Space Battleship Yamato‘s famous song playing at JR Kure Station, in a naval town, was proposed by a citizen.
The Story of the Station Melody
By Kaoru Mizusawa
Originally published October 17, 2021 by AERAdot. See the original article here.
The JR Kure Line is a local line that runs along the Seto Inland Sea. From the windows of a train, you can see the calm sea glittering in the sunshine and the floating shelves of oyster farms, a specialty of Hiroshima. At Kure Station, the hub of the line, the heroic melody of Space Battleship Yamato announces the approach of the train. As I listened to the song, I was reminded that this is the city where the battleship Yamato was built.
It used to be the home of the Navy. Now it is home to the Maritime Self-Defense Force and its educational facilities. I often come across young sailors in uniform who look like the sailors of the past. The Yamato Museum (Kure City Maritime Affairs Museum), which tells the history of the Battleship Yamato, is about a five-minute walk from the station. The symbol of the museum is a huge, 1/10 scale Battleship Yamato.
Before the Corona pandemic, the museum received 900,000 visitors a year from all over Japan. This museum depicts the lives of citizens during the Pacific War. It was also the setting for the movie In This Corner of the World. The vestiges of that time remaining here and there in the city make you feel as if you are slipping back in time to the days of the naval arsenal. The Yamato manga and theatrical anime were huge hits, and in this town, the Yamato melody blends in easily.
Approach melody proposed by a citizen
This melody was realized as a result of a citizen’s proposal. In 2012, a proposal to change the melody of Kure Station to Space Battleship Yamato won the gold prize in the “Everyone’s dream/idea contest” organized by Kure City. An affiliate of JR West produced the music, which has been played when trains approach the station since July 2013. The main melody is played for the “up” train heading for Mihara, and the prelude signals the “down” train heading for Hiroshima. (Hear both of them on Youtube here)
“The song has been well received by passengers using Kure Station, and we have gotten many compliments on it at the counter. In addition, we sometimes see Yamato fans and railroad enthusiasts taking photos.” (JR West Hiroshima Branch).
Kazunari Todaka, director of the Yamato Museum, said, “The melody of the song will make you sing along as soon as you hear it.”
The combination of Yu Aku and Hiroshi Miyagawa is a “masterpiece of the highest order.”
The theme song and melody were written by Hiroshi Miyagawa with lyrics by Yu Aku. Mr. Aku wrote the lyrics while intoxicated by Mr. Nishizaki’s passionate explanation of the project’s intentions.
“He was the first producer I’ve ever seen shed tears when explaining the climax,” he wrote in his book, The Age of Song: Songs and People. (Shinchosha)
Before his death, Mr. Aku said, “Yamato became a pioneer of animation and Japanese culture that I am proud to share with the world.”
In his book It’s Wonderful to be Young (Sankei Shimbun Publishing), Hiroshi Miyagawa said that the lyrics were “the best in the world” and “the song is my masterpiece, so I am more attached to it than others.” (Read the Yamato chapter from his book here.)
The melody is used as a cheering song for high school baseball games at Koshien and as a performance song for high school brass bands. The arrangement for brass band was made by his son, the composer Akira Miyagawa (pictured at left).
“I was in junior high school when the first anime aired,” Akira Miyagawa said. “My sister was watching Heidi on the TV in the living room, and I was watching Yamato on a black and white portable TV in my father’s room. I was really impressed. The next day at school, I told everyone about it and out of 90 students in my grade, only two were watching it (Laughs).”
Former military boy Hiroshi Miyagawa composes a “switch” song
Hiroshi Miyagawa had many hit songs such as Vacation of Love and Una Sera di Tokyo by The Peanuts. Many of his compositions are in the style of Mood songs or American pops, but the military-style Space Battleship Yamato is different. This has something to do with the fact that he was a child during the Pacific War and was a typical “military boy” at that time.
“My father was good at drawing,” Akira says, “and he used to draw Battleship Yamato with a pencil. So when he heard the word Yamato, it must have flipped some kind of switch in him.”
