The Infinite Zenith

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

Category Archives: Oculus Quest Location Hunts

Houkago Tea Time’s Real Life Visit to London, England: An Oculus-Powered Armchair Journey of K-On! The Movie

“In London, everyone is different, and that means anyone can fit in.” –Paddington Bear.

Whereas I’ve kept my virtual location hunts limited to Japan thus far, in this post, I will take readers to the heart of London, England, home of Houkago Tea Time’s impromptu but memorable graduation trip. In K-On! The Movie, a plan to make a graduating gift worthy of Azusa transmutes into a graduation trip when Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Tsumugi do their utmost to conceal it from Azusa. London differs from any location I’ve previously written about: for one, everything’s in English, making it much easier to plan a trip and get around. In conjunction with the fact that there are undoubtedly K-On! fans in London, and that the K-On! Movie Official Guidebook identifies key areas that Houkago Tea Time visit meant that, within a few months of the film’s première, fans were already purchasing train or plane tickets bound for London, ready to retrace the same steps that Yui and her friends tread during their lightning trip in Britain’s capital, home of some of the world’s most famous music locations. Abbey Road crossing, The Troubadour and Camden Town are iconic spots, associated with the development of rock music around the world, and speaking to Mio’s love for music, wind up being places that the girls visit during their haphazard but exciting travels. During the course of their travels, Yui and her friends both visit famous spots, as well as perform their own unique music for London’s citizens in a trip that helps the senior students to remember that their greatest gift to Azusa would take the form of the music that had inspired her to join their light music club in the first place. While folks have travelled London and done their location hunts previously, the combination of circumstance and curiosity led me to turn the Oculus Quest towards London for the internet’s first-ever virtual tour of K-On!‘s locations. Despite nearly ten years having elapsed since K-On! The Movie premièred (and with it, the inevitable fact that London’s cityscape has changed considerably since Naoko Yamada visited to research locations for the movie), the power conferred by the Oculus Quest and Google Maps’ ability to seamlessly display historical map data has meant that it remains quite possible to have an authentic virtual tour of London à la Houkago Tea Time, utilising the Oculus Quest’s unmatched ability for immersion.

  • Having already done a post about Toyosato Elementary School some nine years earlier, I’ve chosen to skip ahead to London proper. While I’m armed with an Oculus Quest and the best that technology has to offer, folks looking to reproduce Houkago Tea Time’s trip back in 2012 were not left at a disadvantage: K-On! fans who lived in London shared locations with prospective visitors, and the official movie guide also points out where the different stills are from. Coupled with a bit of path finding and use of Google Maps (already decently sophisticated in 2012), finding the locations for the film proved quite straightforward.

  • The taxi from Heathrow International Airport to the girls’ first destination, Hotel Ibis London City, takes them past Famous 3 Kings, an iconic pub serving classic fare like burgers, wings and pizza that is known for their excellent drinks, food and ambience. While Yui and the others never swing by a pub for dinner (presumably, only Mio’s English is sufficient to navigate the menu), were I to visit London for myself, a pub would be on my list of places to check out, along with a place for a proper plate of bangers and mash, fish and chips, Sunday roast and a full English Breakfast. I concede that a lot of pubs back home have a very British or Irish feel to them, but nothing beats checking out the real deal.

  • Because Ritsu imagines that there’s only one Ibis in London, she supposes that they’ve booked the one in London City. Their first stop thus ends up being the Ibis at London City, rather than Earl’s Court. The Ibis at London City is located in an excellent spot – it is within walking distance of iconic London landmarks like the Big Ben and Tower of London. The decision to not have Houkago Tea Time lodge here was likely because the point of this trip wasn’t about London itself, but rather, their shared experiences – the Ibis at Earl’s Court isn’t near any London icons, but instead, offers Yui and the others a chance to check out a side of London known to the locals.

  • While the London cityscape has changed considerably in the past nine years since K-On! The Movie premièred, as evidenced by the different storefronts here on Commercial Street, the buildings themselves are still recognisable. The traffic in the Google Street View versions, however, is considerably denser, and one of the long-standing limitations of a virtual reality approach – the Google Street View car takes images at specific intervals, and this means that I’m not always to get the exact same angles as seen in an anime.

