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Night on the Galactic Railroad (銀河鉄道の夜 Ginga Tetsudō no Yoru?), sometimes translated as Milky Way Railroad, Night Train to the Stars, or Fantasy Railroad In The Stars,[2] is a classic Japanese novel by Kenji Miyazawa written around 1927. The nine-chapter novel was posthumously published in 1934 as part of Complete Works of Kenji Miyazawa Vol. 3 (『宮沢賢治全集』第三巻?) published by Bunpodō (文圃堂?).[3] Four versions are known to be in existence, with the last one being the most famous among Japanese readers.[4]

The novel was adapted as an 1985 anime film of the same title, as well as various stage musicals and plays.

Plot summary

Giovanni is a boy from a poor family, working hard to feed his sick mother (who has contracted an unnamed disease). Because of this, he never has any free time, and is ridiculed by his peers (due to the fact he has very little to no relaxation time, and is somewhat of a social outcast). His kindly friend, Campanella, is the only one (apart from his mother and his sister, both of whom are never actually seen) who cares for him.

At school, in a science class, the teacher asks Giovanni what the Milky Way really is. Giovanni knows that they are stars, but cannot answer. The teacher asks Campanella, but he intentionally does not answer to save Giovanni from even more ridicule from his peers. During class, the local bully, Zanelli, says that Giovanni has been so absent-minded because his father has yet to come back from an expedition to the far north. Zanelli claims that Giovanni's father was arrested (because the trip was supposedly "illegal"), which angers Giovanni. Before he can give Zanelli a good punch, the bell rings, marking the end of the class. The teacher, after encouraging the students to attend the star festival occurring that night, lets everyone leave. Giovanni, however, stays behind to chat with the teacher.

After class, the teacher (another of Giovanni's friends) and Giovanni marvel at the fossils that Giovanni's father brought back from his expeditions. The teacher asks Giovanni if his father is back yet (this question is asked repeatedly throughout the movie). Giovanni responds no, and heads home to begin another long, lonely night of work at the local paper.

On that night (which marks a large festival), Giovanni runs into Zanelli. He makes fun of Giovanni, mocking him about a otter fur coat his father would give him when he comes back, and runs away to the festival. Giovanni can not go to the festival, because he has to take care of his mother, and do the chores that his sister did not.

Tired after a hard day's work, Giovanni lies down on top of a hill. He hears a strange sound, and finds himself in the path of a train. Luckily, the train stops. He gets on board, as does Campanella. Giovanni notices that Campanella is all wet. Giovanni asks why, and Campanella says he's not sure, but a flashback that shows him drowning suggests otherwise. The train travels through the Northern Cross and other stars in the Milky Way. Along the way, the two see fantastic sights and meet various people: for example, scholars excavating a fossil from white sands of crystal and a man who catches herons to make candies from them.

Children who were on a ship that crashed into an iceberg (possibly Titanic) get on the train at Aquila, suggesting that the train is transporting its passengers to their afterlife. The train arrives at the Southern Cross and all the other passengers get off the train, leaving only Giovanni and Campanella in the train. Giovanni promises Campanella to go on forever, together. But as the train approaches the Coalsack, Campanella disappears, leaving Giovanni behind.

Giovanni wakes up on top of the hill. He heads to the town, and finds out that Zanelli fell into the river from a boat. He was saved by Campanella who went into the water, but Campanella had not come up since then and is missing. Worried, Giovanni heads toward the river, in fear of what he already knows. His worries prove true, because Campanella has been under the water for a long duration of time, meaning he is dead. On the verge of tears, Giovanni tries to stay strong. Campanella's father (who didn't notice Giovanni at first) asks Giovanni to have his classmates come over to his home, after school tomorrow (for reasons unknown, though it seems likely that they are being called in for a formal funeral). Giovanni then makes a promise to stay strong throughout life, claiming that, no matter where he is, he and Campanella will always be together. He then heads home, to deliver milk to his mother.

