The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

Ōarai, Ibaraki: Home of Girls und Panzer

“There is never just one thing that leads to success for anyone. I feel it always a combination of passion, dedication, hard work, and being in the right place at the right time.” —Lauren Conrad

The last major anime locations post I did was published more than a year ago, for Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka?, which was set in Colmar, France. In this post, we return to the Eastern coast of Japan just north of Tokyo in the Kantō region — it is no secret that the prefecture of Ibaraki is home to Ōarai-machi (大洗町), the setting for the series Girls und Panzer. In no small part thanks to Girls und Panzer, tourism in the town of Ōarai (which I’ve romanised everywhere else on this blog as Ooarai for convenience’s sake) has been bolstered by fans of the series, who’ve come to visit locations that feature predominantly in the anime. While Ōarai in Girls und Panzer plays host to several Panzerfahren matches, the economy of Ōarai in reality is powered by agriculture and fishing: rice and sweet potatoes, along with flounder, sardines, clams and whitebait are major products from the region (as Anzu’s penchent for dried sweet potatoes can attest). In addition, the Japan Atomic Energy Agency also operates a research center in Ōarai. The town of Ōarai was created from the merger between two villages in the Higashiibaraki district, Ōnuki and Isohama, on November 3, 1954: previously the two villages were established on April 1, 1889. Less than a year later, on July 23, 1955, Natsumi (a village in the Kashima district) was annexed by Ōarai and incorporated into the town.

  • It seems appropriate to kick this post off with an image of Ōarai station. Opened in 1985, the station serves an average of around 2690 passengers daily and is situation 11.6 kilometers from the terminal in Mito. This is one of the larger location posts I’ve made, featuring thirty images of the real world location and their corresponding depictions within Girls und Panzer for a total of sixty images. In keeping with the formatting of the other location posts, each real world image is followed by a figure caption, and the anime equivalent is posted below.

  • The building seen here during the finale, when Miho and the others ride through Ōarai following their victory at the championships. A cursory glance shows just how faithfully details are reproduced, with colours and even text closely matching the real-world equivalent. A Kumon tutoring branch can be seen here: I see branches in my country, and a looking further, the company’s origins date to 1958, when Toru Kumon’s son fared poorly in mathematics. Drafting hand-written notes, his son gradually became more adept in mathematics, and caught the neighbours’ attention. Today, the tutoring company is headquartered in Osaka and has locations in forty-nine countries.

  • In an earlier post, I remarked that I would not be keen on sifting through Google Maps to locate every spot in Ōarai, but I will occasionally do so here. This particular intersection is located at 大洗駅前通り and 県道106号線: the elevated rail carrying the Kashima Rinkai Railway Ōarai Kashima Line can be seen in the background here; the differences in lighting suggest that Miho and the others return to Ōarai by morning.

  • A very large majority of the scenes from Girls und Panzer set in Ōarai can be found in the third, fourth, seventh and final episodes: most of the events of Girls und Panzer are set aboard a vast carrier known as school ships in-universe. These gargantuan sea-faring vessels are self-contained towns helmed by students with the aim of preparing them for the duties of adulthood, and one of the OVAs, “School ship war”, deals with life aboard such ships in a manner reminiscent of Discovery Channel’s Mighty Ships.

  • The narrow streets of Ōarai provide a very claustrophobic environment for armoured combat: modern doctrine does not encourage the use of main battle tanks in armoured settings, since the buildings offer opponents places of cover, and also make it much easier to conceal anti-armour weapons, whether they be RPGs or IEDs. Instead, for an urban setting, IFVs and assault guns would be better suited for engaging infantry. Miho’s preferred tactic is to lure her opponents into urban settings with plenty of cover, knowing it will throw them off.

  • During Ōarai’s first match against St. Glorianna, a majority of Ōarai is cordoned off in order to provide the tanks with an urban environment, and below, a peace officier sets up a sign in front of several shops: the one with the colourful storefront appears to be a grocery shop, and again, a comparison between the two images illustrates the level of detail that went into replicating the scenery in Ōarai for Girls und Panzer.