  • Because of how the London Underground is set up, Mio and the others have a chance to swing by Camden Town, whose location made it a transport hub in London. As the district became the nexus for rail lines and canals, warehouses were constructed here to store goods. However, the area was redeveloped, and today, is better known as an entertainment district with a highly unique aesthetic. K-On! The Movie captures this particularly well, showing it as a colourful district with a myriad of storefronts.

  • Yui and the others travel from Aldgate Station to Camden Town Station: after Yui notices Azusa having trouble walking, the girls take a detour in search of new shoes for Azusa on Mio’s suggestion. After leaving the station, the girls immediately comment on the atmosphere in Camden town, and at an outdoor market, they end up picking out something that works for Azusa. The kaiten sushi place that Yui and the others perform at is no longer around: it’s the former Proud Music Venue, which opened in 2001 and closed in 2018.

  • After a lengthy day, Yui and the others finally make it to the Ibis at Earl’s Court, and since the check-in isn’t shown, it stands to reason that the process was very seamless. Unlike Ibis London City, Ibis Earl’s Court is located further from central London attractions: the hotel has its own conference facilities and brings to mind the likes of the hotels in the eastern part of my city. Ibis Earl’s Court is noted for its clean facilities and friendly staff, although the hotel’s age is showing. The prices here are slightly lower than those of Ibis London City, making it suited for a group of high school students whose graduation trip came out of the blue.

  • While the locations in London initially seem intimidating, Naoko Yamada and her staff fortunately drew their stills from nearby locations, and a brief walk down Lillie Road allows for everything to be located with relative ease. The scene of London’s iconic double-decker buses was taken at the intersection between Lillie Road and North End Road looking west: the spot is only 210 metres away from Ibis Earl’s Court.

  • Ritsu and the others pass by West Brompton Station on their second day en route to breakfast. Located on the London Underground District Line, one can easily reach Aldgate Station from here: had Yui and the others chosen not to go to Camden Town per Mio’s request, reaching the Ibis Earl’s Court from Ibis London City would’ve been fairly straightforward, and indeed, thanks to the District Line, the Ibis at Earl’s Court is an excellent alternative for folks looking for slightly less pricy accommodations while at the same time, still be somewhere close to a line back to central London.

  • This intersection is located at Old Brompton Road and Earl’s Court Road, and the angle seen in K-On! is from Earl’s Court Road, looking south. K-On! The Movie has Yui and the others looking left per the signage on the road surface to check for vehicles before crossing, which I found a little strange, since Japan also has left hand traffic. Conversely, left hand traffic is foreign to me: whenever I visit Hong Kong, the fact that everything is the opposite of what I’m used to always requires a bit of adjusting to.

  • After crossing the intersection and backtracking a little, Yui’s curiosity about The Troubadour leads the others to stop for breakfast here. The Troubadour is a coffeehouse that dates back to 1954 that has played host to music icons, including Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan. The location was chosen precisely owing to its connection to music history, although for Yui, I imagine she picks it owing to its distinct appearance. A glance at The Troubadour’s brunch menu shows that Yui had the Eggs Benedict, which goes for 9.5£ (16.27 CAD): brunch is served from opening until 1430, and this does feel a bit pricy, but on the flipside, their dinner menu is much more reasonably priced, with their iconic braised Rosemary and Garlic Lamb shoulder going for 24£ (41.11 CAD). The Troubadour is definitely a restaurant I’d be happy to swing by should I ever decide to visit London.

  • Upon finishing K-On! The Movie, a few locations did elude me, such as the Chelsea Ballet School and the apartments along Oakley Street. The K-On! Movie Official Guidebook was instrumental in helping me to sort out where everything was located: the guidebook had indicated that Yui and the others had travelled along King’s Road, and this is what led me to Oakley Street. There’s nothing innately special about the Chelsea Ballet School: it offers youth instruction in ballet, and according to the notes, substituted David Bowie’s house, which the team couldn’t find during the time in London.

