Visiting the Lucky Dragon

The boat behind Godzilla


In 2019, I had the privilege of visiting the Daigo Fukuryu Maru Exhibition Hall located in Yume no shima Park in Tokyo. The Daigo Fukuryu Maru translated the Lucky Dragon No. 5. The Lucky Dragon was a typical Japanese fishing boat from the 1950s making routine fishing runs into the sea. But on March 1, 1954 at 6:45AM, while sailing near the Bikini Atoll, her fisherman saw a great yellow flash in the sky. Their lives were forever changed by the hydrogen bomb test conducted by the United States on the atoll.

It was their story that inspired “the son of the atomic bomb… the nightmare created out of the darkness of the human soul, and the sacred best of the apocalypse monster.” These are the words of Toho Producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, who when he learned of the incident aboard a plane to Japan from Jakarta, Indonesia, brought their story to the silver screen through his monster who, like the fisherman, was covered in radioactive death ash. After 66 years of movie history, we are fortunate to have our favorite monster from Japan. But we must never forget the Lucky Dragon. Without that dragon we would not have our favorite dragon. Always remember Daigo Fukuryu Maru, her crew and their story.

When I learned that the Lucky Dragon No. 5 still exists and could be seen back in early 2019, it went to the top of the itinerary for my upcoming trip to Japan. My visit was sobering as reflected in that rainy misty day. The trip took 45-minute by train followed by a short walk to the exhibition hall. I followed a group of students walking ahead of me. The hall is towering and shaped like a sailing ship with the Lucky Dragon inside taking up almost the entire building. It is quiet inside like a library. And like a library, there was so much history to read, to take in, and to contemplate. The Lucky Dragon and her crew are thoroughly documented. I walked around the ship’s belly where visitors followed the ship’s unfurling story. There is the small bottle of death ash along with the ship’s calendar frozen on March 14, 1954. The exhibit details the lives and the experiences of the crew. Their story gives way to a world history of nuclear proliferation left in her wake. Visitors can climb stairs to examine the ship’s cabin and deck. There is a small gift shop and bookstore below the stairs. To greet visitors is a paper-cutout Godzilla situated atop bookshelves serving as a reminder of the monster’s origins and message.

For several months before my trip, I was doing research on the Lucky Dragon for an article in MyKaiju Magazine. The exhibit gave me so much more. For example, there was a display for Morse Code allowing visitors to send messages. I immediately thought of the ship officers in Gojira frantically sending an SOS message back to the Japanese mainland. Walking through the hall was like riding a time machine back to 1954 reliving that dreadful day and the following months leading up to the release of Tanaka’s monster on the big screen.

The opening moments of Gojira (1954) retells the story of that tragic March night aboard the Lucky Dragon No. 5, called the Eiko Maru in the film. Then the sudden bright flash of Gojira’s atomic radiation like that of the atomic flash of the Bikini Atoll test seen by the crew of the Lucky Dragon. Seeing the Lucky Dragon is like seeing the Eiko Maru, hearing the sounds of the fishermen’s harmonica playing before Godzilla appears. For this reason, Godzilla fans who visit Japan should visit the Lucky Dragon No. 5 now at home in its lair.