Did you know Fukuyama City, located in Japan’s Hiroshima prefecture, owes its name in part to the bat? It all goes back to a famous mountain known as 蝙蝠山 komori yama or "bat mountain." The Japanese kanji 蝙 in 蝙蝠komori (bat) closely resembles the kanji for “good fortune”, 福 fuku, which is very auspicious when one is planning to build a castle. Fukuyama Castle 福山 is celebrating its 400th anniversary of being built on “bat mountain” this year and its emblem, created in 1917 in the shape of a bat and a mountain, served as the inspiration for a unique partnership: joining in sisterhood with the fictional city of Gotham from the DC Comics Batman universe. The signing ceremony, held at the Warner Bros Japan G.K. office in Tokyo, was attended by Tomohiro Doai, Vice President, CMO at Warner Brothers Japan, Fukuyama City Mayor Naotake Edahiro, and anime voice actor Jun Fukuyama.
Debuting in the 27th issue of Detective Comics in 1939, Batman and his iconic but troubled hometown of Gotham are known worldwide. The city name originally comes from Gotham (pronounced goat-em for “goat town”) in Nottinghamshire, England, a town with several 13th century tales about inhabitants of the town feigning madness in response to English monarch King John’s visit. Upon hearing of these tales in the early 1800s, American author Washington Irving wrote satirical versions starring the city of New York and its inhabitants, giving it the nickname of Gotham that years later would inspire the team behind Batman. Today New York has embraced the nickname, from organizations documenting the city’s history to popular comedy clubs the Joker would no doubt kill to headline at.
Before this recent sister city partnership, Batman’s ties to Japan were apparent in his fighting style, which incorporates many elements of stealth and surprise that are pillars of the Japanese ninjitsu tradition. This shows up in many of the comics, tv shows, and movies, including the 1992 episode “Night of the Ninja” from the Emmy award-winning Batman: The Animated Series tv show.
Fukuyama City also enjoys a sister city relationship with Maui County in Hawaiʻi, while Japan has seven sister city relationships with New York, including one between Tokyo and real-life Gotham, aka New York City. Japan has the most sister partnerships of any country in the world with the United States, with 444 partnerships. The first ever relationship between the United States and a city in the Indo-Pacific was with Japan, 10 years after World War II, St. Paul, Minnesota and Nagasaki on December 7, 1955 — the
anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Batman has enjoyed popularity from Japanese audiences since the 1960s when the original Batman tv series starring Adam West first aired there. Now with the newest film in the Batman universe, The Batman, set for release in Japan on March 11th, the time was ripe for Fukuyama to celebrate the good fortune of the bat and cement a relationship with the superhero whose symbol looks quite like their own emblem. For Gotham City, perhaps this relationship with another city who is watched over by a bat will bring it some much needed good fortune as well.
Sarah Wang is a Programs Coordinator at the East-West Center in Washington.