  • With the K-On! Movie Official Guidebook to go off of, I first found Oakley Street first, and then did a bit of backtracking to find the Chelsea Ballet School. While this row of apartments seems quite unremarkable, the spot is actually close to the Bob Marley Blue Plaque, which is across the street from the spot Mio and the others pass by en route to World’s End. Since the moment happens so quickly, it stands to reason that Mio did not end up stopping the others for a quick photo, which speaks to K-On! The Movie‘s themes: even in London, home of music legends, Houkago Tea Time are more wrapped up in their own adventures, doing things at their own pace.

  • With Azusa’s planning, the group next swing by the backwards clock at World’s End: this store sells what is advertised as timeless music fashion, and I imagine that the clock is supposed to be indicative of this. Having now taken a closer look at the range of locations Houkago Tea Time visit in London, it is clear that Yamada and her team researched the locations thoroughly for their connection to music, and even if Mio and the others never actually stop at the iconic locations she’d wish to check out, through serendipity, the girls do end up passing by some of the most famous music spots of London anyways.

  • Just a stone’s throw from World’s End is this apartment block and a set of benches that Yui et al. catch their breath at. The apartment can actually be seen from World’s End, making this a relatively easy location to find. I believe that in Britain, apartments are referred to as flats in casual speech, although realtors call them apartments. The gap between British and North American English is noticeable, especially with regard to pronunciation and vocabulary, but aside from these differences, English is English: were I to visit London for myself, I’d have a much easier time of it for the simple fact that, besides my Canadian inflection, my command of English is sufficient for me to get by over in England.

  • Abbey Road Crossing is probably the single most famous crosswalk in the world: Apple Records’ John Kosh had designed the album on the idea that The Beatles were so famous that they could get away without the album or band name. The actual photograph was taken in 1969, and since then, The Beatles’ famous crossing has been imitated endlessly. When Azusa, Mio, Yui, Tsumugi and Ritsu cross, their minds aren’t even on the fact that they’ve tread on hallowed grounds: Azusa is busy trying to figure out what other spots the group can visit next.

  • While K-On! The Movie is generally faithful to the placement of locations, the biggest one that would’ve thrown location hunters off was Harpers Café at the intersection Southwark Street and Borough High Street: it is located south of the River Thames, and is nowhere near Hyde Park or the British Museum. Serving a range of sandwiches, Harper’s was replaced by a Costa Coffee at some point after the film released: location hunters today would have no chance of checking out Harpers Café, which featured in the movie because their neon coffee sign drew Yui’s attention for its resemblance to the Houkago Tea Time logo.

  • It is not lost on me that numerous Blogspot blogs have come up over the years portraying their owners’ trips to London in search of K-On! The Movie‘s locations. During an exercise I conducted some years ago, a hypothetical trip to London, England would cost no less than 3500 CAD in total. However, this trip was conducted using estimates of the price, and today, using something like Expedia, I was able to put together a flight and accommodations package for a total of 788 CAD. I appreciate that the current global health crisis has resulted in travel prices plummeting, but even assuming that the actual price is twenty percent greater (946 CAD), this is still considerably less pricey than my original estimates.

  • Of course, if I were to do a trip to London, I would allocate about a week to fully explore and take in everything; K-On! had condensed the trip down to five days and three nights for the sake of the story, but to really take in everything, I would prefer to do things at a slower pace. Big Ben and Palace of Westminster can be seen while crossing Westminster Bridge here: Big Ben was originally built in 1859 to act as a highly accurate clocktower, and the Palace of Westminster adjacent to it was finished in 1876 after some 36 years of construction: the site had been home to an older palace that hosted the British parliament, but a fire in 1834 decimated the original building.

  • At the time of K-On! The Movie‘s première, the London Eye Ferris wheel was the highest viewpoint until The Shard opened two years later. Even now, it still offers a breathtaking view of the London Skyline. Tickets cost £31 per adult (52 CAD) if one were to order them on the day of, as Yui and the other have done during their trip. Visiting the London Eye offers them a spectacular alternative that, while unexpected, was nonetheless enjoyable. Even Mio, who’d developed a fear of rotating things during the trip, casts her worries aside once she sees the London cityscape.

  • After returning to the Ibis Earl’s Court for their second night, a still from the intersection at Old Brompton Road and Warwick Road looking north is shown. There’s a unique charm about London, and K-On! The Movie manages to capture a feeling that looks like it came straight out of SkyfallSkyfall really captured the moody, brooding aesthetic of London in a way that previous Bond films had not, and K-On! The Movie replicates the Cold War-like feeling of the nighttime London streets. What’s impressive is that had come out before Skyfall, speaking to how much effort went into the film.