Major themes

This story contains a religious question by author Kenji Miyazawa. The main theme of this story is "what is true happiness?"[5]

After Miyazawa's most beloved sister Toshi died in 1922, Miyazawa, in sorrow, went on a railroad trip to Sakhalin. He started working on this novel soon afterward in 1924, and this trip is said to be the basis of the story.[6] He kept on polishing the work steadily until his death in 1933. The middle part of the novel was never completed but was published as it is nevertheless.

A tribute to those who give themselves to others is a recurring theme throughout the storyline, and according to Hasebe (2000), they are reflections of Miyazawa's philosophy of self-sacrifice, a view appearing in many other juvenile novels of his such as Yodaka no Hoshi and Gusukōbudori no Denki.[7] Meanwhile, Suzuki (2004) interprets them as representing a "holistic thought of Ecosystem".[8]


Animated film

The story was made into an anime film in 1985 by director Gisaburo Sugii under Minoru Betsuyaku's screenplay. The anime features Mayumi Tanaka as Giovanni and Chika Sakamoto as Campanella.

The most prominent but controversial alteration made in the anime is that the main two characters (and their classmates) are depicted as cats. Some other characters such as the children from the ship are humans.

Many members of the anime staff ultimately went on to high-profile careers as directors or as studio founders, such as Kōichi Mashimo, then a storyboard artist, who more than ten years later would go on to form the famed studio Bee Train.

The English dubbed version in 2001 starred Veronica Taylor as Giovanni and Crispin Freeman as Campanella.

The captions throughout the film are in Esperanto, paying homage to Kenji Miyazawa who was strongly interested in the language. In the language, the film is called Nokto de la Galaksia Fervojo. Texts appearing in various scenes are also written in Esperanto, such as writings on the blackboard in the classroom. An apparent extra at press in the printing house—where Giovanni works—tells the shipwreck of a passenger ship, carrying the Esperanto lyric of "Nearer, My God, to Thee".

The film soundtrack was composed by YMO member Haruomi Hosono.

Theatrical works

Playwright Sō Kitamura made the story into a drama titled Sōkō: Night on the Galactic Railroad (想稿・銀河鉄道の夜?). Note that 想稿 could be a play on the word sōkō (草稿?, "rough draft") and the character 想 (?) carrying meanings such as "conception" or "idea". Premièred in 1986, the play was performed by Kitamura's theatrical company Project Navi.[9]

A part in a 2002 play consisting of various works by Kenji The Account of Kenji Island Exploration (賢治島探検記 Kenji-tō Tankenki?) written by Yutaka Narui for a theatrical company Caramelbox, features the story by the name of Night on the Light Speed Galactic Rairoad (光速銀河鉄道の夜 Kōsoku Ginga Tetsudō no Yoru?). It follows through the episodes in the novel rather briefly. The play also includes some lines by Professor Burukaniro, which appear only in the first three versions of the novel.

Warabiza, a performing arts company in Akita Prefecture, made a musical version of the story. The musical premièred in April 2004 and toured around Japan until March 2007.

Allusions in other works

The idea of a steam locomotive running through the stars inspired Leiji Matsumoto to create his famous manga, Galaxy Express 999 (whose literal Japanese title is Ginga Tetsudō 999, possibly in reference to the Japanese title of the novel).[10]

In the Tōhoku region of Japan where Kenji Miyazawa grew up, there is a real-life train line of similar name: Iwate Galaxy Railway Line (いわて銀河鉄道線 Iwate Ginga Tetsudō sen?), running from Morioka Station to Metoki Station.

The story inspired Going Steady, a Japanese punk rock band, to create the song "Ginga Tetsudō no Yoru" (銀河鉄道の夜?).

This book is also heavily mentioned and referenced in the anime Hanbun no Tsuki ga Noboru Sora (Looking up at the half-moon), as a book that Akiba Rika's father gave to her.

A character in the light novel .hack//AI buster remarks that he took his online handle, Albireo, because he was so affected by Miyazawa's description of the binary star Albireo. The book is referenced once more during a discussion on how much stories can change from the first draft to the final draft, due to the various different versions of Night on the Galactic Railroad.