In the 1970s, the generation that experienced the Pacific War was still active. Among them were Yoshinobu Nishizaki, Yu Aku, and Hiroshi Miyagawa.
Akira said, “I heard that they rebuilt the story of the Pacific War by overlaying it with the image of a space battleship.”
When Akira was a high school student, he played the pipe organ for the soundtrack of the sequel movie Farewell to Yamato (released in 1978). After that, he went to Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music and became a composer. Since 2012, he has been in charge of composing the music for Yamato remakes. It seems that there is “DNA” between the composer and his son that comfortably connects them.
“My father and I had the same sensibility and mind, and we understood each other in some ways. As for Yamato, I have been able to spend a lot of time and effort to create music since my father’s time. There is a sense in the industry that Yamato became popular because of its music.”
Looking at the war from a different perspective – the Yamato Museum
The deep-rooted popularity of Space Battleship Yamato overlaps with nostalgia for the Battleship Yamato.
According to Director Todaka of the Yamato Museum, “It was the world’s largest warship at the time, equipped with 46cm cannons, but it sank without ever reaching its full potential. It fits the heart of Japanese people, who sympathize with a man of tragic fate. The beauty of the form is also attractive.”
The Battleship Yamato was the world’s largest warship, built in secret at the Kure Naval Arsenal in December 1941 using the most advanced technology of the time. In April 1945, on her way to Okinawa for a suicide mission, she was attacked by U.S. aircraft and sank. Of the 3,332 crew members on board, 3,056 died. After the war, its construction technology was applied to a wide range of fields such as the construction of large tankers and the production of automobiles and home appliances, supporting Japan’s recovery.
At the Yamato Museum, you can see a 1/10th scale model of the ship, a model of the cannon, and testimonies of survivors. The museum opened in 2005, the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, and Director Totaka, who is also a naval researcher, cooperated in preparations for its establishment. (See it in the Yamatour 2009 travelogue here.)
Initially, there was some criticism, such as, “Why build a facility that affirms the war in Hiroshima, where the atomic bomb fell?” But Mr. Todaka, the director of the museum, sought their understanding by positioning it as an educational facility that would convey the history and tragedy of war.
He said, “When I came to Hiroshima, I learned about the war as a victim at the A-bomb Dome. When you come to Kure City, I want you to think deeply about the war from a different perspective. In addition, I hope that by looking at the construction process at the Kure Naval Arsenal, we can unravel the history of Japanese industry and manufacturing.”
Of the 900,000 annual visitors to the museum before the Corona pandemic, 20,000 were school excursion students.
Few basic materials on the battleship Yamato remain. At the end of the war, the Navy burned all the documents for fear of leaking information to the U.S. military. There must have been thousands of photos of the ship’s construction records, but only a few were recovered.
After the war, a large lathe that was used to make the cannons was sold to a manufacturer who decided to preserve and exhibit it at the museum. A crowdfunding campaign was held, and 270 million yen had been raised by the end of September. The amount far exceeded the target of 100 million yen, confirming the popularity of the battleship Yamato.
The Future of Kure City and Yamato‘s Melody
The local economy of Kure City, however, is facing adversity. At the end of September, the blast furnace at the Kure District of the Setouchi Works (formerly Kure Works) of Nippon Steel Corporation closed its doors after about 60 years of operation. Half of the approximately 3,000 employees have been forced to relocate or find new jobs as a result of restructuring due to deteriorating management. The situation is not good due to the Corona pandemic.
Could the technology cultivated by the battleship Yamato be converted to a new industry in this area? If there were more attractions as a tourist spot, the number of visitors would increase. This is the impression I get when I walk around the town.
Akira Miyagawa recalls that his father’s ultimate dream was to become a poet. He said, “‘The song will remain after everyone who is alive today has been replaced. You don’t even have to know who wrote it, nor do your relatives. It’s exciting, isn’t it? It’s a grand adventure.”
The melody of Space Battleship Yamato played at the station is brave, but the music box-like sound is somehow soothing. I hope that it will continue to encourage the people of Kure and many others throughout the ages.