Momotarō (桃太郎, "Peach Boy") is a famous folktale recounting the adventures of a boy born from a peach found by an elderly woman washing clothes on a riverbank. When she and her husband try to eat the peach, they discover Momotarō who claims to be sent from heaven to be their son. He is adopted by the couple. Maturing quickly, he soon leaves the couple together to fight off a band of ogres (鬼 oni). On his way to their island, he meets a dog, a pheasant, and a monkey who join him. Conquering Ogre Island (鬼ヶ島 Onigashima), Momotarō returns home with treasures for his foster parents.
Suzuki Harunobu (鈴木 春信; c. 1725-1770): ukiyo-e depicting Momotarō returning with treasures after slaying the demons on Onigashima.
The tale existed in various version and became widely popular in its present form in the Edo Era (1600-1868) through a genre of literature called kusazōshi (草双紙). Similar tales of children of unusual birth performing remarkable deeds against all the odds are found throughout Japan, including the tales of
- Kaguyahime (竹取物語 Taketori Monogatari, "The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter")
- Oyayubitarō (おやゆび太郎, "The Boy as Small as a Thumb")
- Issumbōshi (一寸法師, "One-Inch Boy").
All of these tales fall under the category of Chiisako Monogatari (stories of tiny children). Momotarō also belongs to the genre of hyōchakutan (tales of being washed ashore) in which children endowed with supernatural powers by gods beyond the sea or far upstream bring great fortune to the human world - a genre of folktales typically found among people living close to the water.
Cover of Hasegawa Takejirō's (長谷川武次郎, 1853–1938) "Little Peachling" (1885)
Statue of Momotarō in front of JR Okayama Station