Utada Hikaru's new album Heart Station contains a song, "Take 5", that uses this novel as a basis for the lyrics.

In the manga Aria by Kozue Amano, a human character, Akari, imagines that a nighttime train is the Galaxy Express from the novel. The next night she is given a ticket to ride it by a cat and nearly gets on it but donates the ticket to a kitten. Aside from Akari, the conductor and all the passengers are cats, similar to the movie.[11]

Yakitate!! Japan, a popular manga and anime series has a short mention of the work as illustrated in the reaction of the judge pierrot, the world class clown, after eating the bread of shadow who promised it would send him across the galaxy to see his mother. It is shown that the characters mother's favorite book is the same piece of literature; she is shown in a painting holding the book.

In the manga and anime Doraemon, Nobita Nobi once mistook the novel for being Leiji Matsumoto's manga, since both contain "Ginga Tetsudō" in the title.

Kashiwa Daisuke's song "Stella" is program music based on the novel.[12]

Through the character of Matamune, the wise ghost of a cat often seen travelling by train in the afterlife and in the real world, mangaka Hiroyuki Takei introduced his own vision of Miyazawa's story in the manga Shaman King. The wise cat is even seen reading the book by Miyazawa in tome 19 (chapter 164).

The themes and character's actions of Night on the Galactic Railroad become a major plot point in the Anime movie Book Girl


  1. Ohyama, Takashi (December 30, 1997). "「宮沢賢治受容史年表」からの報告(1)". 賢治研究 (in Japanese) 74. ISSN 0913-5197. Retrieved 2007-07-29. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Main English Translation of Kenji's Works". The World of Kenji Miyazawa. Laboratory for Inter-field Communication. Retrieved 2007-07-29. 
  3. "Book card No. 456" (in Japanese). Aozora Bunko. Retrieved 2006-10-07. 
  4. Saitō J., Takanashi M., and Matsumoto R. "「銀河鉄道の夜」の本文を読む (Reading the Text of "Night on the Galactic Railroad")". 賢治の見た夢〜銀河鉄道の夜〜 (The Dream Kenji Saw: Night on the Galactic Railroad) (in Japanese). Retrieved 2006-10-07. 
  5. Ginga Tetsudou No Yoru by Eri Izawa
  6. Saitō J., Takanashi M., and Matsumoto R. "「銀河鉄道の夜」とは (What was "Night on the Galactic Railroad"?)". 賢治の見た夢〜銀河鉄道の夜〜 (The Dream Kenji Saw: Night on the Galactic Railroad) (in Japanese). Retrieved 2006-10-07. 
  7. Hasebe, Masahiko (September 11, 2000). "自己犠牲のテーマ (The Theme of Self Sacrifice)" (in Japanese). Retrieved 2007-06-25. 
  8. Suzuki, Sadami (January 14, 2004). "Japanese Studies Today, and two proposals to synthesize natural and human sciences". The 9th International Symposium on Internationalization of Basic Researches in Japan. Hayama: Sokendai.
  9. Manekineko (November 2, 2002). "Project Navi Presents 70 "Sōkō: Night on the Galactic Railroad ver. 3.2"". 演劇◎定点カメラ (Engeki: Teiten Kamera?) (in Japanese). Retrieved 2006-10-08. 
  10. "One Hundred Japanese Books for Children (1946-1979)". International Institute for Children's Literature, Osaka. Retrieved 2006-10-07.  External link in |publisher= (help)
  11. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'Module:Citation/CS1/Suggestions' not found.
  12. "kashiwa daisuke - program music i". noble. Retrieved 2009-12-01.  External link in |publisher= (help)

External links

Novel related

As copyright for the novel has expired in Japan (and most of the world), Aozora Bunko distributes full text of the novel for free.

Anime adaptations

Theatrical adaptations

eo:Nokto de la Galaksia Fervojo th:รถไฟสายทางช้างเผือก zh:銀河鐵道之夜