  • The next morning, while out and about, Yui wanders past the Brompton Cemetery. She passes by the stone arches and gates on its northern end while noting that she’s having trouble with the song for Azusa, and looking around the area, the recycling bins have since been removed. I imagine that Yui’s just wandered here while contemplating what Azusa’s song should sound like: moments later, Azusa calls out to her, saying it’s time to head off for that morning’s adventures.

  • Because Yui and the others are set to perform on their final full day in London, they swing by Denmark Street near Tottenham Court Road to check out instruments. The large buildings at the end of the street are office blocks, and Google CGS, as well as Central Saint Giles have their offices here, too. This was about the last of the spots I could easily check out using the Oculus Quest: in this post, numerous locations, such as the Waitrose & Partners Gloucester Road supermarket, Borough Market, Tower Bridge, Jubilee Park and Tower of London have been omitted because limitations in Street View precluded their inclusion.

  • I’ll wrap this post up with the London Bridge Experience, a tourist attraction claiming to be the United Kingdom’s spookiest. As a callout to this fact, K-On! The Movie has Mio running away from a staff dressed up in horror garb in abject terror. While my post is by no means the first ever location hunt for K-On! The Movie, nor is it the most comprehensive, it does demonstrate the level of effort that went into making the film memorable, and having life-like locations definitely helped to make Yui and Azusa’s London trip special.

Revisiting the locations Houkago Tea Time visit during the course of K-On! The Movie was a trip down memory lane: when the film became available overseas, I was well into my MCAT review, and exam anxiety had gripped me. To be able to watch Yui and the others explore London in a carefree, spirited fashion conferred catharsis that allowed me to regroup, and over the years, my fondness of K-On! The Movie has only increased. The film’s messages of appreciation and living in the moment, of going with the flow are timeless and universal, and while the film is cheerful throughout its run, a hint of melancholy permeates every scene; viewers know that with K-On! The Movie, K-On!‘s animated adaptation would be drawing to a close. The film’s decision to visit London, birthplace of rock as we know it, and whose musical icons doubtlessly inspired the way Houkago Tea Time play, acts as a swan song for the series. After watching the film, I ended up purchasing the K-On! Movie Official Guidebook, the first time I’d ever bought an artbook, and a few pages in, I’d noticed that the locations seen in the film were catalogued. For the longest time, I’d been meaning to do a location hunt for the movie, but eventually, such a project fell from my mind. However, with the recent resurgence brought on by the Oculus Quest’s capabilities, I decided the time was ripe to go visit London. The technology has its limitations: there are a few points in London where Google Street View does not offer coverage, so I was not able to visit all of the spots that Houkago Tea Time had, but beyond this, it was a fairly comprehensive experience. While Yui and her friends only stay in London for three days, it becomes clear that even this short trip was filled to the brim with new discoveries. With this in mind, given how much London has changed over the past nine years, visitors looking to see things precisely as Yui and the others do might prove disappointed: some shops have been replaced, and new buildings are found in London’s skyline (including the Shard, which was under construction back in 2011), so the scenery isn’t going to be entirely what Houkago Tea Time saw. In spite of this, many spots still remain as they once did: the Hotel Ibis at Earl’s Court, and Troubadour are still around, as is the British Museum and Chelsea ballet school. Camden still retains its unique aesthetic, and the view of Big Ben from Westminster Bridge remains quite unchanged from nine years earlier. In short, London is still worth visiting, and I imagine that such a trip would be life-changing, well worth it: I certainly would be interested in purchasing a flight across the Atlantic and booking accommodations at Ibis Earls’ Court.

