The Infinite Zenith

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

Hirosaki Region, Aomori: Home of Flying Witch

“Magic is believing in yourself, if you can do that, you can make anything happen.” —Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Terror in Resonance depicted the Aomori prefecture of Japan as a perpetually snowy and miserable locale perfect for governmental agencies to conduct secret nuclear weapons research, but this is a gross over-generalisation of the prefecture as a whole. Granted, being the northern-most prefecture on the Honshu does subject the prefecture to heavy snowfall and has a relatively cool climate, and its rugged terrain results in Aomori having a lower population density. However, this also corresponds with mountains and lakes that remain quite pristine: it is amongst the quiet plains of western Aomori that Flying Witch is set: the events of the anime are set in and around the city of Hirosaki. With a population of 176590 (September 2015 estimates), the town’s castle and surrounding cherry blossoms are the central attractions — during Golden Week, there is a cherry blossom festival held near the castle. Hirosaki is also known for its agricultural sector: besides rice, the Hirosaki region accounts for nearly a fifth of Japan’s apple production. The area has been populated since the Heian Period, and Hirosaki was renamed several times over the course of history: its current moniker was adapted in 1808 from its former name, Takaoka. Besides the Hirosaki castle, the town is also home to a collection of Western-style buildings dating back to the Meiji restoration. With its humid continental climate, summers in Hirosaki are hot, reaching a daily average of 23°C in August, while winters are mild in comparison.

  • Moving from the hustle and bustle of Yokohama to the comparatively quieter Hirosaki region marks a substantial change of pace. I live in a city of around a million people; it’s a fine balance between the quiet of a smaller town and the energy of a larger town, and I am quite happy with the city. With this in mind, the city sprawl, arising as a consequence of (presumably ill-informed) consumer preference, is very grating, since it drives up the costs of infrastructure. There’s more surface area to cover for power grids, water, transportation and sanitation, increasing the costs per person, but not everyone shares my views, and some former classmates have lectured me for not supporting subdivision growth.

  • Of course, I couldn’t give two hoots about their opinions, so we won’t peruse that topic further. Back in Flying Witch, here is a local shopping center where Makoto goes to purchase a broom for travel. The placement and storefronts of the anime incarnation closely resemble the real-world counterpart, which is located in Hirosaki’s western edge. While brooms are typically depicted as magically enhanced to be capable of flight, Flying Witch suggests that they act as conduit for magic, so a skilled Witch need not ride the broom, but can fly merely by touching the broom and willing themselves to fly.

  • While initially mistrustful of Makoto, Chinatsu warms up when Makoto agrees to take Chinatsu to her favourite doughnut shop in the mall. The real-world equivalent is a bit more ornately decorated, compared to the more conservative colours seen in the anime version, but the resemblances are quite apparent. Us Canadians are said to consume the most doughnuts per capita of any country on earth (Japan comes in second place), and this is partially owing to the presence of Tim Hortons in the country.

  • While on a walk, Makoto crosses a bridge over a small canal. A handful of these canals cut through Hirosaki, and a cursory glance at the city reveals that it is mostly low rises, with Hirosaki Castle and Park at the heart of the city. Makoto’s penchant for getting lost is a personality trait that is gradually phased out over the course of the series as she grows familiar with the area, although she still enjoys taking things at a casual pace and can appear to be going off-mission.

  • On her walk to a local fabrics shop, Makoto runs into Nao, who is on a delivery for her parents. With a maximum east-west distance of around 6.5 kilometers and a north-south distance of 6.9 kilometers (to traverse those distances would be a short 10 minute drive assuming light traffic at 50 km/h), Hirosaki is not a particularly large town, and so, one could make their way around town by bike. The city is built in the Tsugaru plains, and being relatively flat, making this trek more straightforwards than back home, where the hills and valleys present a bit more of a challenge for cyclists.

  • Café Concurio is modelled after Hiarosaki’s Taishō Roman Tearoom (大正浪漫喫茶室), located a short ways from the southwestern edge of Hirosaki park inside the Fujita Kinen park. Its naming is derived from the Taishō period in Japan — running from 1912 to 1926, this period was marked by the convergence of Japanese and Western culture thanks to increased exposure to foreign elements, reinforcing Japanese cultural values while integrating aspects from the west. It is a highly romanticised period, hence the moniker “Taishō Roman”.

