The huge robot that saved a city
Tetsujin 28-go statue, Kobe, Japan
If you were around in the 1960s – or if you’re a fan of vintage comics – you might know the story of Gigantor, a huge flying robot controlled by a 12-year-old boy with a remote control. Gigantor was the international version of a Japanese anime called Tetsujin 28-go (not as catchy, right?).
The Japanese character was created by artist Mitsuteru Yokoyama, who was born in the city of Kobe. Unfortunately the character, being fictional, was unable to help when Kobe was hit by a devastating earthquake in 1995. More than 6,000 people lost their lives in the quake and there was about $100 billion dollars worth of damage.
But Gigantor (or Tetsujin 28-go, to be technically correct) has helped the city in other ways. A huge statue of the character was built in Kobe after the earthquake as part of an expansive project to rebuild and rejuvenate the area. The idea was to bring life to a damaged heart and bring visitors to damaged city.
The statue in the Nagata Ward stands 18 metres high. It dwarves everything around it and makes even grand buildings seem insignificant in comparison. It cost about 1.4 million dollars to build and weighs about 50 tons. Unveiled in 2009, it brings hundreds of visitors and tourists to Kobe every day.
It’s no surprise that it’s a comic character that was chosen as the subject for this statue. Aside from representing strength and hope, it reflects a national obsession with comics in Japan. They’re called ‘manga’ here – a word that has spread across the world as a definition for the particular style of Japanese comics. The stories aren’t just for kids. In fact, the majority of these manga books are read by adults and there are characters and styles to cater to almost every possible taste.
It is a huge industry in Japan and is worth about 6 billion dollars a year. Yes, you read that right, 6 billion. That’s not even taking into account the animated comics called ‘anime’ which are worth even more!
In Kobe, a small museum to the life of Gigantor’s creator, Mitsuteru Yokoyama, is just a short stroll away down the city’s main mall. It’s really only there because of the statue and gives visitors a bit more information about the character and the man behind it.
Throughout Japan, though, there are plenty of museums and exhibitions dedicated to manga generally and specific topics within the genres. As a foreign tourist, you may not appreciate the nuances of some of the displays but it is an excellent way to learn more about an aspect of Japanese society that really captures the passions of the people more than almost anything else.