  • The road to the brick structure visible here, for instance, is actually adjacent to the Brian Ōarai Store and a bakery of sorts. The building’s shutters here are closed, suggesting that much of the area has been cleared to facilitate the match, although the relative lack of shadows in the anime incarnation of the location shows that even in something like Girls und Panzer, not all locations can be rendered with the same graphical fidelity as something like Your Name.

  • This is another angle of the same location where Miho manages to make use of the close quarters to quickly dispatch a handful of the Matilda II tanks. At this point in their career, Ōarai Girls’ tankers are quite inexperienced and lose handily to St. Glorianna, even with Miho’s formidable skills in their corner providing a number of their kills. A part of the joy in watching Girls und Panzer was watching Miho’s leadership helping the different teams grow and unify under her direction, while at the same time, seeing Miho re-discover her love for Panzerfahren thanks to the environment her teammates cultivate.

  • The actual street is more densely built than the anime portrayal; the latter gives a much greater sense of space compared to the real world, but these locations do indeed match up: as the real-world image illustrates, it’s directly behind the brick building, and the house behind have very similar designs. The major difference, besides density, is the fact that the grassy field is not fenced off in Girls und Panzer. Placements of shadows suggest that it is late morning or early in the afternoon.

  • The final stages of the exhibition match are settled at this intersection, and while Miho risks a maneouver to reach the Churchill’s rear, her main gun does not pack enough punch to score a mission-killing hit on Darjeeling’s Churchill. Miho later uses the same technique against Black Forest to defeat Maho’s Tiger I, and again in the movie to overcome Alice’s Centurion. The realism of the armoured combat in Girls und Panzer is the subject of no small debate, but I’ve generally chosen to remain a spectator, preferring to focus on the anime’s overarching themes.

  • In the seventh episode, Miho and her friends return to Ōarai’s ferry terminal after visiting Mako’s grandmother. They travel through the streets of Ōarai by evening, and in the distance, the Ōarai Marine Tower is visible. Even with the low lighting, the details in the anime replication of the actual town is apparent, whether it be the small symbols on the house in the foreground,  or the placement of fliers on the telephone poles and vegetation growing out of the sidewalks.

  • A vacant lot adjacent to a Panasonic store serves as the site for some vendors to set up their stands on the day of the exhibition match. Careful inspection of the sign above the storefront shows that in Girls und Panzer, the brand “Panasonic” has been swapped out for “Nanasonic”: shows usually make use of this technique if they wish to present a product similar to that of a real-world brand without going through the procedure in order to acquire the permissions to use the brand, although there are some cases where shows may use brand name products with the company’s endorsement.

  • The sign welcoming visitors to Ōarai is visible from near the town’s post office, leading to the ferry terminal. I live somewhere landlocked, so there are no ferries: the nearest substantial body of water is the Pacific Ocean, and there are ferries that move between Vancouver and Vancouver Island. I’ve not visited Vancouver Island and Victoria for quite some time, but the island does seem quite picturesque for driving around on. At some point, I should rent a vehicle and drive the island.

  • The complex visible in this image is the Resort Outlet Ōarai, a shopping center near the Ōarai Marine Tower. Miho and her friends visit this facility to purchase swimsuits during the “Water War” OVA, as well as to relax in the aftermath of their match against St. Gloriana. The location also serves as the main event centre during this match, where Ōarai’s citizens congregate to watch the first match hosted locally in quite some time. Inspection of this image shows again that details are faithfully reproduced, whether it be the placement of rooftop chimneys or the number of arches in the buildings.

