Night on the Galactic Railroad

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Night on the Galactic Railroad
AuthorKenji Miyazawa
Original title銀河鉄道の夜
TranslatorRoger Pulvers, Sarah Strong, John Bester, Joseph Sigrist[1]
GenreChildren's literature, fantasy, philosophical novel
Publication date
October 1934[2]

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,[1] is a classic Japanese fantasy novel by Kenji Miyazawa written around 1927. The nine-chapter novel was posthumously published by Bunpodō (文圃堂) in 1934 as part of Complete Works of Kenji Miyazawa Vol. 3 (『宮沢賢治全集』第三巻).[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 a 1985 anime film of the same title as well as various stage musicals and plays.

Plot summary[edit]

Giovanni is a lonely boy whose mother is bedridden with illness and whose father is said to be either away on a long fishing trip or serving a prison sentence. Giovanni does odd jobs after school such as helping the typesetter at the printers in order to buy food; his sister also contributes. His classmates regularly ridicule him for having once said his father will return soon and bring him an otter-skin coat.

During a science lesson, the teacher asks the class what the Milky Way is made of. Having read about this at the house of Campanella, his only friend, Giovanni knows it is composed of stars, but is too timid to say so. When called upon, Campanella also does not answer, to save Giovanni from embarrassment.

In the evening, the others prepare to attend the festival of stars. Giovanni hears that they did not receive their milk delivery that day, and heads to the dairy to fetch it for his mother. The elderly woman there tells him to try again later.

Giovanni runs into his classmates, who mock him again. He sees Campanella in the group, and Campanella gives him sympathetic looks. Giovanni goes alone to the top of a nearby hill and lies at the base of a "weather wheel" (天気輪).[1] As he gazes up at the Milky Way above, Giovanni finds himself with Campanella on board a steam train. The train travels past the Northern Cross and other stars across the galaxy, making several stops. A ticket inspector comes by at one point, and Campanella and the others show their tickets while Giovanni offers the piece of paper he finds in his pocket. They learn that it's a rare ticket that allows the holder to go anywhere with the train. The two boys witness amazing sights and meet various people, including scholars excavating a fossil from sands of white crystal, a man who catches herons and sells them as sweets, and passengers of a ship that sank after hitting an iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean. A child recounts the story behind Scorpio: a scorpion who preys on insects flees from a weasel and, after falling down a well, regrets not having sacrificed itself to feed the weasel, a good cause. It vowed to serve others in its next life, and its body burst into flames that still burn in the night sky.

When the train stops at the Southern Cross, the remaining other passengers disembark (for the Christian heaven), leaving only Giovanni and Campanella. Giovanni says that they should travel together forever, and vows to follow Scorpio's example of bringing happiness to others. However, as the train approaches Coalsack, a black hole, Campanella sees his mother waiting for him in a meadow (in the "true heaven" of his faith) that Giovanni is unable to see. Campanella vanishes from the train, leaving Giovanni weeping in despair. Campanella's father appears instead, thanking Giovanni for helping with his research and telling Giovanni not to keep looking for Campanella. Giovanni runs downhill towards home.

Giovanni wakes up back on the hilltop in tears. He returns to the dairy and collects the milk. As he passes the area from which his classmates set out earlier, he sees a crowd. They tell him that one of the boys fell from the boat into the river and that Campanella jumped in to save him. Giovanni speaks to Campanella's father, who says his son has been lost in the water too long to be saved. He says that he's received a letter from his friend, Giovanni's father, announcing he'll be home soon. Giovanni heads home to deliver this news and the milk to his mother.

Major themes[edit]

After Miyazawa's most beloved sister Toshi died in 1922, Miyazawa, in sorrow, went on a railroad trip to Karafuto. He started working on this novel soon afterward in 1924, and this trip is said to be the basis of the story.[5] 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 Guskō Budori no Denki.[6] Meanwhile, Suzuki (2004) interprets them as representing a "holistic thought of Ecosystem".[7]


Night on the Galactic Railroad, 1985 anime with protagonists depicted as cats

Manga and anime[edit]

Hiroshi Masumura released a manga adaptation of the novel in 1983 with Asahi Sonorama. The protagonists in the manga are anthropomorphic cats. The manga then was made into a 1985 anime film directed by Gisaburo Sugii based on a screenplay by Minoru Betsuyaku. It was released on July 13, 1985, and features Mayumi Tanaka as Giovanni and Chika Sakamoto as Campanella.

Stage adaptations[edit]

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.[8]

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 Railroad (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.

Illustrated e-book[edit]

Illustrated book with music was launched in 2011 as an application for iPad. Using the final fourth draft of Miyazawa's original as the source text, it has 272 pages. Apple Japan has recommended the Japanese version as an educational application.[citation needed]

Allusions in other works[edit]

