The huge robot that saved a city

An enormous robot statue stands over this Japanese city, as if protecting it from something. But perhaps it has already saved the day!

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


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.

Tetsujin 28-go statue gigantor, large manga statue, Kobe, Japan

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.

Tetsujin 28-go statue gigantor, large manga statue, Kobe, Japan

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.

Tetsujin 28-go statue gigantor, large manga statue, Kobe, Japan

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.

Tetsujin 28-go statue gigantor, large manga statue, Kobe, Japan

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.

Tetsujin 28-go statue gigantor, large manga statue, Kobe, Japan
Tetsujin 28-go statue gigantor, large manga statue, Kobe, Japan

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.

21 thoughts on “The huge robot that saved a city”

  1. Neat. I am a big fan of Anime, which is actually one of my reasons to want to see Japan. I was so surprised to see a Gundam statue in Rotterdam last spring, but it was small, only 2 m compared to this guy’s 18m. Eesh. Japan would be great for that.
    I wish the manga and anime prices in the west were not so expensive. I would read more if they were more reasonable.

  2. There is something incredibly heart warming about your story and it’s heroic central figure! I love that a culture so passionately obsessed with Manga found a genuine comic book hero to lift their spirits and help them overcome such a devastating natural disaster. Brilliant post! 🙂

    • It is nice, isn’t it? I think Japanese people see manga characters almost as part of their society. The comics are so ingrained in their culture that it probably doesn’t seem quite as weird to have an enormous statue of one in the middle of a city.

    • It’s incredible, isn’t it? Although everything in Japan seems to have these ridiculous numbers associated with them. They’re so big on their fads and their oddities that everyone gets involved… it’s never just a niche. (I’m thinking of things like pachinko or video games or phone accessories!)

  3. We came across your article whilst in our hotel in Kobe and just had to visit! Your heartwarming story and brilliant pictures forced us off our asses and out exploring. What a great find! We loved the statue (took a million photos) and it was blessedly quiet when we visited! Thank you for sharing this piece! It’s made our trip to Kobe (we’re honeymooning in Japan atm) complete!


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