For CC readers in the U.S., of a certain age, this post title can be put to the tune of “Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie and Chevrolet”. Now I don’t want to make light of atom bombs; the results of using them are awful, and the effects of radiation exposure can be horrifying.
The first atomic bomb used in war, on August 6th, 1945, was in the city of Hiroshima. The blast wiped the center of town off the face of the map, down to the raw dirt. One structure was still standing in the central city, though it was a shell of a building, after the bombing. It later was dedicated as a peace memorial, and stands today as a relic and a reminder of what happened on that August day. It is estimated that about 140,000 people died, either from the blast itself or due to radiation poisoning. That represents about 40% of Hiroshima’s pre-bomb population. Has a city ever suffered such a high percentage of civilian casualties in modern wartime? Likely not. This is a story about the long-term recovery and rebirth of the city of Hiroshima, thanks in part to the production of cars and trucks. Fish and baseball play a part in our story as well, and they are all related, in this case. The recovery story could be told in six sentences or so, covering a couple of paragraphs with an attached graph, but the tale can be much richer and more meandering than that. Let’s take the long way around, pull in some odd aspects to it, and come out the other side of our story with a bit more under our belts, shall we?
Before World War Two, Hiroshima was the capital of the area prefecture (think county or state), with a long history along the river and the ocean. It was a trading center, and manufacturing began to grow in the city in the early 20th Century.
One start-up business, in the early 1920’s, was a maker of fishing net floats made of cork, among other things, named “Toyo Cork Kogyo Co, Ltd.”. It became the family business of the Matsuda family. In 1931, Toyo Kogyo, having dropped the cork business and “Cork” from its name, began to manufacture small three-wheeled trucks, branded “Mazda” (“Mazda” – a Zoroastrian deity of wisdom, while the family name, “Matsuda”, was very close in pronunciation).
Other Japanese cities were heavily bombed in World War Two, but Hiroshima avoided such a fate, at least until 1945. Rifles for the war effort were manufactured in the Toyo Kogyo factory, but different war materials produced in other Japanese cities were considered more important for the Allies to attack.
There are stories surrounding Toyo Kogyo, the Matsuda family, and the Bomb. One tale tells of Mr. Matsuda insisting on an early haircut, ahead of the others in the barber shop in the town center, as he needed to get to the factory. His early haircut got him out of town before the blast went off. Another has the Toyo Kogyo factory situated behind a couple of small hills, east of the city center, thus protecting the facility from the bomb blast. In any case, both the Matsuda patriarch and the production facility remained intact, ready to get back to work at the conclusion of the war.
The ornamental goldfish, known as “koi” or also “carp” in the Japanese language, holds a special place in the culture. Beginning in the early 19th Century, carp began to be bred for color and appearance in Japan. Wild carp was also a food staple, and both koi and wild carp are and were symbols of good fortune and perseverance. On the annual “Children’s Day” in Japan, on May 5th, carp kites or banners are flown around the country.
The oldest major structure in Hiroshima, called “Hiroshima Castle”, was also known as “Carp Castle”. Wild carp swimming in the water elements of the castle grounds were considered good luck and their presence was a symbol of good fortune. When the carp returned to the area of the destroyed Carp Castle in the late 1940s, after their absence for a few years, it was considered a sign of better days ahead. The surviving citizens of Hiroshima, eking out a living in a subsistence local economy, and trying to put their lives and their city back together, seized upon such symbols in a big way, more so than perhaps at other times and under better circumstances.
In the meantime, baseball had become popular in Japan in the 1920s, and teams were established in many major Japanese cities. These teams were typically owned by area companies, unlike sports teams in the U.S., which are almost always owned by wealthy individuals and families. Hiroshima, before the war, was a blue-collar working city and had not established a team. However, after the war, city leaders decided that a baseball team was a good way to help rebuild the city over time, and add happy occasions to the desperate lives of the citizenry. Unlike other cities, Hiroshima raised the funds necessary to field a team through public subscription, rather than through the largess of a corporate sponsor.
