I have been conducting research about the Japan Air Lines flight JL123 (also known as JAL123) since 2007. The research not only covers the crash itself (you can find a summary here), but also the aftermath of the disaster and the way in which it impacted the lives of so many people around the world. A book on the subject, Dealing with Disaster in Japan: Responses to the Flight JL123 Crash, was published by Routledge in English in 2011. A second book, Osutaka: A Chronicle of Loss in the World’s Largest Single Plane Crash, related to the crash details the experiences of the father of the sole British victim and includes the diary and his photographs during his time in Japan as he went to identify his son’s remains. Recently, I have also written two articles related to the crash, see Developing a Model to Explain Modifications to Public Transportation Accident Memorials and one about disaster narratives, which includes discussion about the novels and dramatizations related to the crash.
2021 marks the 36th anniversary of the crash. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic (and with the trauma and problems many are facing around the world due to the virus, there are likely to be lessons to be learnt from what the JL123 families went through) many families have been unable to travel to Ueno-mura to go to Osutaka-no-One (the crash site) or Irei-no-Sono. I am also in the UK and will spend time reflecting on my own visits over previous years, thinking about all of the people I have met connected to the crash, and also keeping an eye on the news and social media about the crash.
This year, the anniversary comes only a few days after the Closing Ceremony for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics (luckily nothing like the story in my novel Tokyo 20/20 Vision happened). Although I didn’t follow many of the sporting events for one reason or another, I watched both the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, keeping an eye out for whether there would be anything relevant for discussing in the update to my book Japan: The Basics that I am working on now. What I wasn’t expecting was that there would be a link to my research about the JL123 crash, and indeed my presentation about Western pop music in Japan. The reason for the link? The song Ue-o-Muite Arukou by Kyu Sakamoto was played during the ceremony. This remains, under the completely unconnected title of Sukiyaki, the only Japanese song to top the charts in the USA.
You can see the original version (with English subtitles) of Ue-o-Muite Arukou on YouTube here:
Sakamoto (real name Hisashi Oshima), of course, died in the JL123 crash.
One of the things that is well known about the JL123 crash are that some people wrote notes (isho). Although I have come across suggestions that Sakamoto also wrote such a note, I have found no evidence to confirm this. You can read more about the notes here. I am also conducting some research about the notes and why people are interested in them – please see this post for more information and how to take part in the survey.
There are still many questions that remain about what happened in 1985 and I hope that one day we will finally find out the truth (see also this post). With so many B747s being retired, now would be a perfect opportunity to experiment on a real plane to see if the theory about what happened to JL123 holds up. I doubt anyone will do this, just as I doubt that the theory will hold up.
Let us never forget, plane crashes are about human lives rather than machinery.
May all of the victims Rest in Peace