Kintaro, often translated as "Golden Boy") is a folk hero from Japanese folklore. A child of superhuman strength, he was raised by a mountain hag on Mount Ashigara. He became friendly with the animals of the mountain, and later, after catching Shutendouji, the terror of the region around Mount Ooe, he became a loyal follower of Minamoto no Yorimitsu under the new name Sakata-no Kintoki. He is a popular figure in noh and kabuki drama, and it is a custom to put up a Kintaro doll on Boy's Day in the hope that boys will become equally brave and strong.
Kintaro is supposedly based on a real man, named Sakata Kintoki, who lived during the Heian-era and probably came from what is now the city of Minami-ashigara. He served as a retainer for the samurai Minamoto no Yorimitsu and became well known for his abilities as a warrior. As with many larger-than-life individuals, his legend has grown with time.
Several competing stories tell of Kintaro's childhood. In one, he was raised by his mother, Princess Yaegiri, daughter of a wealthy man named Shiman-choja, in the village of Jizodo, near Mount Kintoki. In a competing legend, his mother gave birth to him in what is now Sakata. She was forced to flee, however, due to fighting between her husband, a samurai named Sakata, and his uncle. She finally settled in the forests of Mount Kintoki to raise her son. Alternatively, Kintaro's real mother left the child in the wilds or died and left him an orphan, and he was raised by the mountain witch Yama-uba (one tale says Kintaro's mother raised him in the wilds, but due to her haggard appearance, she came to be called Yama-uba). In the most fanciful version of the tale, Yama-uba was Kintaro's mother, impregnated by a clap of thunder sent from a red dragon of Mount Ashigara.
The legends agree that even as a toddler, Kintar¨ was active and indefatigable, plump and ruddy, wearing only a bib with the kanji for "gold" on it. His only other accoutrement was a hatchet (ono and masakari). He was bossy to other children (or there simply were no other children in the forest), so his friends were mainly the animals of Mt. Kintoki and Mt. Ashigara. He was also phenomenally strong, able to smash rocks into pieces, uproot trees, and bend trunks like twigs. His animal friends served him as messengers and mounts, and some legends say that he even learned to speak their language. Several tales tell of Kintar¨os adventures, fighting monsters and demons, beating bears in sumo wrestling, and helping the local woodcutters fell trees.
As an adult, Kintaro changed his name to Sakata-no Kintoki. He met the samurai Minamoto no Yorimitsu as he passed through the area around Mt. Kintoki. Yorimitsu was impressed by Kintaro's enormous strength, so he took him as one of his personal retainers to live with him in Kyoto. Kintoki studied martial arts there and eventually became the chief of Yorimitsu's Shitenn¨ ("four braves"), renowned for his strength and martial prowess. He eventually went back for his mother and brought her to Kyoto as well.
In modern Japan
Kintaro is an extremely popular figure in Japan, and his image adorns everything from statues to storybooks, anime, manga to action figures. For example, the anime Golden Boy stars a character with the same name. Kintaro as an image is characterized with a Masakari ax, a Haragake Japanese-style apron and sometimes a tame bear.
Kintaro candy has been around since the Edo-era; no matter how the cylinder-shaped candy is cut, Kintaro¨'s face appears inside. Japanese tradition is to decorate the room of a newborn baby boy with Kintar¨ dolls on Children's Day (May 5) so that the child will grow up to be strong like the Golden Boy. A shrine dedicated to the folk hero lies at the foot of Mount Kintoki in the Hakone area near Tokyo. Nearby is a giant boulder that was supposedly chopped in half by the boy hero himself.
The name and certain traits of the main character of Gintama, Sakata Gintoki, are loosely based on Kintar¨. The relation has also been confirmed in Gintama's episode 98 and manga volume 10.
In the anime series Otogi Zoshi, Kintaro is one of the main characters.
The Imagin Kintaros from the tokusatsu series Kamen Rider Den-O is based on Kintaro, emulating the bear and axe elements.
In the video game Otogi 2 developed by From Software, Kintoki wields a large axe as his main weapon, known as the 'Crimson Axe'.
Kintaro appears as an alien character who rides a flying bear and wields a small (but large for his size) axe in the animated television series Urusei Yatsura.
In the anime and manga series The Prince of Tennis, a character by the name of Toyama Kintaro is the youngest regular member of the Shitenhoji Middle School tennis team. He is named after Kintaro, and shares his namesake's amazing superhuman strength.
In the series One Piece, the character called Sentoumaru has a design based on Kintaro (he wears the same clothes and wields a giant battle axe). Even his signature attacks is called Ashigara Dokkoi.
In the Power Instinct video game series, Kintaro appears as a playable character as Kintaro Kokuin. He uses his animal friends, such as a bear and a koi fish, as well as his axe, to attack the opponent, and is capable of transforming into a dog-like superhero named "Poochy".
In the video game Persona 4, Kintaro becomes a playable persona, under the name Kintoki-Douji. In a visual pun, instead of carrying an axe, it carries a Tomahawk missile.