“Virtual reality, all the AI work we do, all the robotics work we do – we’re as close to realising science fiction as it gets.” –Jensen Huang
Ashikita, Kumamoto, is the home of Houkago Teibou Nisshi, which finished airing last season. As the anime progressed, the amount of detail the series spent in presenting the different aspects of fishing became apparent, and with it, the dawning realisation that the area that Hina and the Breakwater Club spend their days fishing in would also certainly be inspired by real-world locations. However, the current global health crisis has made it much more difficult to get boots on the ground; to walk the same breakwater as Hina and the Breakwater Club is at best, a challenge, and at worst, a fool’s errand. So, one asks: how does one still check out the locations that the Breakwater Club visit in the absence of a plane ticket and a pocket full of Yen? The answer is simple enough, and armed with the very latest of technology, one can settle for the next best thing to walking the streets of Ashikita for themselves – a virtual tour of Ashikita is very much possible thanks to the unparalleled immersion that the Oculus Quest headset confers, and with the appropriate applications, one can simulate a tour of Ashikita as Hina and the Breakwater Club know it. Granted, the virtual experience will not allow one to walk into the Tenguya Fishing Tackle Shop to check out their selection of fishing implements, or taste the Neapolitan at Grill Kakashi, which serves as the model for Natsumi’s home. However, without leaving the comfort of one’s armchair, it is entirely possible to follow the path that Hina takes to school, as well as the seaside highway leading from the Breakwater Club’s headquarters to Tsurugahama Beach, where Hina catches her first Whiting. During this virtual tour, one thing becomes apparent: Doga Kobo has spared no expense to ensure that Houkago Teibou Nisshi‘s locations are faithfully rendered, and in this post, I share with readers the various places that Hina and her friends visit that I passed through using the Oculus Quest. Because of certain constraints associated with the Oculus Quest, namely limitations in easily sharing what I see with the headset to readers, I will be making use of Google Maps and Street View to match locations seen in Houkago Teibou Nisshi to their real world counterparts.
- It makes sense to kick things off at the breakwater where Hina first learns how to cast a line: the girls are standing on the breakwater on the right hand side of the real-world image, and in both the anime and Street View images, the Tsurugiyamashuraku Community Centre (the building with the white walls and red roof) are visible. The Breakwater Club’s clubhouse and favourite fishing spot is located along Route 56, some five kilometres away from their high school, and in reality, the a small shack occupies the exact spot where their clubhouse is. Houkago Teibou Nisshi nails all of the details: there is indeed a small statue of sorts on the breakwater, which Natsumi used as cover while Hina was still learning how to cast.
- Located some 60 kilometres south of Kumamoto, Ashikita is a town of 16306 people (as of June 2019) renowned for its fresh produce, beautiful beaches and fishing. Despite being located in a coastal area, Ashikita has a noticeable temperature variation: during the summer months, daily highs can average around 32ºC, but then drop down to lows of 0ºC during the winter. The winter months are the driest, and the spring months are the wettest, although September can also be quite rainy, as the occasional typhoon makes landfall here. While Houkago Teibou Nisshi is set in Ashikita, I’ve mentioned Sashiki frequently in my earlier posts because district is located at the heart of Ashikita, and Sashiki station is the likely the starting point for anyone curious to visit the area.
- For this post, I’ve decided to go strictly with locations in Houkago Teibou Nisshi that could be accessed from Google Maps – the point of this exercise was to demonstrate the idea that using existing tools, one could still have a reasonably comprehensive and enjoyable stand-in for actually visiting Ashikita. Here, Hina travels down Highway 56 on her way to school: this particular intersection is near the Hakariishi Community Center, adjacent to a large field seen in the right-hand side of both images. A side-by-side comparison shows that, aside from some minor details, Houkago Teibou Nisshi has captured the real-world setting very well, from the number of garage doors on the shed, to the placement of the road sign and power lines. The actual community centre is not visible in this image, being just a ways further down the road.
- Continuing down Highway 56 past Nanaura Orange Road, one enters the town of Ashikita proper if they continue to follow Highway 56 over the Sashiki River. However, the way to school requires one to continue straight along the road. The railway crossing here is for the Hisatsu Orange line, which connects Ashikita to Yatsushiro, and following this road until reaching Route 27 will bring one to Ashikita High School. There’s actually a Japanese restaurant, Umenoya, nearby, which serves some of the best seafood in town. Locals found Umenoya to have an excellent ambience, solid service, delicious food and reasonable prices; the ebi tempura is especially popular, but their menu offers a wide range of seafoods, from sashimi sourced from local fish, to eels.
- Hina, Natsumi, Yūki and Makoto attend Ashikita High School, which is the only secondary school in the area. The main building is captured well, although I’m guessing that for the sake of aesthetics, Doga Kobo decided to switch out the pair of evergreen trees at the entrance for cherry trees instead, and the front parking lot has been converted into a plaza of sorts for the students to congregate in. This creates a much more idyllic school setting. I ended up using an older version of Street View to capture the image for the real-life school – the trees are much larger in the latest version, and their canopies obscure much of the school’s structures.
