The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games and life converge

The Earth Science Club’s Real Life Adventures in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, and Tokyo: An Oculus-Powered Armchair Journey of Koisuru Asteroid Part II

“The screen is a window through which one sees a virtual world. The challenge is to make that world look real, act real, sound real, feel real.” –Ivan Sutherland

In the first part, I took readers along on an Oculus Quest-powered tour of Kawagoe, home of Koisuru Asteroid. Here, I highlighted the sights and sounds that Mira and Ao would find in the city they called home, and from cafés, to train stations and shops, it was evident that considerable effort had been spent towards reproducing Kawagoe faithfully within Koisuru Asteroid. However, the anime isn’t just set in Kawagoe – instructor Yuki brings her students to Tsukuba in Ibaraki, a ways north of Tokyo, on a memorable summer camp that encourages and inspires each of Ao, Mira, Mai, Mikage and Mari. Tsukuba is best known for being home to the Tsukuba Science City, a technical development center hosting numerous institutes and laboratories. Tsukuba is actually smaller than Kawagoe, with only two hundred and forty-four thousand residents. The area had been a holy site since the time of the Heian Period, but by the 1960s, the Japanese government designated the area for scientific research, and a decade later, construction on the University of Tsukuba began. Besides JAXA Tsukuba Space Center, the Science Museum of Map and Survey and the Geological Museum seen in Koisuru Asteroid, Tsukuba is also home to the High-Energy Accelerator Research Organisation, Electrotechnical Laboratory and the National Institute of Materials and Chemical Research, to name a few. More recently, Tsukuba has placed a particular emphasis on increasing the area’s livability: being originally built purely for research, Tsukuba has been counted as being a very dull, austere place to live. To get to Tsukuba from Kawagoe, one can board the Tobu Railway or F-Liner at Kawagoe Station, which will lead to the Asakadai Station. A short walk is needed to transfer to the Kita-Asaka Station, and from there, one must take the Musashino Line to Minami-Nagareyama Station. Here, it’s a straight shot to Tsukuba via the Semi-Rapid Express. The total journey requires around two fours and forty minutes by train, so folks looking to do a trip from Kawagoe could be viable, if a little rushed. Of course, since Mira and the others have Yuki driving them, the ninety or so kilometre road trip becomes a much more manageable hour and a half of time. Beyond Tsukuba, Mai, Mira and Mikage also visit Tokyo on two separate occasions: Mira and Mikage do so to attend a geological exhibit, while Mai heads to Tokyo in order to try her hand at the Earth Sciences Olympiad competition. This particular journey is a straightforward one: the Tobu-Tojo Line will allow one to get from Kawagoe into the heart of Tokyo in around an hour, ready to see the same sights that Mai, Mikage and Mira take in.

  • In this second half of my Koisuru Asteroid location hunt post, I focus exclusively on locations outside of Kawagoe. As with the first half, every single location in this post can be found in Google Maps and Street View. The journey opens in Tsukuba, Ibaraki – I started out from the JAXA Tsukuba Space Centre and found the locations seen in the fourth episode’s openings by tracing possible paths to the Space Centre from Tsukuba Station. Tsukuba is around 60 kilometres east of Kawagoe as the mole digs and some 80 kilometres by road. As instructor Yuki drives the girls through Tsukuba, Tsukuba Center Building can be seen here: this mall is located close to the station itself, and the current station was opened in August 2005, having an average ridership of around 18671 passengers as of 2019.

  • Using Google Maps, I wasn’t able to get too close to the Tsukuba School of Nursing building, which is located immediately south of Tsukuba Medical Centre. However, despite not being able to replicate the angle as accurately as someone present in-person, the similarities between Koisuru Asteroid‘s rendition and the image seen in Street View should leave no doubt that these are indeed the same buildings. Finding the real-world locations of places that the Earth Science Club visited in Tsukuba was a relatively straightforward exercise, owing to how closely everything is located relative to one another.

  • Yuki passes by Tsukuba Expo Centre and its planetarium en route to their first destination. While the Expo Centre and planetarium are not shown in Koisuru Asteroid, the full-scale H-II model on Expo grounds can clearly be seen. The Tsukuba Expo Centre is a general science centre of sorts, equivalent to the Telus SPARK Science Centre in my area (home of the second Giant Walkthrough Brain performance). Unlike Telus SPARK, where the price of admissions is 26 CAD for adults, Tsukuba Expo Centre’s admissions is a much more reasonable 1000 Yen (12.30 CAD) for adults, which includes planetarium access (and folks looking to just check out the exhibition hall only need to shell out 500 Yen). Described as being more friendly for children, it makes sense that Yuki passes by the Tsukuba Expo Centre for the day’s feature presentations.