The Real Life Hawaii of Japan and Beach Volleyball on the Shores of Okinawa: An Oculus-Powered Armchair Journey of Harukana Receive

“It takes a lot of hard work and dedication just like any pro sport. Especially for beach volleyball, you don’t have to be tall or as fast as other sports. You just have to have the skills.” –Misty May

We’re now deep into the winter, and this is the most miserable time of year in my area for weather – where I am, February has an average daily temperature of -6ºC, and is the second cloudiest month of the year. Hence, the goal of this post is to provide a bit of light in response to those dreary-looking statistics, which sees a return to Harukana Receive – when Haruka Oozora transfers to the island of Okinawa from Tokyo, she reunites with her cousin, Kanata, and begins to develop an interest in beach volleyball. On the beautiful white sands beaches and blue skies of Okinawa, Haruka and Kanata hone their skills with the sights on the National Tournament. Harukana Receive originally aired during the summer of 2018, and during its run, highlighted a variety of locations in Okinawa: this southern island is famously known as the Hawaii of Japan thanks to its warm, tropical climate, extensive beaches and unique cuisine. Numerous anime, ranging from Azumanga Daioh to Non Non BiyoriAno Natsu de Matteru and even Koisuru Asteroid, have visited Okinawa, capitalising on the island’s beautiful sights as the backdrop for vacationing – white sands, turquoise waters and palm trees are all quintessential aspects of what one would imagine a vacation to be like, after all. With a population of 1.5 million, Okinawa officially became a part of Japan in 1879, and in World War Two, saw some of the fiercest fighting as the American forces invaded during the Battle of Okinawa, resulting in casualties to a third of the island’s population. Today, the island retains its distinct culture and cuisine: common places to visit include Shuri Castle and the numerous beaches the line the island’s coasts. Karate also has its origins in Okinawa: I practise Gōjū-ryū (the hard soft style), which was developed from the Naha-te style, named for its origins in the city of Naha and characterised by the fact we chamber our off hand tight to the armpit (in contrast with martial art styles that chamber the off hand by the hip). However, because Haruka has moved to Okinawa, more touristy aspects of the island have been set aside, as focus is on Haruka and Kanata’s experiences around beach volleyball.

  • I break tradition with an anime and real life pairing that isn’t 1:1 with one another in order to discuss how I originally determined where the early events of Harukana Receive were set: on Gushikawa Beach in Uruma. I appreciate Haruka’s best assets as much as the next person, but what is useful about the image above is the presence of a red tower and what appears to be a cable-stayed bridge in the left-hand side of the image. While Harukana Receive initially does not give up its location easily, with this red tower as a landmark, I have a starting point to go from. I subsequently found that this belonged to the Kaichu Doro Bridge, which is visible from the beach Haruka and Kanata train on. This bridge is a 4.7 kilometre long causeway that links several smaller islands with its span. Originally constructed in 1972 as a two-lane road, it was expanded in 1999 to accommodate four lanes of traffic.

  • Gushikawa Beach, being located a ways away from more populated and well-travelled areas, is counted as being a peaceful, secluded beach. The trade-off for the lack of crowds is that there aren’t any amenities on the beach, and the beach is not quite as picturesque as it appears in Harukana Receive during low tide: seaweed and algae line the shore, making it a bit unpleasant to swim in. Whereas the beach in Harukana Receive is pristine, resembling the white-sands beaches and turquoise waters of Cancún, in reality, the beach could prove a little disappointing if one is looking to take a dip in the warm waters of Okinawa here.

  • Initially, even knowing which side of Okinawa Gushikawa Beach was on did not prove to be too helpful: there’s still a bit of shore to search, even with the power of Google Maps’ satellite view. However, as it turns out, there was one more landmark I could use: a chimney in the background when Narumi is getting ready to practise. This chimney is belongs to Gushikawa Thermal Power Station, and incidentally, water discharge from the plant elevates water temperatures even further, which explains the algal growth. Fortunately, for Haruka and Kanata, their beach remains pristine and unspoiled. This was, at least, the process I took – it is by no means a proprietary technique, although I will note that a few weeks after I wrote my post, the same methodology appeared, verbatim, in another location hunt post done elsewhere.

  • Here is about as close as I can to the ramp leading down from the side of the road to Gushikawa Beach. I have noticed that folks who do location hunts are often secretive about the locations they find: beyond images comparing anime with real life, they do not offer addresses or links to Google Maps. This is especially true for Japanese bloggers who write location hunts, and I get why this is the case – if locations were given away, then there’s always the chance that hordes of eager visitors might show up at a spot, and depending on where said spot is, create a hassle for the residents. With this being said, I write for English-language speakers: the goal of these posts are to allow readers to recreate the experience in Google Street View or help them to organise a trip to these locations for themselves.