- While it seems superfluous to do so, I make it a point to capture even the more unremarkable sights around town for these location hunt posts – attention to detail in anime means that every aspect of a location, right down to these low-rise office buildings, are captured. Given that the building on the right has been shuttered in all portrayals, I imagine that it is unoccupied. The building on the left, on the other hand, belongs to Ashikita Sightseeing Taxis. The crosswalk in this image leads to Sashiki Station: here, Yūki and Makoto are meeting up with Natsumi and Hina so they can help Hina pick out a new fishing jacket: as Hina requires the jacket be adorable, the girls will need to hop on a train and head North to Kumamoto, home of the largest fishing gear shop in the region.
- Sashiki Station lies at the heart of Ashikita, right along Orange Road. A fair number of thoroughfares in Ashikita are named after oranges because the area is known for its dekopon and amanatsu oranges. During the girls’ ride up to Kumamoto, Natusmi brings some oranges for everyone to enjoy, and when I think about it, it’s actually a little bewildering as to how many different kinds of oranges there are. My go-to oranges is the navel orange and Mandarin orange – oranges are delicious, being simultaneously sweet and sour, and further to this, are fantastic sources of vitamin C, which is helpful with maintaining a good immune system (along with vitamin D) and provides other health benefits.
- The Yamamoto Fishing Gear Centre’s Main Store is located down 631-1 Honjomachi in Kumamoto’s Chuo Ward, fifteen minutes east of Kumamoto Station. Patrons of the Yamamoto Fishing Gear Centre compliment the store for having the best selection of gear anywhere, and the store is also well-organised. Finally, the staff are knowledgable on fishing and always on hand to make recommendations to people of all skill levels, from novices to experts. While their wares can be a bit pricy (as is the case with larger stores), Yamamoto Fishing Gear Centre does have sales, during which expensive gear can see some impressive discounts; this is how Hina ends up buying her coat, when she spots one she likes that goes on for 40 percent off. Depending on the train one takes, it takes anywhere from an hour and twenty minutes to two hours for a one-way trip.
- For local fishing needs, Hina and the Breakwater Club purchase their supplies from Tenguya, rendered as “Takohibiya” in Houkago Teibou Nisshi. Accordingly, the latter has an image of an octopus on its storefront, and in real life, the same store has a gruff-looking fellow instead. Despite the imagery, locals report that the owner and clerks are friendly people, always on hand to offer suggestions to their customers. With a sizeable selection of rigs, bait and other gear needed, having a store like the Tenguya (or Takohibiya for the Breakwater Club) is convenient: the store is located down Route 3 in Ashikita, only four kilometres from the Breakwater Club’s clubhouse. Since Houkago Teibou Nisshi‘s anime finished airing, some local fans have paid Tenguya a visit and were pleasantly surprised – since the manga’s serialisation, this particular fishing shop also stocks copies of the manga.
- The Grill Kakashi (Scarecrow Grill) forms the inspiration for Natsumi’s house, but it was a location that gave viewers headaches when it came time to locating it: the restaurant is located on 1689-2 Shimoharadamachi in Hitoyoshi, some twenty four kilometres east of Ashikita as the mole digs. Locating this spot required a bit of digging around: Houkago Teibou Nisshi suggests it’s walkable from Ashikita, but without a car, getting to Hitoyoshi from Ashikita is no joke. The two towns are separated by a mountain range, and by train, it takes anywhere from three to four hours one way depending on which lines one takes. Conversely, with a car, one only needs to travel 31.6 kilometres, first travelling down Route 27 and then turning onto Highway 219 at a T-intersection after crossing over the Kuma River. Is this trip worth it, one asks? Some consider the Grill Kakashi to have some of the best food in the entire Kumamoto area; they serve rich, generously portioned Western style food that would be perfect for a cold day, and together with the unique atmosphere, it sounds like no Houkago Teibou Nisshi tour would be complete without a trip here.
- Nowhere were the limitations of the Oculus Quest more apparent: I can only stand outside and appreciate the Grill Kakeshi’s distinct architecture. However, for following the Breakwater Club’s walk to a nearby bridge for prawn fishing, the Oculus Quest handles just fine; the walk from this particular Seven-Eleven to the bridge only takes about four minutes, and it became possible to really check out some of the smaller details along the way.
- For my Oculus Quest travels, I’m using an app called Wander: developed by Parkline Interactive, Wander takes the Google Street View experience and creates a proper interface for it in a VR setting. The suite of features in Wander justify the 11 CAD price tag: Wander is easy to navigate, capitalising fully on the Quest’s hardware to deliver a highly immersive experience. After visiting numerous locations in Heya Camp△ using the Oculus Quest, I turned its powers towards location hunting in Houkago Teibou Nisshi; being fully immersed in an environment is quite unlike viewing the same locations through Google Maps’ Street View.
- The Oculus Quest’s greatest advantage over other VR headsets is its ease-of-setup: when I tested out the HTC Vive back during 2016, I was thoroughly impressed with the visual quality and how smooth the experience was, but to get things running back then, one needed cameras set up in a room to define the play area, and one of the exhibit’s staff needed to help me equip the device. Today, wireless standalone VR headsets mean that I can set things up for myself without the need for a fixed setup. The technology has come quite far in the past four years, and at present, while the wireless headsets are sophisticated and enjoyable to use, their main limitation is a lack of variety in terms of what they can handle.