  • 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 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).[9]
    • 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.
  • The story inspired Going Steady, a Japanese punk rock band, to create the song "Ginga Tetsudō no Yoru" (銀河鉄道の夜).
  • 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.
  • With the character of Matamune, the wise ghost of a cat often seen travelling by train in the afterlife and in the real world, manga artist 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).
  • 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.
  • Yakitate!! Japan 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. (This is only in the anime: in the manga, Pierrot is instead transported to the world of Galaxy Express 999, which was adapted from this work.)
  • 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.[10]
  • Daisuke Kashiwa's song "Stella" is program music based on the novel.[11]
  • Fantasy Railroad in the Stars (銀河鉄道の夜) by Kagaya Yutaka (DVD, 2007) latter is screened in planetariums. The DVD features the story of a boy dreaming of travelling by train through the Milky Way, and the story is narrated by the voice actress Kuwashima Houko.
  • Hikaru Utada's album Heart Station contains a song, "Take 5", which uses this novel as a basis for the lyrics.
  • Vocaloid producer sasakure.UK has a song titled "For Campanella" (sung by GUMI), based after the novel. GUMI supposedly sings from Giovanni's point of view and the song was written "for" Campanella.
  • The themes and character's actions of Night on the Galactic Railroad become a major plot point in the anime movie Book Girl.
  • The 2011 anime Mawaru-Penguindrum makes multiple references to both the book and the anime adaptation throughout, such as the red and blue colors associated with the main characters, the "Scorpion Fire" parable and the apple motif.
  • In the otome game Hatoful Boyfriend, and its sequel Holiday Star, the novel has been referred to both in the dialogue of the first game and served as the basis of the main plot in the second.
  • Since 2014, the railway operator JR East operates a steam-hauled excursion train called the SL Ginga on the Kamaishi Line in the Tohoku region, inspired by the novel.[12]
  • Night on the Galactic Railroad is the first play the titular character of the manga Kasane performs in by stealing her friend's face for one night, when she's a high school student. The play and the character's stellar performance as Giovanni will impact future developments and be referenced several times in the story afterwards.
  • The story and characters of Giovanni no Shima[13] have a deep connection to the book, referencing it several times to the point where characters are playing scenes of their counterparts in Miyazawa's story. The protagonist's names, Junpei and Kanta, originate from "Giovanni" and "Campanella" respectively.
  • Campanella is alluded to in Ryohgo Narita's light novel series Baccano!, in which one of his protagonists in the novels Ironic Light Orchestra and Crack Flag is named Monica Campanella. She also bears a similar fate to the original Campanella.
  • The novel is referenced several times in the 2015 film Maku ga Agaru, starring the Japanese idol group Momoiro Clover Z, besides being the main play that make the characters in the film.
  • In the eroge Wagamama High Spec, a play based on the book is written and performed by characters of the game.
  • In Over the Garden Wall, two brothers narrowly avoid being hit by a train only to fall into a river where they nearly drown, in allusion to the film's themes of both death by drowning and a train to the afterlife. There is also a bell that becomes significant in the film's final scene; Campanella is Italian for "bell".
  • In the visual novel A Sky Full of Stars, the book is mentioned in dialogue in relation to a character's eyes (Amanogawa Saya) and the double star Albireo.
  • In Shunji Iwai's 2016 film, A Bride for Rip Van Winkle, the book is mentioned by the protagonist as being her favorite when it is shown that her nickname for a social media account is "Campanella".
  • In the mobile game Magia Record, a spinoff to the anime Puella Magi Madoka Magica, there are multiple references to the book. For example, the doppels of the main characters Iroha and Yachiyo are named Giovanna and Campanella.
  • In the manga Act-Age, the main character, Yonagi Kei, and other secondary characters perform a theatre play version of the story, with Kei as Campanella.
  • In the visual novel Wonderful Everyday, an entire scene is a reference to the book.
  • Stray Sheep by Kenshi Yonezu contains a song titled "Campanella" named after a character in the novel. The lyrics are from the point of view of Zanelli (one of the bullies) after Campanella sacrifices himself to save him from drowning.[citation needed]
  • In episode 5 of the anime adaptation of Karakai Jōzu no Takagi-san (Teasing Master Takagi-san), Takagi is seen reading a copy of the book in the library before helping Nishikata study for a test.
  • DJ Unit Lyrical Lily from D4DJ released a song titled "Ginga Tetsudō no Yoru Ni" (銀河鉄道の夜に). The lyrics depict scenes from the novel.
  • In the ADV game Needy Girl Overdose (Needy Streamer Overload), one of the endings is a direct reference to the novel.

See also[edit]


1.^ A short pillar with a horizontal prayer wheel set in a slot at the center. These were once installed in Buddhist cemeteries and were ostensibly used for communicating with the spirits of the dead.


  1. ^ a b "Main English Translation of Kenji's Works". The World of Kenji Miyazawa. Laboratory for Inter-field Communication. Retrieved 2007-07-29.
  2. ^ 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. Archived from the original on November 15, 2002. Retrieved 2007-07-29.
  3. ^ Book card No. 456 (in Japanese). Aozora Bunko. Retrieved 2006-10-07.
  4. ^ Saitō J.; Takanashi M. & 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). Archived from the original on 2006-10-06. Retrieved 2006-10-07.
  5. ^ Saitō J.; Takanashi M. & 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.
  6. ^ Hasebe, Masahiko (September 11, 2000). "自己犠牲のテーマ (The Theme of Self Sacrifice)" (in Japanese). Archived from the original on November 19, 2007. Retrieved 2007-06-25.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ 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). Archived from the original on January 5, 2007. Retrieved 2006-10-08.
  9. ^ "One Hundred Japanese Books for Children (1946-1979)". International Institute for Children's Literature, Osaka. Retrieved 2006-10-07.
  10. ^ Amano, Kozue (January 2005). "Navigation 30: Night on the Galactic Railroad". Aria volume 6 (in Japanese). Mag Garden. ISBN 978-4-86127-110-6.
  11. ^ "kashiwa daisuke - program music i". noble. Retrieved 2009-12-01.
  12. ^ JR東:復元中のC58の列車名「SL銀河」に…来春運行 [JR East to name C58 train currently being restored "SL Ginga" - entering service next spring]. (in Japanese). Japan: The Mainichi Newspapers. 6 November 2013. Archived from the original on 2013-12-14. Retrieved 6 November 2013.
  13. ^ Giovanni's Island

External links[edit]


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[edit]

Theatrical adaptations[edit]