  • Mira and the others spot one of Hitachi’s Robot for Personal Intelligent Transport System (ROPITS) near the Tsukuba Bus Centre Terminal. The ROPITS is a lithium battery-powered single seater self-driving vehicle with a maximum speed of ten kilometres per hour and a suite of sensors to keep the occupant safe. These vehicles were originally designed to help seniors get around, and are used in conjunction with a tablet that allows the passenger to specify their destination. Folks uncomfortable with the self-driving features can operate the vehicle for themselves if they so wish. These futuristic-looking vehicles have actually been around since 2013.

  • Following Route 24 past the intersection takes Yuki underneath a pedestrian bridge to an intersection: a LED road sign and apartment building on the right-hand-side of the image, as well as traffic cones on the left-hand-side, can be seen in both the anime and real-world images. Mira’s distraction causes Yuki to supposedly miss her turn here; inspection of maps will find that this is, fortunately, not the case here. Yuki’s turn should be onto Higashiodori Avenue three intersections away from this spot.

  • Travelling along Higashiodori Avenue, one eventually reaches the front gates of the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST). On its vast campus is the Geological Museum that Mira and the others visit: both a corner of the AIST Measurement Standards Management Center and the obelisk can be seen in both images. The AIST Geological Museum is a 400 metre drive into the campus grounds: while Yuki has a car, making visiting fairly straightforward, there’s also a bus line from Tsukuba Station that brings visitors close to several attractions in the area, including the Geological Museum.

  • Opened in 1980, the AIST Geological Museum houses the Geological Survey of Japan’s impressive collection of specimens, and exhibits on minerals, fossils, plate tectonics, geology and geography. Admissions is free, and the museum is normally open to visitors Tuesdays through Sunday from 0930 to 1630 (except during national holidays). Groups of fifteen or larger, and classes, are usually required to book in advance, but for a smaller group like Mira’s, it’s okay to just show up. The museum’s exhibits are entirely in Japanese, so folks such as myself will struggle with reading the exhibit text.

  • Right out of the gates, Mikage is enraptured by the sight of exhibits housing rocks and minerals as far as the eye can see; she presses herself against an exhibit and begins taking in things with what can only be described as “indecent enthusiasm”, prompting Mari to usher Mira and Ao back a few steps. Koisuru Asteroid employs the girls’ love for their chosen disciplines as a comedic device, but in the end, these traits are meant to be seen as respectable. There are no such equivalents in my area: the closest museum in my region is the Royal Tyrell Museum of Palaeontology, which specialises in fossils. Of course, ever since I bought Smithsonian Earth (2nd Edition) during a Chapters Indigo sale a few years back, I have a handy reference to all things related to earth science: this massive 2.7-kilogram book features 527 pages of pure information and would drive Mikage wild.

  • As the Earth Science Club’s members head off to check out the Geological Museum’s exhibits, Yuki looks on. She sees herself in this batch of students, and her decision to bring them to Tsukuba’s museums and institutes was motivated as much by the fact that the girls get free accommodations at Yuki’s grandparents’ place, as much as it was by the sheer concentration of research institutes and museums in the area. I definitely appreciate what such excursions can do for students – during my first year as a summer research student, my old lab’s graduate students took us undergrads to the Body Worlds exhibit at the old science centre, and this really helped to drive home what I was building for the lab. Years later, I’d become a graduate student, and I took the new undergraduate students to Body Worlds, which had returned and was being hosted at the new Telus SPARK Science Centre.

  • The joys of the sciences has never really left me, and even though I no longer read about things like astronomy or earth sciences quite to the same extent as I did as a student, these topics still fascinate me. Where time allows, I will sit down with a good reference book on these materials. In Koisuru Asteroid, Mira poses in front of a Desmostylus skeleton. Animals of this now-extinct genus would’ve resembled smaller hippopotamuses, averaging two metres in length and weighing around 200 kilograms. They were herbivorous, and fossils have been found along the Pacific Rim, from Hokkaido, Japan, to coastal California, Oregon and Washington.