  • The interior of the tea room is faithfully reproduced in Flying Witch, although in Café Concurio, the lights are dimmed, and only natural light illuminates the interior. Beyond differences in lighting, elements in the real-world equivalent make it into Flying Witch, whether it be the wooden paneling of the walls, or the stone fireplace and its attendant decorations. The major difference between the two cafés are their location: the real world tea room is located at the heart of Hirosaki, while in Flying Witch, Café Concurio is located in a quieter area.

  • The Taishō Roman Tea Room is popular amongst locals, who note that the apple pie sold here is of a particularly excellent quality and some have even claimed the Taishō Roman Tea Room’s apple pie to be the best in the city; the tea room is often crowded as a result, and naturally, the terrace seats offer the best environment to enjoy an apple pie under. With this in mind, the number of patrons means that it can be difficult to get a seat here, and while Café Concurio is depicted to be very quiet, allowing Makoto, Kei and Chinatsu to sit in the terrace, at the Taishō Roman Tea Room, some patrons sit in the inner areas during busier hours.

  • Aside from their apple pie and coffee, the Taishō Roman Tea Room also serves a variety of pastries and some hot meals. While the tea room appears to be hidden in plain sight, some English-speaking patrons have noted that the menu, while limited in variety, is excellent: the tempura soba is said to be unparalleled, and the owners speak English. Between the atmosphere and quality of the food, the Taishō Roman Tea Room seems like a location worth visiting should one ever be in Hirosaki: to really have a Flying Witch experience, one merely needs to visit the nearby Hirosaki Park by morning, and then stop by the Taishō Roman Tea Room for lunch.

  • In Flying Witch, Café Concurio is given a Harry Potter treatment in that it is bewitched to be hidden away from Muggles, and it is Makoto’s knowledge of magic that allow Chinatsu and Kei to visit, bringing to mind how Witches and Wizards conceal their locations in the Harry Potter universe using a variety of spells, with Diagon Alley being the most famous of these locations. Access is controlled by a woebegone-looking pub known as the Leaky Cauldron, and there is a special brick that must be tapped in order to reveal the entrance.

  • Construction on Hirosaki castle began in 1603, but following Ōura Tamenobu’s death a year later, the project stalled until Tsugaru Nobuhira resumed the project in 1609, finishing the castle in 1611. It was destroyed by a lightning strike that subsequently ignited a fire in 1627, and it was not restored until 1810. A large park surrounds the castle and is home to a large number of cherry blossoms that have made the park famous: towards the end of April and early May, the park’s 2600 cherry trees come into bloom, receiving upwards of a million visitors over this time-frame.

  • Makoto flies over Hirosaki Park’s southern edge en route to a fabric shop, and Sannomaru Ōtemon Gate is visible here. This particular image was captured from a staircase on Hirosaki’s Tourism Board building, close the public library.

  • Makoto, Chinatsu and Kei enter the park via the Sannomaru Ōtemon Gate, one of the five surviving gates to the castle. Located on the park’s southern end, the gate’s assembly and surroundings is rather similar to that of the Kitanokuruwa gate in the park’s northern edge, which directly faces the city (there is a small parking lot in the park’s southern end).

  • This is one of the ponds in Hirosaki Park: details such as the crookedness of the tree and the placement of ornamental shrubs are meticulously captured to reproduce actual elements from the area, and I imagine that locals familiar with the park would have no trouble picking these details out. A ways back, Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans did a scene using Edmonton, Alberta as the setting: our neighbours to the north immediately identified which buildings and locations downtown served as the backdrop for the anime’s events.

  • Originally opened in 1894, the present-day facilities at Hirosaki Station were completed in 2004 and as of 2012, has a daily ridership of around 4500. The nearest hotel, visible here to the right, is the Art Hotel. A four star hotel boasting modern facilities, it is located approximately 1.67 kilometers (just a hair more than a mile) from Hirosaki Castle and would only necessitate a 15-20 minute walk to reach.