- Today is Thanksgiving Monday: I typically have Thanksgiving Dinner on Sunday, since that gives us a bit more time to sleep off the post-dinner sense of contentment. Traditionally, the leftover turkey bones have always gone into a turkey congee: this fusion dish combines the best of both Western and Chinese cuisine to create a unique dish that is flavourful and warming. The process of further cooking turkey in congee doesn’t dry it out further, but it renders the meat tender enough to fall off the bones, allowing said meat to be picked off. For folks unfamiliar with congee preparation, turkey soup is a viable alternative: the remaining bones are tossed into a pot with tomatoes, carrots, cabbage, celery, onion, garlic, paprika and some bay leaves, plus plenty of potatoes to make a Chinese borscht in which the beef is subbed out for turkey. Both recipes are excellent for ensuring that no meat goes to waste, and in the end, one should compost the bones, as well.
- Along Route 56, the bridge where Nanaura Orange Road crosses over the Yunoura and Sashiki River’s confluence can be seen: this cable-stayed bridge is a distinct part of Ashikita’s cityscape and is located where the rivers merge and empty into Nosakanoura Bay. The bridge that can be seen from several points during the course of Houkago Teibou Nisshi, and this is how I ended up determining that Houkago Teibou Nisshi was set in Ashikita in the absence of all other information. Moments such as these really accentuate how well the anime captures the colours and aesthetics of the real-world equivalents, right down to the grime on the guardrail and grasses growing along the roadside.
- As it stands, the Quest and Wander succeeded in its task: the advantage about being fully immersed in an environment using VR is that I am able to simply turn my head and look at different entities, giving me a much stronger spatial awareness. In conjunction with the Street View tools that allow me to travel down roads, identifying locations of interest and important intersections was much easier than it was using a traditional mouse and keyboard. The Oculus Quest made it a trivial exercise to locate everything in Ashikita, although I will note that like all technology, it is not a substitute for practical knowledge: to locate both the Yamamoto Fishing Gear Centre and Grill Kakashi, I resorted to using computer vision to work out where they were located, using stills from the anime as the search parameters.
- Hina bikes along Route 56 en route to the Breakwater Club’s clubhouse and Tsurugahama Beach. This particular stretch is located just around a turn a kilometre away from the Clubhouse. While quite unremarkable by all definitions, this spot provides yet another example of how details are replicated, from the placement of road signs indicating an important intersection ahead, to the markings on the road surface and houses in the distance.
- I’ll close off the post with an image of Tsurugahama beach on a clear day. Locals love the beach for being a great fishing site, and for offering plenty of space to chuck a frisbee around or enjoying sunsets. The Kumamoto Prefectural Ashikita Youth Centre can be seen on the hill overlooking the beach, and in Houkago Teibou Nisshi, it is here that Hina catches her first Flathead and Whiting, the latter of which concluded a successful, and laid-back season of fishing. With this post in the books, I plan on spending this overcast, somewhat snowy Thanksgiving Monday unwinding, and looking ahead, it’s business as usual as we step further into the Fall 2020 anime season. I’m now set to write for both Road to Berlin and GochiUsa: BLOOM, but I’m still in the middle of working out if there are any other series that could be worth writing about on top of these two series, which have been off to an excellent start.
Houkago Teibou Nisshi marks the first time I’ve used the Oculus Quest to do location hunts, and being able to transition smoothly around at the street level was remarkably immersive. I experienced no disorientation or motion sickness at all while travelling about a virtual Ashikita. Owing to how much more detail one can see in a 3D, virtual environment over a standard screen, finding locations became much quicker. Once I was able to determine where the Breakwater Club’s preferred fishing spot and breakwater was, I simply used the Oculus Quest to travel around town and locate all of the relevant spots seen in the anime, from Hina’s high school to the bridge the Breakwater Club fishes for shrimps under. Further to this, having access to a 3D environment makes spatial identification faster, as well: two locations were quickly determined to be outside of Ashikita, sparing me the trouble of doing a more exhaustive search for what didn’t exist in the area I had been looking in. As Yuru Camp△ did before, Houkago Teibou Nisshi‘s attention to detail in reproducing real-world locations does much to speak to the series’ commitment to authenticity: much as how every door and power cable is rendered within the anime to match its real-life counterpart, viewers can be confident that the fishing techniques that Natsumi, Yūki and Makoto teach to Hina are genuine, as well. With the locations from this post, I am confident that once this global health crisis is contained, curious folks can go pick up some plane tickets and line up their very own, in-person tour of Ashikita; only this time, one would actually be able to breathe the fresh sea air and enjoy freshly-caught seafood from local restaurants. While the Oculus Quest is an immensely powerful tool that have allowed me to travel Ashikita, while sitting in my pyjamas before my first cup of Earl Grey, virtual reality still has some noticeable limitations and are not yet a substitute for the real deal.