  • With the AIST Geological Museum in the books, Mira, Ao and the others head towards JAXA Tsukuba Space Centre. Unlike the model H-II in front of the Tsukuba Expo Centre, which is a model, the H-II in front of JAXA’s Tsukuba headquarters is the real deal, originally being used as a test rocket. The H-II is a source of pride for Japan, being their first completely domestically-developed launch vehicle. With a maximum height of 49 metres and capable of carrying a 10060 kilogram payload to Low-Earth Orbit. During service, H-II rockets successfully carried five payloads into orbit, but in the late 1990s, the H-II suffered a series of failures and was replaced by the more reliable H-IIA, which only failed once over 43 different missions.

  • The Tsukuba Space Centre’s Space Dome is home to an array of satellites and rocket models. Access to the Space Dome is free of charge, and the Space Centre is open from 1000 to 1700 on most days (except between December 28 and January 3, and when scheduled maintenance is performed). After entering, visitors are greeted by the massive 1:10⁶ scale model of the planet. Upon their arrival, it’s Mira and Ao’s turn to go feral. Mira drops the sign she’s holding, and in a stunning bit of attention to detail, Mai retrieves it while Mikage looks on. Mira and the others visit the Space Dome after their guided tour concludes.

  • In reality, guided tours of the facilities are offered in both Japanese and English. Spanning some 70 minutes, the tour costs 500 Yen for adults, but students and instructors get in free. Mira, Ao, Mai, Mikage, Mari and Yuki thus get to check things out without cost. As Koisuru Asteroid portrays, the tour opens with a video introduction and goes into details about the JAXA astronaut selection and training programme. Every image from JAXA’s Space Dome was captured entirely using Google Street View, and I was surprised that Google Street View was available for the some parts of the JAXA Tsukuba Space Centre, including the entire Space Dome and parts of the visitor building.

  • The technology for this has been around for a while, and I imagine that JAXA staff, armed with one of Google’s Street-View ready cameras, took a walk around and captured images of everything. These days, one’s own smartphone can be used to create these 360° images without any effort: by downloading the Street View, one can use their smartphone camera, and the app will automatically stitch a panorama together to create the interior image. Technology of this level is making VR increasingly powerful: that I was able to go “visit” JAXA the same way Mira and Ao do with nothing more than a headset from halfway around the world speaks volumes to what is possible with technology, and the same drive to innovate, which sees humanity put satellites in space, drives all sorts of wonderful discoveries.

  • This is the joy of Koisuru Asteroid, and a recurring message in the anime was about keeping an optimistic outlook on things, since the path to a goal is full of discoveries. Here Ao and Mira wonder what their next move is after learning that JAXA is more about manned space missions and astronaut training than astronomy; Mira’s spirits can’t be dampened, and she suggests they’ll just have to keep on looking and learning. Here on the right, I believe is a model of the Kibō module on the International Space Station. Used for scientific experiments, Kibō was installed over three missions between 2007 and 2008.

  • The Space Dome does indeed have a space suit for visitors to check out. The real suit has the NASA emblem on it along with the American Stars-and-Stripes flag on the left shoulder. After Mira and the others finish checking out everything in the Space Dome, they head for the gift shop. The gift shop in the JAXA Tsukuba Space Centre is visible in Inside Maps, and after taking a look, the layout there is not 1:1 with what was seen in Koisuru Asteroid. With this being said, they do indeed sell JAXA hats, which makes Yuki’s grandfather happy. Mira goes on a shopping spree here, coming out of the gift shop with no fewer than six bags. While museum and science centre gift shops have always been fun to browse, I’ve always found their products a bit pricey compared to equivalent products from a conventional store.

  • The final stop for the Earth Sciences Club is the Museum of Map and Survey adjacent to the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan. It is located 3.8 kilometres from Tsukuba Station (less than ten minutes away by car), and 6.7 kilometres from the JAXA Tsukuba Space Centre. Open from 0930 to 1630 except on Mondays and sporting free admissions, the museum was the first of its kind in Japan, being wholly dedicated to mapping and surveying when it opened in 1996.

  • Being interested in cartography and surveying, Mai is overjoyed and immediately heads off to check things out: Koisuru Asteroid chooses to give Mai some space as she explores, and instead, switches things over to Yuki, who reminisces about having come here long ago when she’d been a student. While not much of the Museum of Map and Survey is shown, some of the exhibits include a machine for simulating earthquakes, and a few map-making stations.

  • Out back, there’s a peaceful park displaying parabolic antennae. Yuki remarks that there’d been a full scale antennae on-site some years previously, but it’s since been taken down. With the Museum of Map and Survey, the Earth Science Club’s exciting summer camp draws to a close. Koisuru Asteroid‘s fourth episode had an exceptionally high concentration of spots visited, and later episodes feature one or two locations of note. With this in mind, I’ve chosen not to include Mira and Ao’s high school from the proceedings: the school is evidently a fictional location, and the same holds true of the characters’ homes.