  • A bus terminal lies just outside of the train station: Makoto takes the number five route, which takes ridsers to Namioka, Goshogawara, Onoe, Kuroishi, Okawara and the Aomori Airport. This scene brings to mind an experience I had during my Cancún conference: I had arrived at the George Bush International Airport and realised I had forgotten to arrange for transportation to the zona hotelera from Cancún International Airport. Armed with an iPhone and Google-fu, I managed to book a private shuttle that ended up costing around 50 USD for a round trip.

  • The lessons learned there is to do my research before taking off: after I sorted that out, the Cancún conference turned out to be much smoother than Laval, as my hotel was located right beside the conference venue. In Laval, owing to our last-minute bookings, a colleague and I only managed to get a hotel at the outskirts of town. It would have taken around three quarters of an hour walk this distance, but we later found a bus that took us close to the conference venue.

  • This guardrail may seem unextraordinary, and by all counts, it is an ordinary guardrail. What makes it special is  the fact that Makoto, Chinatsu and Akane are going whale watching and make a brief stop while trying to locate a sky whale. While Edmonton has been featured in an anime now, I wonder if Cowtown will do the same: our city’s still-futuristic downtown core, with its glass buildings, was featured in the 1983 film Superman III and 2001’s Exit Wounds. Neither film turned out to be critically acclaimed, and the latter turned out hilarious for trying to pass off Calgary as Detroit.

  • If an anime were ever to use locations from Calgary, I would notice almost immediately. Back in Hirosaki, a bridge provides a vantage point, looking out over a river canal. Besides providing an excellent side-by-side comparison of anime locations against their real-world equivalents, the location posts I do also offer a prime opportunity to showcase some of the scenery in anime through screenshots that are otherwise not selected (often, it’s a difficult decision) for use in conventional posts.

  • Chinatsu and Makoto cross a small bridge en route to the shopping center on their first outing in Kamisukisawa, and this bridge is roughly five-decimal-four klicks from the centre on foot. This would make a fantastic walk lasting around an hour at a casual pace, and a year ago, while in Kelowna for the Giant Walkthrough Brain performance, I walked to the Kelowna Community Theatre from the Manteo Resort on both days of the presentation. While it would be a longer walk, it can also be quite pleasant.

  • While one might imagine that it would be fairly straightforwards to recognise areas from one’s own town were it to be featured in a show, the truth is that even locals are unlikely to be familiar with every nook and cranny in their neighbourhoods. It is this reason that I am so fond of taking walks, and one of the best surprises was in fact from Pure Pwnage: while the show had portrayed Lanageddon 2005 as taking place in Calgary, for instance, it took me quite some time to work out that the setting was Bowness Community Center. It was during a Japanese cultural festival, when I visited the Bowness area myself, that things clicked together.

  • Nao finds Makoto under a pavilion during the fifth episode, after Makoto decides to follow Chito for a walk. A cursory glance at a map suggests that locations in Flying Witch are closer than they are in actuality: this is typically done to give characters a chance to share conversations while walking to a destination, and I recall a café in Glasslip that was located much further from Mikuni than initially thought: it’s quite a ways away from the city where the characters reside, but the frequency of their patronage suggests that it would be within walking distance.

  • Creative liberties such as these are perfectly acceptable, as they allow an anime to facilitate both its narrative while conveying a sense of realism (Glasslip remains an unusual exception!), and back in Flying Witch, this view of Mount Iwaki is taken from near Apple Park. With a maximum elevation of 1624.7 metres, it is a dormant stratovolcano whose last eruption occurred in March 1863, and the summit can only be reached by hiking to the top. This trek takes roughly four hours to complete, starting from a shrine, although a more widely-used route involves a ski lift that takes hikers to within half an hour of the summit.

  • There’s always a joy about visiting small towns for their tranquility, and while Hirosaki is not a small town (being only a shade smaller than Regina, Saskatchewan) by any definition, the outskirts of town have a very rural feel to it: it becomes difficult to tell where the countryside ends and the city begins until one is a ways into town. This stands in sharp contrast with Canadian cities, where build-up is found up to a certain point, and then abruptly stops, giving way to the countryside.

