The seaside city where Godzilla found a home

The seaside city where Godzilla found a home

by Shunpei Takeuchi
Stripes Okinawa

YOKOSUKA, Japan — The "Godzilla" series started in 1954. In the middle of the first film, a warning is broadcast as the nation braces for attack by the giant monster: "Godzilla has been detected undersea 15 miles northeast of Kannonzaki cape, moving toward the northwest."

Spotted first off the cape in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, Godzilla lands on Tokyo's Shibaura waterfront, sweeps away high-voltage barbed-wire fences, stomps off unscathed by a barrage of bombardments and soon turns the bustling Shimbashi and Ginza districts into a sea of fire.

In other words, the monster never set foot on the grounds of Yokosuka or destroyed the port city. Even so, Yokosukans strongly feel Godzilla still has a deep connection with their city.

The late Shigeo Kimura, president of now-defunct Yokohama-based travel agency Kannonzaki Kanko, initiated a project. His 70-year-old son Hideo says his father had the idea of building a Godzilla-shaped slide in the city after watching the scene of the alert broadcast in the film when he went to see it with Hideo, who was a primary school student back then.

At that time, the city's Kannonzaki area, including Tatara Beach, was a popular destination for excursions, but its only attraction back then was a lighthouse. Shigeo therefore expected the project would turn the area into a popular tourist spot where children could play safely, according to Hideo.

However, Shigeo could not get permission to use the character. In 1958, he instead built a slide of a "dinosaur," labeling it as a "Tyrannosaurus." However, children reacted to the object by saying, "Godzilla's on Tatara Beach," and news of a Godzilla slide spread by word of mouth.

For 15 years after that, the dinosaur-shaped slide was a popular piece of equipment for children to play on at the beach until it was torn down due to the wear and tear of age and corrosion by salty winds. The slide also helped connect Yokosuka and Godzilla.

"Amid postwar uncertainty, my father spent all his efforts to make this area a safe and peaceful place, while trying to boost local tourism. But I never expected that this place would become so famous for Godzilla," Hideo said.

In a bid to re-create the beloved slide, members of Yokosuka's Young Entrepreneurs Group (YEG) stepped up 20 years after the original side was torn down.

Kiyoshi Tanimoto, who used to play on the slide on the beach, took the initiative in the hope of creating "a new landmark in Yokosuka." The project was launched in 1994.

YEG members collected about 113,000 signatures to ask Toho Co., the copyright holder of the "Godzilla" series, for permission to use the character, while soliciting financial support from citizens and companies in a bid to set up a slide. Kurihama Flower Park in Yokosuka, about five kilometers from Tatara Beach, was picked as the location for the new slide.

The new slide was unveiled on Nov. 3, 1999, the 45th anniversary of the release of the first "Godzilla" film. As the National Defense Academy's brass band played, the Godzilla slide was unveiled, revealing a design supervised by Koichi Kawakita, who had directed the special effects in the series.

The 8.75-meter-high, 10.04-meter-long object weighs five tons. The plates that surround the slide's foundation bear an illustration of Godzilla and are engraved with the copyright "©1999 TOHO TOHO EIGA."

"This really is the fruit of our passion. There is no other moment that was more satisfying than that," Tanimoto said.

The Godzilla theme song is used as the melody of Keikyu railway's Uraga Station, near Tatara Beach. Godzilla thus is certainly taking root in Yokosuka.

"Shin Godzilla," the first Japanese Godzilla movie in 12 years, is scheduled to open in July.

"We'd like to make the resurgent Godzilla slide a source of pride in our hometown and cherish it for a long time," Tanimoto said.

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