  • In Koisuru Asteroid, Mikage and Mira attend the Tokyo Mineral Show in the final days of their summer vacation. I imagined that the location would be real, and after attempting a search with the keywords “Japan rock and mineral show”, I came upon XPOpress, a Colorado based organisation that was founded to help rock and mineral vendors advertise their events, so visitors like Mikage can explore and buy things to their hearts’ content. XPOpress includes listings for Japan, and a cursory search found eight entries. Doing a linear search of this list found that the Tokyo Mineral Show, held at Sunshine City Convention Centre, matching the location seen in Koisuru Asteroid, and just like that, I’d located the spot where Mira and Mikage pass by.

  • When Mai decides to take the Geosciences Olympiad, the episode portrays her as passing through a seemingly random street somewhere. Location hunting is a matter of patience and resourcefulness, doubly so when folks like myself do not have any familiarity with more obscure locations in Japan and are therefore limited to what can be explored using resources like Google Maps. Even though Google Maps is powerful, it has its limits: I initially had no idea as to where Mai went to for the competition. However, I did know that the Japan Earth Sciences Olympiad organisation was hosting these competitions, and digging around allowed me to learn the location of one of the exams: Tokyo University.

  • Thus, armed with this knowledge, I was able to determine that Mai enters through the Yayoi Gate by the Tokyo University’s Faulty of Engineering, and doing a few searches to see what the best way of getting from Kawagoe to Tokyo University was, I eventually managed to figure out the route Mai took through trial and error: she passes by a street that she guesses to be a former river bed en route to Tokyo University and promises to explore later, once the exam is done. While there are noticeable differences (the awning over one of the buildings is red in Koisuru Asteroid and yellow in real life, for one) there was little doubt that this was the spot that Mai passed by.

  • After inheriting the responsibility of club president from Mari, Mai initially struggles to determine how to lead the club, and decides that she should following in Ao and Mira’s footsteps, to do something big and see how it turns out. This journey takes her to Tokyo, where she befriends a fellow competitor before the exam. Even though Mai would ultimately fail to make the preliminaries, the experience was a meaningful one, and one of the messages Koisuru Asteroid has is that there are cases where failure is okay.

  • Of course, failure varies depending on the context: in some cases, failing is encouraged, pushing people to step out of their comfort zones, while at other times, failure is not an option, especially where human lives are concerned. Finding anime locations falls squarely into the former, although for my readers, I still prefer to not fail in producing a good post for the reader’s sake. One of the engineering buildings on Tokyo University’s campus is plainly visible here at the gate that Mai enters through: this is the moment that gave me what I needed to work out Mai’s route, and I’m glad to have taken the effort to do so. Altogether, these location hunt posts for Koisuru Asteroid have taken around twelve hours in total to put together: around five hours to find everything, and the rest of it was writing a good post around the spots I’d located.

  • We return to Saitama with a scene from the second episode, when Yuki gives Mira and the others tickets to Saitama Seiganji Hot Spa. This spa is located about nine kilometres east of Kawagoe, and using the Kawagoe Line from Kawagoe Station, one can get here within half an hour, disembarking at Nishi-Ōmiya Station. Seiganji Hot Spa is known for its open-air baths and bamboo forests; by nightfall, the sights complement one another very nicely. Besides an onsen (and a variety of different bath types, such as the Jacuzzi that Mari capitalises on), Seiganji also offers massages and haircuts to clients. Open from 1000 to 0100, the fee for adults is 720 Yen (and 820 yen on weekends or National Holidays).

  • The waters of Seiganji are 38.3°C, weakly alkaline and flow from a chloride spring some 1500 metres underground. As Mai mentions in Koisuru Asteroid, the effects are to slow down the evaporation of sweat and retain heat. Mikage adds that hot springs have a water temperature of 25°C or greater, but strictly speaking, the definition of a hot spring is quite vague. Some definitions are very lenient and suggest that a hot spring is any spring with water temperatures warming than its surroundings, while others are stricter and require the water come from a natural source with a temperature exceeding 21.1°C.

  • That Koisuru Asteroid turned a trip to the onsen into a well-presented aside about the science behind hot springs was an early and clear indicator of where the series was headed. Indeed, Koisuru Asteroid proved to be a celebration of intellectual curiosity; Mira and Ao’s journey may have begun from a childhood promise, but it’s matured into something more, becoming a skill set of practical value. The kind of intellectual curiosity shown in Koisuru Asteroid was particularly meaningful, demonstrating how knowledge from all disciplines can be helpful towards one’s own pursuits: much as how Mari, Mira and Ao use earth science knowledge to augment their astronomy, Mikage and Mai come to recognise constellations and astronomical properties more readily, as well.

