Thomas In Japan

A Collaborative Piece With The Admin Of Japan's Premier Thomas & Friends Fansite - Puff Puff Thomas - Explaining The History Of Thomas In Japan!

We are most humbled and honoured to have a special guest contribution by the admin of Puff Puff Thomas Fansite, KC, who has given us permission to publish his guide to Thomas’s history in Japan, where the brand has enjoyed enormous success in the last 25 years.  Puff Puff Thomas has adapted and published a number of Thomas & Friends Interviews and features here on Sodor Island Fansite for Japanese audiences, and this is the first exchange we have received back from him – and it’s quite a fascinating read!

Puff Puff Thomas Fansite is the Japanese equivalent of Sodor Island Fansite, and very much recommended by us for a visit if you’re interested in finding out about Thomas and Friends in this amazing country.  For us at SiF, it’s just lovely to know that somewhere out there, in a culture so different from your own, there’s people equally as passionate and dedicated, and through our association, I feel we’re bringing the fandom closer together.

 

In 1973, Kaye and Ward had brought The Rev Awdry's Railway Series books to Japan, thus beginning Thomas's association with the Japanese people.  The Japanese version of The Railway Series was translated by Kuwabara Saburou and Shimizu Shuyu. Genyuu Kuroiwa, an advisor at Keisei Electric Railway in those days, supervised the technical terms of the railway.  

 

Although all of the Rev Awdry's books were translated from Volume 1 to Volume 26, Christopher Awdry's stories from Volume 27 onwards are still not translated and / or published into Japanese language.

"Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends" appeared in Japanese television for the first time in April, 1990, as a segment of Japanese children's television show called "Hirake! Ponkikki", produced by Fuji television, a Japanese TV station.
 
From November, 1990, Thomas was serialized in the three children's magazines called "Mebae"(meaning "Sprout") and "baby book" and "Youchien" (meaning "Kindergarten").

In December in that year, the first Japanese Thomas The Tank Engine's book, "The Anime book of Thomas the Tank Engine" was published by Poplar Publishing Co Ltd. This book series was also published by Buzz Book in the UK from 1993.  The 1st volume of VHS series "Britt Allcroft's Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends" was also released by Fuji Television and distributed by Pony Canyon in March 1991. 

Unlike the British and American versions of the series, from the very beginning, Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends would incorporate a team of Japanese voice-actors as opposed to an individual storyteller. 
 
However, Britt Allcroft did take heart from her decision to hire Ringo Starr, and once again, well-known vocal talent was hired for Thomas's launch in Japan.  For the first eight seasons, Thomas himself was voiced by Keiko Toda, a well-known Japanese actress and Leo Morimoto, the storyteller, equally as famed in the country. 

The 2nd series began airing on Japanese TV in 1991, the same year that Sony Creative Products Inc. acquired Japanese master license for Thomas The Tank Engine, and have been handling the series capably ever since to maintain and expand it's presence in the Japanese market.
 
As a result, many new and exciting Thomas related toy lines were launched, like "Thomas the Tank Engine Departing Now Series", manufactured and sold by Bandai.

In December in that year, Hirake! Ponkicki aired a special program, "Thomas & The UK Trip". This program was aired in relation to the start of the 3rd series, which was aired from April 1992.  In March in that year, Tomy launched Plarail Thomas Series and in April, "Thomas Engine Collections"(Bandai Tecs), the die-cast toy series, was launched by Bandai.
 
In August, a new book "Shogakukan's Colour Wide Series of Thomas the tank Engine & Friends" was published by Shogakukan, a Japanese publisher. Contents in the book are similar to "Thomas & Friends Annual", published by Egmont in the UK.  Many pictures from the TV series, quizzes and stories appeared here, and the book was soon made into a series.

Mikoko Adachi from Fuji Television Network Inc, who spoke to the team behind The Thomas The Tank Engine Man in 1995, claimed that a lot of Japanese children and their families did not actually realise that the series had actually come from England. 

 

Britt Allcroft took pride in the fact that the stories and characters had been embraced by audiences in a country as diverse as Japan, and saw it as a great strength of the Rev. Awdry’s storytelling that Thomas and his friends could translate so easily to other cultures – particularly one as diverse as Japan, whose market value for Thomas products around the time was $170 million.

Thomas & The UK Trip was part of a special edition of Hirake! Ponkikki, which features exclusive footage shot especially for Japanese audiences where the characters from the show, Gachapin and Mukku, interact with the engines on Sodor as well as have a tour of the United Kingdom!
 

In October 1993, Hirake! Ponkicki was changed to a new show called "Ponkickies", and in 1995, 4th series of Thomas the Tank Engine started at this show. In July 1996, Ponkickies's crossover special "P-chan's Hello Thomas and James" was released on VHS, where another Japanese character went to the UK to meet Thomas and his friends.  This time, it featured the character, P-Chan, visiting the Mid-Hants Railway's Day Out With Thomas event.

 

In December 1997, Japanese new VHS series, "The best story of Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends which everybody chose" was released. This video series has five volumes, include "Best of Thomas", "Best of Percy", "Best of Gordon", "Best of Henry", and "Best of James & Edward".

In August 1998, Japanese first songs featured VHS, "Thomas the Tank Engine Sing-Along and Stories" was released. This video featured five songs and two episodes, however, all songs in this video were in English voice, not redubbed specifically for a Japanese audience.  

 

In July of that year, the world's first Thomas Theme Park "Thomas Land" was opened at Fuji-Q High Land park.  In December, the 5th Series began airing on Japanese TV.  

Japanese versions of the Thomas songs were later produced and released in December of 1999 on VHS and CD. 

