, is reinvigorated and the couple make love that night and the result is the birth of Momotaro nine months later.

The sexless version of the folk tale seems to have replaced the earlier story during the Meiji Period (1868-1912) when many former popular practices were "cleaned up" as the new, reformist government strove to appear "civilized" in the eyes of a prudish, Christian West.

A Devil - oni

Later in the story, Momotaro travels to the mythical island of Onigashima to destroy a group of oni (demons) living there. On the way, Momotaro joins up with a talking dog, a monkey and a pheasant, who are usually represented along with Momotaro in the many anime, manga and children's books about the hero.

The Momotaro legend is associated with Okayama in particular, and the town has a statue of the boy and his companions outside the main station. Okayama's manholes also portray this symbol of male vigor and courage.

As for the Momotaro Shrine in Inuyama, the place has definitely seen better days. The concrete statues need a lick of paint and many of the metal figures are rusting badly. There's a small museum (200 yen) off to the right of the main shrine building with a few chickens wandering around the rather sad children's swings and roundabout in the garden outside.

The kids don't seem to care, though.

Momotaro Shrine Museum, Inuyama

Momotaro Shrine
Tel: 0568 61 1586
Admission: free; 200 yen to enter the small museum

The Momotaro Shrine is located in Momotaro Park, north of Inuyama city on the banks of the Kiso River about 1km on from Jakko-in Temple. To reach the shrine take a taxi from the station about 1,500 yen, or it is a 4km walk.
The nearest stations to the Momotaro Shrine are Meitetsu Inuyama Yuen Station or Meitetsu Inuyama Station.
There are regular Meitetsu trains to Inuyama Station from Nagoya Station and Gifu. The journey from both cities takes around 35 minutes by express.

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