  • The Yuguchi Shinto Shrine is where Akane decides to provide some instruction to Makoto about spell casting: she’s taught a simple spell to summon crows in the third episode. As I’m not too versed with magic and magical lore, I wouldn’t know what the application of such a spell would be. Long considered to a symbol of respect for family in Chinese culture (孝), the crow’s call is also considered to be an ill-omen, and when I was an undergraduate student, I recalled a story where Cao Cao heard a crow’s call before his ill-fated campaign during the Battle of the Red Cliffs whenever hearing a crow’s call before an examination.

  • Inspection of any pair of images in the location posts will invariably find that the photographs (top) are much more detailed than their anime counterparts: the real world simply has unmatched textures, detail and lighting effects. By comparison, anime locations often feel much cleaner, devoid of any visual clutter: the cleaner anime renditions make them less busy and allow for focus to be directed towards things that move (such as the characters).

  • While well-known locations are expected to be reproduced with a high accuracy, one of the biggest draws about slice-of-life anime such as Flying Witch is that the artists go out of their way to ensure that even seemingly trivial locations are rendered such that they faithfully represent their real-world equivalent. This is a small street that Chinatsu walks along while following Chito around on his walk during the fifth episode.

  • The high school that Makoto, Nao and Kei attend is modelled after the Hirosaki Seiai Academy (弘前学院聖愛中学高等学校), with facilities for both middle and high school students. The school is located in Hiarosaki’s southern area, around 3.75 kilometers from Hirosaki park and seven kilometers from the locations where Makoto and Chinatsu share their first walk. Makoto is seen frequently walking to school from her residence, another indicator that distances in the anime have been modified to better accommodate the atmosphere in Flying Witch.

  • This is a Shinto Shrine in the Mount Iwaki area, an area steeped in mythology. The Slenderman Harbinger of Spring stops here briefly before continuing on with his travels, and the Shrine itself officially encompasses the whole of the mountain. Established in 780, most of the present-day structures were built in 1694 with support from the Tsugaru clan of Hirosaki Domain. The shrine hosts the Oyama-sankei, a festival held annually during the autumn equinox with a parade from the shrine to the top of the mountain as its centerpiece where where pilgrims carry colorful banners and are accompanied by traditional drums and flutes.

  • I’ll round this post off with an image of the Imaya Knitting and Sewing shop that Makoto stops at to purchase cloth for her cloaks during the finale. While nearly identical in terms of appearance, right down to the banner, placement of items and the storefront’s design, inspection of the Hiragana finds that the real shop is known as the Shimaya Knitting and Sewing Shop. It’s been five months since Flying Witch aired, and I recall giving it a strong recommendation: there has been no news of a continuation, but I have had a chance to check out Flying Witch Petit, a short anime depicting the characters in chibi. With this Flying Witch location post finishe, this marks another anime whose locations have been presented in a manner accessible for English-speakers. My next locations post will be for Kimi no na wa: the photographs are ready, and all I need are high-resolution screenshots from the movie itself.

A large part of the magic in Flying Witch, aside from the actual magic that Makoto practises, lay in how the choice of setting. Makoto is presented as a Witch who is very attuned to her surroundings, and as she is originally from Yokohama, the rural backdrop of Hirosaki offers her an opportunity to really explore the environment and master the disciplines required for becoming a fully-qualified Witch. A great many discussions, my own included, do not fully cover this, but it is the tranquil, laid-back atmosphere of the countryside that allows Makoto to focus on her tasks: life in a city is rather hectic, which would have detracted from Flying Witch‘s theme that an effective Witch is someone with an open mind and a sense for adventure amongst nature. Consequently, it should be clear that the setting has a substantial contribution to the messages being portrayed in Flying Witch; the anime brings all of this to life, and while I’ve presently not heard of any news for a continuation, the manga is on-going, so it would be most pleasant to see what lies ahead in the future, especially considering how Chinatsu’s innate curiosity about Witches and magic later lead her to apprentice under Makoto. To watch her own journey as a Witch would likely be very enjoyable, considering how well-executed Flying Witch‘s first (and only) season is.

One response to “Hirosaki Region, Aomori: Home of Flying Witch

  1. Flower January 20, 2017 at 22:46

    Ahhhhh … for someone who loved the Flying Witch anime adaptation as much as I did this post is a treat!

    Thank you very much! ^^

    Liked by 1 person

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