Here is where the various parts of the story begin to come together. The city leaders agreed to call the team the “Carp”, in honor of the local fish and their return to Hiroshima after the war. The public subscription was enough to field a team, but barely so. Players and coaches were recruited from neighborhood high schools and the local area (Hiroshima had an ongoing reputation as a source of great Japanese baseball players). Nevertheless, finances remained strained, and the team could barely pay its players or buy uniforms. The team consistently lost almost all of its games. One element of Japanese baseball, at the time, was that the team winning the game took home 70% of the gate receipts (ticket sales proceeds), and the losing team 30%. As this was the primary means of keeping the team financially intact and the bills paid, the losing record meant that the Carp took home relatively little from the ticket sales. A number of public subscriptions were offered, but a losing record and an ongoing desperate local economy meant that local financial offerings were few. The team finally resorted to placing empty sake barrels outside of the gates to the field (think halves of wine or whisky barrels). Donations on game days raised just enough additional money to keep the team from failure.
In the meantime, Toyo Kogyo, led by the Matsuda family, continued to build the small trucks, and added ever larger and more capable trucks to the line-up over time. The largest three-wheelers, the T-2000s, stood six and a half feet tall and could carry two tons on a twelve-foot truck bed. See CC Capsule: 1965 Mazda T1500 – Sumo Trike for more on these mega-mini trucks. Small cars, dubbed “kei” cars, were added to the mix in 1960. As Japanese prosperity increased in the 1960s, larger cars and trucks of new designs were added to the product line. As the largest employer in Hiroshima, Toyo Kogyo was vital to the economic recovery of the city, providing jobs and a means for people in the city to recover and prosper. The people of the city valued (and still value today) the manufacture of Mazda vehicles as an important element of the city.
The Hiroshima Carp baseball team continued to struggle on the field, but the financial circumstances had stabilized over time, though in an economically stringent sort of way, due to the unique civic ownership structure of the team. They usually lost the games on the field, but they were Hiroshima’s own team, and the city and the people made sure there was just enough to keep the team on the field. Come 1968, the ongoing success of the Toyo Kogyo company, and their cars and trucks, brought sponsorship to the baseball team, which was renamed the Hiroshima Toyo Carp (a name which, while the “Toyo” part is not generally used in conversation, is still the official name of the team today). “Toyo” is the first part of the “Toyo Kogyo” corporate name (which itself is long gone, other than as the “Toyo” element in the name of the baseball team). Keep in mind that Toyo Kogyo’s involvement remained as team sponsors, not team owners.
While the team uniforms had read “Carp” in various styles and colors over the years, the jerseys added “Toyo” to the left sleeve. In the early 1970s, a red-and-white color scheme and “Carp” logos were introduced, the bright colors being a bold move in tradition-bound Japanese baseball. The Carp players became known as the “Akaheru”, or “red helmets”. They also began to win games and they became quite competitive.
We know Mazda from the RX-7 and the other rotary-powered cars, and the later popular GLC/323 and the MX-5 Miata. But it was the three-wheel trucks and the kei cars that really established the brand. The rotaries put Mazda on the map in the U.S., but they also almost broke the company. Only banker forbearance and government support saved the day for Mazda (and for Hiroshima) in the mid-1970s.
Over time, the Matsuda family stepped away from its controlling holding in Toyo Kogyo, as significant portions of the company were sold to Ford. In 1984, the “Toyo Kogyo” name was dropped in favor of “Mazda Motors Corp”.
In the meantime, the Matsuda family had accumulated majority ownership in the Toyo Carp baseball team over the years. Again, this was unheard of in professional Japanese baseball, where corporations held majority interests in the teams. The Matsudas sold off the car business, but they kept the baseball team.
The Hiroshima Toyo Carp went on to win games and championships, and Mazda, the corporation, sponsored the construction of a new, state-of-the-art baseball stadium in 2009. The team is the pride of the city, which is fully decked out in red and white during baseball season, and especially on home game days. Tickets to the stadium are often hard to get, so popular is the team. It is said that the intensity of the fan stadium experience and support for their team is arguably unrivaled by any other baseball team in Japan, and perhaps in the world.
All is as right as can be in Hiroshima. The Peace Memorial still stands and receives visitors daily, and the city is prosperous and growing. The Hiroshima Toyo Carp, still owned by the Matsuda family, have risen to respected status in Japanese baseball circles, and the fans in Hiroshima really enjoy their baseball. Mazda has built a state-of-the-art factory complex east of town, and over a million Mazdas are built and sold each year.
And the wild carp, symbols of good fortune and perseverance, still ply the waters along the shores of the city of Hiroshima.