 

In August of 2000, the first Japanese Thomas & Friends DVD series, "The first Complete works of Thomas The Tank Engine", launched with the 1st to 3rd series becoming available to the general public for the first time in the world ever on DVD.  On September 9th, "Thomas & the Magic Railroad" hit the big screen in Japan, and in December that year, Ponkickies crossover special "A Wonderful American Journey with Thomas and Connie" was released.  The popular Japanese toy series, "Wind up Thomas", made by Tomy, was also launched in that year. 

In 2001, Japanese satellite television station, "Fuji Television 721" began airing Thomas's first independent show in Japan, not aired as part of a larger programming block such as Hirake! Ponkicki.  This show would include eight stories and two or three songs as part of it's running time.
 
In December in that year, "The Second Complete works of Thomas The Tank Engine" DVD series, featured 4th and 5th series, was released. Learning Curve's "Thomas wooden railway" toy series was also launched in the same year.

Prior to the launch of Series 6 in Japan, a special free publication was made through Sony Creative Products called Thomas Express, which had details of the upcoming stories and the new characters that the audiences were due to meet such as Salty, Harvey and Elizabeth.

In December 2002, the 6th series began airing on "Ponkickies 21", the new series of "Ponkickies" show.  

 

And in March 2003, Thomas's presence as a live event expanded in Japan again with a Miniature Railway called "Thomas and James's Happy Train" being opened at Japan Monkey Park, an amusement park located in Inuyama, Aichi, Japan.  Sadly, this railway closed in January in 2009, for superannuation of the railway.

In March 2004, the 7th series began airing on TV - before the series went on a hiatus in Japan following the HIT Entertainment takeover.  But Thomas's much loved presence in Japan endured regardless, and despite not airing the eighth series in 2005, many products were released in commemoration of the 60th anniversary, including "The 60th anniversary memory, metallic Thomas" and "Commemorative stamp of Thomas & Friends", and ‘60th Anniversary Express of Thomas’ was serviced on Tokyo Touyoko Line from July 16 to August 21. From July 16 to August 31 in that year, "Thomas and Friends - The All Aboard Live Tour" was shown at Fuji Television's summer event, "King of Adventure in Odaiba".

In April 2006, the 8th series began airing on "Ponkicki", the new series of "Ponkickies", the first time that the new Thomas series had aired in Japan.  On August 23rd that year,  Thomas and Friends Wooden Railway created the longest toy train track for a Guinness World Record Attempt in Odaiba in Japan, and set a new record. 

 

HIT Entertainment bettered the achievement again in 2009 in Australia and again in 2010 at Fuji-Q Highland in Japan, home of Thomas Land.

In March 2007, "Ponkicki" ended due to poor viewing figures. As a result, Fuji Television Kids Entertainment Inc., the production company of "Ponkickies" series and a subsidiary company of Fuji Television, cancelled contract of all the broadcast licenses of overseas programs, including Thomas and Friends.

Accordingly, Japanese broadcast license of Thomas & Friends was changed over to Sony Creative Products. And In April 2008, the 9th series began airing as a segment of Children's TV show called "Norisuta", produced by TV Tokyo and Shogakukan-Shueisha Productions.

 

However, due to the changeover of broadcasting station, the entire Japanese voice cast for Thomas and Friends were changed, thus ending many of the original cast's association with the series. In August in the same year, 10th series began airing on the show, and In November, Japanese version of Calling All Engines was released.

In January 2009, Thomas & Friends began airing on Cartoon Network Japan, and in April, 11th series began airing on Norisuta with The Great Discovery receiving a cinematic release during the same month.  

 

From July 16th to August 30th this year, Thomas Saves the Day, a live stage show was performed all over Japan, and in September, Thomas Town, the second Thomas theme park in Japan was opened (Pictured left).

In April 2010, Hero of the Rails received a cinematic release and 13th series began airing in Japan, introducing the first character in Thomas & Friends to originate from Japan - Hiro, the Master Of The Railway.  Hiro was purposely created to give the Japanese audiences a mascot character who they could call their own. 

 

Quite appropriately, as Hero of the Rails was shown during 2010 in Japan, which was the 65th Anniversary year of The Three Railway Engines' publication, this movie became part of the 65th Anniversary Celebrations for that year in Japan - as opposed to Misty Island Rescue, which launched in the English-speaking countries in the autumn of that year.

 

Sadly, the 12th Series was bypassed and has not been broadcast in Japan due to the fear that the mixture of CGI and live action models may confuse child audiences.  The series has however been shown exclusively at the Thomas Land 3D Theatre.

In April 2011, Misty Island Rescue received its cinematic release in Japan, and in August, Thomas and Friends set yet another Guinness World Record – this time for the Longest Plastic Toy Train Track at Fuji Q Highland.

In 2012, Sony Creative Products changed over Thomas's Broadcast station from TV Tokyo to NHK, and the 14th to 16th series were aired by mixture from April in the same year. Day of The Diesels received its cinematic release in the same month.

 

In April 2013, Blue Mountain Mystery received its cinematic release.  The Japanese version of Blue Mountain Mystery has live-action segment in the beginning of the movie. The segment is similar to "Mr.Perkins" series, and Takahasi Hideki, a Japanese famous actor, appears as "Sir Takaboushi Hideki".

Puff Puff Thomas Fansite is very much the Sodor Island Fansite of the eastern world, bringing brilliant Thomas & Friends news, features and interviews to the Japanese people, and gained enormous popularity through doing so.  A lot of SiF Interviews and features have been lifted from here and translated to Japanese – however, there are a number of items which are of KC’s own creation, which are quite interesting to read when translated into English.  (It is recommended that you use Google Translate or an equivalent to read in English.)

The SiF Blog looks from a western perspective as to why such a rich and diverse culture like the Japanese, have grown to love and appreciate a British entity like Thomas so heartily, and KC gives his perspective and reasoning as a native.