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Still spinning hits: 45-year-old jukebox in west Japan park booms in popularity

A jukebox is seen at Sumaura Sanjo Yuen Park in Kobe's Suma Ward on Nov. 10, 2021. (Mainichi/Atsuko Nakata)

KOBE -- A jukebox at a park in this western Japan city is attracting attention with the resurgence in popularity of analog records, which were replaced by CDs at the time.

    Many of the visitors to Sumaura Sanjo Yuen Park in Kobe's Suma Ward are coming to see the 45-year-old machine that still shines dazzlingly today. The jukebox is popular across generational divides, with comments ranging from, "It revives memories of my youth," to, "This is the first time I've seen one, and it's cool."

    The park, which opened in 1957, encapsulates the atmosphere of the Showa era (1926-1989) with items such as a "Carlator," a portmanteau of a car and an escalator, that carries people in iron baskets on a steep slope, and Space Invaders, which helped the video game boom. The jukebox on the first floor of the revolving observation tower matches these themes.

    A record player inside the jukebox plays music when a coin is inserted into the slot. The first jukebox ever was constructed by the Pacific Phonograph Co., an American firm, in 1889. Jukeboxes were introduced into Japan by the American occupation army after World War II, and they were installed at restaurants and bowling alleys in Japan.

    A Space Invaders arcade machine is seen in the revolving observation tower at Sumaura Sanjo Yuen Park in Kobe's Suma Ward on Nov. 10, 2021. (Mainichi/Atsuko Nakata)

    According to the Recording Industry Association of Japan (RIAJ), the number of domestically produced records, which was about 200 million in 1976, dropped to about 100,000 in 2009, after they were replaced by CDs.

    Meanwhile, the recent increase in the number of popular artists who released music with soft sounds -- which cannot be heard using digital mediums -- and new songs on vinyl helped boost a record production revival. The total number of records made in Japan was 1.09 million in 2020, more than a 10-fold increase over 10 years.

    The jukebox, installed at the park in 2007, was made in 1976 by the German Wurlitzer company. Sanyo Electric Railway Co. employee Wataru Nishizawa, 35, who has overseen the park's operation since 2019, said, "I think the movement of the machine as it mounts the record feels cool for young people. I hope people of all ages can enjoy it."

    Iron baskets on a "Carlator" are seen at Sumaura Sanjo Yuen Park in Kobe's Suma Ward on Nov. 10, 2021. (Mainichi/Atsuko Nakata)

    The jukebox at the park contains 160 songs, and two songs can be played for 100 yen (about 90 cents). Staff replace the songs every two to three months to suit certain themes, such as anime music, from the 3,500 records owned by the park. In addition to hit songs of the Showa era, such as "Kokoro no Tabi" and "Jidai," visitors can currently listen to Western songs from the 1960s to the 1990s, such as by ABBA and Michael Jackson.

    For more inquiries, please contact the park at 078-731-2520 (in Japanese).

    (Japanese original by Atsuko Nakata, Kobe Bureau)

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