  • Sixty meters in height, the Ōarai Marine Tower is one of the tallest structures in the area. It provides a beautiful panorama of the area surrounding the town, and also serves excellent ice cream. With an admissions cost of less than 10 CAD, it’s a ways more inexpensive than the 18 CAD for ascending the Calgary Tower. While eclipsed by several buildings downtown, the Calgary Tower continues to offer an impressive view of the Calgary skyline: visiting the Calgary Tower is less costly than the 168 HKD (roughly 28 CAD) for an adult ticket to visit Hong Kong’s Sky 100 Observation Deck.

  • While the Resort Outlet Ōarai is perhaps a quieter mall, its staff are very friendly, and the mall’s proximity to the ocean, coupled with a playground, makes it a suitable point for families to visit. Since Girls und Panzer aired, there’s a small diorama in the mall depicting events from the anime. For folks interested to check this out, the mall is a mere fifteen minutes’ walk from Ōarai Station, although it will take around an hour and forty minutes to reach Ōarai Station from Tokyo Station.

  • Given the vast differences in population, I imagine that for a Tokyoite would regard the Resort Outlet Ōarai the same way I see the smaller shops in places like Cochrane or Bragg Creek in comparison with the largest shopping malls in the city. I’ve got a fondness for small shops, as they exude a much warmer atmosphere and oftentimes, have unique items available for sale that might otherwise be unavailable from larger shops.

  • The Ōarai Marine Tower is visible from the original image, but is noticeably absent in the anime incarnation: a bit of reasoning will find that the overhead image of the entire Resort Outlet Ōarai buildings was taken from the southwestern corner of the tower. The distance separating the two locations is only a hundred meters.

  • This is the interior of the Aqua World Ōarai, the regional aquarium. This large hallway serves as the site of a flower arrangement exhibition that Hana takes part in, and her display, a bold and expressive statement about her love for Panzerfahren, is visible in this frame. It is here that she reconciles with her mother, who feels that Hana’s involvement in Panzerfahren has allowed her to develop a more individualistic approach for arranging flowers.

  • Covering 19,800 m² and featuring an animal population of 68000, Aqua World opened in 2002 and receives around 1.1 million visitors annually. The aquarium is open from nine to five most days, and adults are charged 1850 Yen for admissions (around 21 CAD), making it slightly more expensive than admissions for the Royal Tyrell Museum in Drumheller (18 CAD) or Calgary’s Glenbow Museum (16 CAD). The former, I visited during the Labour Day long weekend of 2016, while in 2013, Heritage Day in Alberta meant that the Glenbow Museum was free of charge; my last visit there prior to 2013 was back when I was still a primary school student.

  • A small side road here that Miho takes to enter Ōarai from a rugged countryside actually leads to the Ōarai Isosaki Shrine, which was established in 856, destroyed in a conflict between 1558-1570 and rebuilt in 1690. Designated a site of cultural significance by the Ibaraki Prefecture, the sea is visible from the site. Folks looking to visit will note that the Shrine is open from six in the morning to five in the afternoon, and there is no cost for admissions.

  • In Girls und Panzer Der Film, Miho and Chi-han Tan’s forces evade the combined forces of St. Gloriana and Pravda during an exercise near this location, and in the original anime, Miho directs her group into the town along this road. This particular spot is only some 120 meters from where the previous screenshot was taken: a hotel occupies the left of this image, while the warehouse to the right is a seafood processing factory.

  • The facilities that Miho and the Panzerfahren club are sent to are modelled after the old Kamioka Elementary School (旧上岡小学校) in Daigo, some seventy kilometers northwest of Ōarai. The wooden school was built in 1879, during the Meiji Restoration period and has closed as an elementary school. Its construction and historical value meant the site has been preserved, with television dramas and movies being filmed on the school grounds.

  • The official site encourages visitors to check out the old Kamioka school: there is no admissions cost, and the grounds are open from nine in the morning to four in the afternoon. Its location is admittedly reminiscent of the Atlas Coal Mine in Drumheller, although in the case of the latter, there is a ten dollar charge to walk the area: I was intrigued by the old tipple and coal mining facilities, and next time I visit, I will be purchasing the “Ghost Tour” package. The site is said to be haunted, and I am rather curious to tour the tipple’s interior, as well as some of the subterranean coal shafts.

