Sunday, 18 January 2015
Momotaro story and the Wako pirates
Wokou (Chinese: 倭寇; pinyin: Wōkòu; Japanese: わこう Wakō; Korean: 왜구 Waegu), which literally translates to "Japanese pirates" or "dwarf pirates", were pirates who raided the coastlines of China, Japan and Korea. Wokou came from a mixture of ethnicities.
The term wokou is a combination of Wō (倭) referring to "dwarfs" or Japanese, and kòu (寇), meaning "bandit".
During the last time I was teaching in elementary school, I had to do the Momotaro story.
from wikipedia: According to the present form of the tale (dating to the Edo period), Momotarō came to Earth inside a giant peach, which was found floating down a river by an old, childless woman who was washing clothes there. The woman and her husband discovered the child when they tried to open the peach to eat it. The child explained that he had been sent by Heaven to be their son. The couple named him Momotarō, from momo (peach) and tarō (eldest son in the family).
Years later, Momotarō left his parents to fight a band of marauding oni (demons or ogres) on a distant island. En route, Momotarō met and befriended a talking dog, monkey, and pheasant, who agreed to help him in his quest. At the island, Momotarō and his animal friends penetrated the demons' fort and beat the band of demons into surrendering. Momotarō and his new friends returned home with the demons' plundered treasure and the demon chief as a captive. Momotarō and his family lived comfortably from then on.
Momotarō is strongly associated with Okayama, and his tale may have its origins there. The demon island (Onigashima (鬼ヶ島?)) of the story is sometimes associated with Megijima Island, an island in the Seto Inland Sea near Takamatsu, due to the vast manmade caves found on that island.
While I was teaching the same lesson for about two months, I made a comment which was misinterpreted that I compared the story to North Korea. The teacher spoke to the vice-principal who contacted my company and noted that they were not upset, but wanted to clarify what I had said.
Now, I remember reading in some of my history texts, and books, that the Wako pirates originated outside Japan, in the area that was also the same as where Momotaro is from. From Stephen Turnbull's "The Book of The Samurai: The Warrior Class of Japan. (Bison, London, 1982) On Pg 59 it notes that Japanese pirates, as well as Chinese and Koreans raided the coastal regions of Ming China from about 1368. Rice was the main treasure these pirates were after.
As to their actual ethnic identity, the wikipedia article notes:
The current prevailing theory is that of Shōsuke Murai, who demonstrated in 1988 that the early wokou came from multiple ethnic groups rather than one singular nation. Murai wrote that the wokou were "marginal men" living in politically unstable areas without national allegiances, akin to the Zomia thesis. Supporters of this theory point out that one of the early wokouleaders, Ajibaldo, was variously claimed by period sources to be Mongolian, Japanese, Korean, and an "islander"; his name is apparently Korean and Mongolian in origin.
So my mentioning of the link of Korea and Momotaro are not that far off. The idea of Oni, which translates as Devil or Orgre, reflects the attitude the Japanese had for those who were not of the Yamato race. The traditional ideas behind the story, can be reflected in the fact that the protagonist, embarks on a raid on an island where these onis live. The fact that Momotaro returns to his families village with the plunder the devils had taken, could perhaps also be viewed in this historical view of a pirate raid.
I have ordered the Osprey Publish work On the Seven Seas, which is a piracy wargamming book, which I shall be working on with future wargamming battles.