I absolutely love Japanese legends and folklore, so when I heard of Momotaro being from Okayama I knew I’d be making the most of my trip to soak in everything I possibly could related to the story while I was there. I actually used to confuse the boys Momotaro and Kintaro quite often (please forgive my ignorance), so it was good to familiarise myself more with the legend so now this no longer happens.
To understand Momotaro we have to go back in time and first learn about another legend: Kibitsuhiko and Ura.
Once upon a time there was a prince called Momotaro who lived in the Yamato Province, he was young but was very good with a boy and arrow. One day he heard of rumours of fearsome ogres running rampant in Kibi Province and attacking the villagers, so he set off on a journey to defeat these ogres. Three retainers accompanied him and he gave nicknames to each of them; “Inu” (dog) for the one who was faithful, “Kiji” (pheasant) for the one who had a loyal heart and “Saru” (monkey) for the one who was clever.
Once he reached the Kibi Province he camped at Mount Kataokayama and fired arrows to the ogres living in Kinojo Castle. After a fierce battle, Ura, the chief of the ogres, was shot. Ura transformed into a bright red pheasant and flew away deep into the mountains but Momotaro also transformed into a hawk and chased after him. Just as he was about to catch the red pheasant, Ura transformed into a carp and jumped into a river, Momotaro then transformed into a cormorant and caught the carp.
One night several years after Ura’s death, Ura appeared in Momotaro’s dreams.
“Momotaro, I am not an ogre.”
In the dream, Ura told him he was a Prince of Kudara Province in the Korean Peninsula. After losing a battle with a neighbouring province, he escaped to Kibi Province together with his comrades. However, the fishermen mistook them for ogres and began to attack them, they had no choice but to escape to the mountains. It turns out that Ura was married to a woman from Kibi and the villagers didn’t hate Ura at all. Momotaro, upset about what he had done, decided to devote the rest of his life to ensure the happiness of the people in the province. He adopted the two characters 吉備 (Kibi) and from then on called himself “Kibitsuhiko”.
The Kibi Plain, the location of ancient Kibiji, has still today many of the locations that appear in the legend, most of them connected by a scenic bike route that also passes through rice fields, shrines and farmhouses. You can rent a bike from one end (Bizen-Ichinomiya Station) and cycle to the other side (Soja) to drop it off, this makes a very pleasant half-day trip!