3. How the Song Came Out

“Mothers at the Wharf” is a general term made by mass media for the mothers who waited,
longing for their sons to come back from Siberian detainment in a boat at the wharf of
Maizuru, Japan, after WWII, but it specifically became the title of a popular song and a
movie based on the story of Ise Tanno, one of those mothers. Such mothers were
everywhere whenever repatriation ships came back from Siberia; however, as time passed,
the same faces began to be recognized at the side of the wharf. When they were reported
as “Mothers at the Wharf,” the term spread very quickly all over Japan.
While listening to an interview by Ise Tanno, Masato Fujita, a lyricist, was thoroughly
moved by the ever-lasting love of a mother and was caught in an unspeakable resentment
against war. He immediately grabbed a pen. Trying to control the fury in his heart, he
finished writing the lyrics in no time. Namitatsu Hirakawa, who was given the lyrics, was
convinced of its genuine purpose and engaged in its musical composition staying up all
night, bringing it back to Fujita the next day. The song was immediately played for three
people in the company, the director, the head of the literary section, and Masato Fujita
himself. There was silence when it finished – it was because they were all in tears.
Realizing the impact of the song, they promptly began to work on publication of records.
Akiko Kukuchi, who was the exclusive vocalist for the company was chosen as the singer.
Soon the recording began, but Kikuchi burst into tears as soon as the prelude began – the
same thing happened again and again. Whenever she was going to sing for broadcasting
or at the theater, it was the same – she could not stop crying. She commented, “Most of
the people come to the wharf after notification by their families that sons would come back
from Siberia. However, there were some mothers who came to the wharf without such
notification, only with a belief that their sons would surely be back one day. When I think
about the tragedy of a mother who kept going to faraway Maizuru from Tokyo, as the part
of the lyrics say, “ just in case, just in case, he may be among those who come off of the
boat,” I cannot help crying.
In September, 1954, as soon as the record was published, the song deeply moved everyone
in Japan. At that time, the singer, Kikuchi, asked the writer of a magazine, Women’s Club,
to find the address of Tanno Ise and wrote to her to offer her record. The response came
and it said, “ Since I don’t have a record player to play it, please keep it until Shinji, my
son, comes back to me. I will be able to buy the player at that time.” Kikuchi then
purchased a portable record player herself and gave it as a present to Mrs. Tanno.
In 1972, when Yuriko Futaba, another singer, made another single record at King Record
Company, it became a huge hit of 2,500,000 copies including the numbers of LP records,
single records and tapes combined. Then it was dramatized as a movie in 1976 with
Tamao Nakamura as the main actress. Moreover, in 1977 it became a TV drama, “A
Mother at the Wharf” with Etsuko Ichihara as a heroine. The song is still cherished as a
special song of Yuriko Futaba. In 2013 Fuyumi Sakamoto, a current popular singer,
recorded this song and added to a newly published record of her own, inheriting this song
from Yuriko Futaba, her teacher.