  • Koisuru Asteroid promotes life-long, interdisciplinary learning, and this is the core of the series’ strengths: even something like a hot springs visit provides something novel to the viewers. Here, I will note that for the Seiganji Hot Spa, Google has Indoor Maps available, so I was able to explore the hot baths without violating any laws. For these Koisuru Asteroid posts, I exclusively used a combination of Google Street View and Indoor Maps to look at the locations Mira and the others visit. Given these posts, I think that my approaches were reasonably successful. However, there was a single location that defeated all of my conventional means to find it.

  • The Suzuya Bakery was the single toughest spot to find in all of Koisuru Asteroid: here, geospatial awareness and the Oculus Quest proved completely inadequate, and creative searches were unyielding. So, I fell back on using computer vision techniques to hunt down the spot. The idea is that anime locations are often faithfully reproduced to the point where there are features that match a real world location’s, and then using said features as search parameters fpr a computer vision algorithm will eventually yield the place that inspired the anime location. It’s a time-consuming process, but I eventually narrowed it down to a few Western-style buildings, and determined that La Maison de Jun in Shimotsuma, Ibaraki, was the place. This delightful bakery is a favourite amongst locals, who love their baked goods and charming atmosphere.

  • That Suzuya Bakery was modelled after La Maison de Jun meant that folks trying to search around Kawagoe for the inspiration would be unsuccessful. To get here from Tsukuba, one would need to drive or take a taxi, which takes a quarter-hour: Shimotsuma is located 16 kilometres west of Tsukuba, but the train stations do not connect, and taking the train would require a three hour trip, which sees one return to Tokyo so they can get to a station that does go to Shimotsuma. I believe I’ve covered off all of the relevant locations in Koisuru Asteroid with this two-part special, which was a thrill to research for and write about. With this post in the books, I will be returning to regularly-scheduled programming with a talk on Yuru Camp△ 2‘s third episode.

Having now used the Oculus Quest to travel through the locations of Koisuru Asteroid, one thing immediately became apparent – the faithfulness of Koisuru Asteroid‘s locations to their real-world equivalent made it clear that the series was intent on telling a compelling, plausible story about Ao and Mira’s dream of discovering an asteroid together. This initially seems like a lofty goal: while Mira and Ao both have heart, the pair are still at the start of their journey and so, do not have the same level of technical expertise as a professional astronomer might. A major part of Koisuru Asteroid was demonstrating that such an ambitious goal is not only admirable, but possible. The series’ reproduction of real-world cityscapes and attractions therefore act as a clever visual metaphor: streets, cafés and institutes closely their equivalents in reality; walking along the same spots as Ao and Mira, it is possible to sense their excitement the pair have towards their goals. It really feels as though the energy and motivation channeled within Koisuru Asteroid could be seen in youth in the real world; since this anime had gone to the lengths of making certain the science had been correct, and the locations matched their real-world counterparts, the journey that Ao and Mira take together with Mari, Mai and Mikage feels very much within the realm of possibility, feeling less like a dream and more like a journey with a well-defined end goal. Different slice-of-life anime use real-world settings for different reasons. Houkago Teibou Nisshi had aimed to capture the intricacies of fishing and show how deeply tied fishing was with the Ashikita area. Flying Witch suggested that magic is all around us, using the gentle landscapes in Aomori as the backdrop for Makoto’s adventures. Yuru Camp△ brings viewers to real camp grounds to illustrate the joys of the great outdoors. The journey the Earth Science Club takes towards realising their dreams in Koisuru Asteroid is similarly reflected in the variety of different places the girls visit – besides Kawagoe, the path to discover an asteroid, and themselves, sees the Earth Science Club’s members travel to Tsukuba and Tokyo, culminating in a special programme held at Ishigakijima Astronomical Observator in Okinawa. Each of Houkago Teibou Nisshi, Yuru Camp△, Flying Witch and Koisuru Asteroid succeed for the same reasons, convincing viewers that what may appear magical and out of reach is, in fact, closer than one realises.

2 responses to “The Earth Science Club’s Real Life Adventures in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, and Tokyo: An Oculus-Powered Armchair Journey of Koisuru Asteroid Part II

  1. Fred (Au Natural) January 20, 2021 at 15:50

    That was a huge amount of work to put in. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

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