Many, many years ago, there lived in the mountains of Japan an honest old wood-cutter and his wife. They had no little children of their own and often the good woman would mourn about it, saying, “How happy we should be if we only had a little child.” And the good husband would answer her, “Yes, indeed, wife! I wish that we had a little son to grow up and care for us in our old age.”
Now these good people loved children and they were so kind to them that all the children in the neighborhood loved them dearly and liked to play near their home.
One fine morning, the old man went up on the mountain-side to gather fagots, while his wife went down to the river to wash the clothes. As was the custom, she spread out her clothes on the smooth white stones. As she was scrubbing and scrubbing, she saw a large peach come floating and tumbling along in the water. At last it caught among her clothes. Reaching out with a long bamboo-pole, the old woman drew it towards the bank and pulled it out.
“What a fine peach! I will take this home and give it to my husband,” she said. And she wrapped it in cool green leaves and putting it in a safe place upon the bank, she went on with her washing. As soon as she had finished her work, she carried home the peach.
When the sun was just going down, tinting the western sky with a rosy light, the old wood-cutter returned from the mountains carrying a great bunch of fagots upon his back. His wife had his supper spread for him and there, among the rice-cakes and fish, he saw the fine large peach.
“Why, where did you get that delicious peach?” asked the wood-cutter.
“It came floating along in the water and I fished it out with a bamboo pole, and brought it home for your supper,” answered the good woman.
“Bring a knife, wife, and we will cut it in two and share it,” said the wood-cutter.
Just as he cut the skin of the peach, it seemed to burst open and there, inside, lay a tiny little baby boy, smiling up at them.
“How wonderful!” gasped the woman. “Can it be possible that he is a real child?” And she touched him very gently with her finger. “Why, yes, he is alive.”
“It is indeed marvelous!” answered her husband. “He is truly a gift of love from the gods!”
The good woman lifted the tiny baby carefully out of his peach-cradle, and wrapping him in her apron, she rocked him tenderly in her arms. “We will call him Momotaro” (Little Peachling), said she, “for he was born in a peach.”
When the neighbors heard the news of this wonderful baby boy, they came from near and far to see him, and they rejoiced with the old couple.
The wood-cutter and his wife were devoted to Little Peachling and they brought him up as their own little son. He was always so good and kind that he made all about him happy and he was greatly beloved by all who knew him. He grew up to be a very strong and brave young man, and was absolutely without any fear.
One day, Peachling said to his parents, “I must start on a journey far away, today, and fight with the terrible Ogres that live on an island out in the sea. I have heard that they are very wicked and that for many years they have been robbing the people of their treasures, taking some of them as prisoners and shutting them up on this island. I feel that it is my duty to go out, and overcome these Ogres and set these poor people free and give them back the goods that have been stolen from them.”
From Little Peachling and other tales of old Japan by Georgene Faulkner.The P. F. Volland Company, New York, Joliet, Chicago, 1928.