  • By April 2016, Girls und Panzer fans had visited the site in such numbers that they were interfering with operations at the facilities, and were otherwise causing disturbances in general. The site’s caretakers have since banned cosplayers from the site, although standard visitors remain free to walk around and photograph the grounds. I’ve heard that some anime fans can be generally unpleasant; while I’ve encountered a few fans from the military-moé genre with whom I’d rather not think about, in general, anime fans are ordinary folks that I have no trouble getting along with. As such, it’s quite logical to suppose that in this case, it is the actions of the few that ruin things for the majority.

  • The interior of the Principal’s office is shown in the pair of images here. Details in the interior, from the wooden panelling of the room and placement of furniture, to framed documents on the walls, are highly conserved between the real-world setting and anime depiction. The only major difference is the Championship flag hanging on the left wall.

  • While I’ve tried my best to avoid duplicate photos in this locations post, the images illustrating the broadcast room have been recycled: no other anime image quite captures the real-world version quite as effectively, with its cramped setting and clutter. Compared to the TV series, Girls und Panzer Der Film seems to have improved on the artwork in different scenes, featuring much more detailed environs than its predecessor.

  • When the engines of Saunders Academy’s C-5M Super Galaxy are heard, the girls run out into the hallways, eager to receive the tanks they’ve come to regard as dearly as family. In these frames, note the posters on the walls, which are highly accurate renditions of those found in the actual school: on the right wall, the distant image is of the water cycle, while the image closer to the camera depicts a volcano’s magma chamber and movement of magma through the Earth’s crust.

  • I’m actually one flight of steps too early in the real-world image relative to the position that the anime equivalent was taken from. The multitude of moments from Girls und Panzer Der Film evokes memories of when I wrote the review for the movie some seven months ago. It was an endeavour taking me twelve hours to complete, but looking back, I’m no longer surprised that reviewing the film on such short order after its home release had no impact on my graduate thesis. I had largely finished the thesis paper by then and was in reasonably good shape to take on the defense, so I was able to take the day off to write the review.

  • Kamoika Elementary’s exterior is visible from this shot. For the curiously-minded, this is where the school is located: compared to previous location posts, I’ve included occasional links to Google Maps so that readers may use them as starting points to explore around. I remark to the fellow who spent a fair bit of time tracking down the locations from the “Anglerfish War” OVA, that tracking down the linked locations took a total of less than ten minutes, because I’m One With the Force and the Force is with me. I realise that Ōarai location posts are probably abundant in number, but nonetheless, when I received the request to write this one, I accepted, knowing that I could consolidate a side-by-side comparison of Girls und Panzer locations under one roof — my roof, to make them more accessible. Besides Girls und Panzer, I also have a request to do Flying Witch.

Even before the rise of Girls und Panzer, Ōarai drew upwards of three million visitors per year — its beaches and golf courses aside, the area also boasts an aquarium known as Aqua World, a marina, as well as several museums. In addition to the plethora of outdoor activities, Ōarai is well-known for its monkfish. Belonging to the Lophius genus, monkfish has a moderately firm texture and is somewhat chewy, with a mild, sweet flavour reminiscent of lobster. Monkfish can be prepared in a number of ways (common means include baking, broiling, frying, grilling, steaming or poaching), and in Tom Clancy’s Threat Vector, John Clark enjoys a finely prepared dinner of monkfish while on an assignment to assassinate a known terrorist while in Libya. With a population of 16823 as of September 2015, the town of Ōarai is a fine destination for visitors looking to partake in marine sports or try out the monkfish. The city can be reached by the Number 51 highway or through the Kashima Rinkai Railway Ōarai Kashima Line, for which there is a stop in Ōarai. With the town covering only 23.74 km², the area is quite small — dedicated fans will have next to no problem identifying all of the locations in Ōarai that featured in Girls und Panzer.

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