  • Haikyo explorers operate along a similar credos: the location of an abandoned building or structure are usually not disclosed to prevent vandals from desecrating the site. In anime location hunts, however, the locations I feature are generally open to the public and easy to access (such as attractions and roads). As for locations like Kanata’s house, anime studios tend to place them in familiar areas, but use fictional structures. There is, simply put, a vacant field where Kanata’s house should be, and so, there is no chance of people flocking to the real world location to cause any grief for residents.

  • After Haruka becomes fired up about beach volleyball following their encounter with Ayase and Narumi, the pair walk back home along the seawall. Because Gushikawa Beach and its surroundings are comparatively out-of-the-way, one might need to rent a car to get around more easily. Fortunately, there is a few places for renting vehicles close to the airport, so folks really looking to explore Okinawa beyond the tourist spots might benefit from having a vehicle. Folks from North America may struggle with driving on the left hand side of the road, however: it takes around two weeks to get used to the switch.

  • Haruka, Kanata, Emily and Claire attend Maehara High School (Uruma High in Harukana Receive), located about fifteen minutes away from Gushikawa Beach on foot. Finding this location was a simple exercise: given that I had Gushikawa Beach as a starting point, I simply did a linear search for all schools within walking distance (under an hour) of the beach. Aside from minor differences in Maehara High Shcool’s façade and colours, it is clear that we have a match. A fifteen minute walk to school isn’t too bad – for me, it would’ve been a twenty-minute walk to my elementary school, and thirty five minutes to reach my high school on foot. While this doesn’t seem too bad, the thought of carrying twenty pounds of textbooks in -20ºC weather that distance would be nightmarish, and hence, taking the bus had always been my way of getting to school.

  • To purchase new bikinis as their team uniform, Haruka and Kanata visit the Aeon Mall Okinawa Rycom, the single largest shopping centre in Okinawa. This mall is very friendly for English-speakers, mirroring how in Okinawa in the aftermath of World War Two, the American military was stationed here. To accommodate them, the locals learnt English, and despite being reluctant to use it, there are plenty of English signs. On top of this, major hotels, shops and restaurants, especially those near a military installation, will be English-friendly, and signs around the island are also written in English, as well.

  • In front of the Aeon Mall Okinawa Rycom, are shisa, an Okinawan cultural artifact derived from Chinese guardian lions (石獅, pinyin shí shī, literally “rock lion”). These particular shisa were crafted by ceramists from Yomitan. Much as in Chinese culture, shisa are placed in pairs – some folklore suggests that one statue sports an open mouth to ward off evil spirits, while the other has a closed mouth to keep in benevolent spirits, whereas in other variations, the statue with the closed mouth is keeping out evil spirits, and the open-mouthed statue is inviting in benevolent spirits. Shisa are ubiquitous in Okinawa, and here, aspects of Okinawan architecture can be seen: distinct red-tiled roofs and stone walls of dwellings in Okinawa are a result of constructing buildings to resist typhoons.

  • With four floors, over two hundred shops and restaurants, Aeon Mall Okinawa Rycom also features a movie theatre and a small aquarium, home to a thousand tropical fishes. Foreign visitors report having no trouble with navigation, as the mall possesses English signage. Both Japanese and American brands can be found here at Aeon Mall Okinawa Rycom, which opened in 2015 and is built on the site of the former Ryukyu Command base’s golf course that occupied the site previously. Some shops will offer a ten percent discount to visitors with a foreign passport. The mall is open all days of the year, and most shops open from 1000 to 2200.

  • To get to Aeon Mall Okinawa Rycom, one can always drive there: the mall is located at the intersections of routes 85 and 330. For folks like Haruka, Kanata, Claire and Emily, mass transit options exist, as well: there are a variety of buses that stop here. Folks from Naha can board buses at Naha Terminal, which is about an hour’s journey from the mall. Buses 21 and 92 stop directly outside the mall, whereas the 23, 27, 31, 77, 80, 90, and 110 buses stop at Higairibaru, which is located about five minutes away on foot from the nearby stations.

  • While Harukana Receive might be an anime with beach volleyball at its focus, its locations are vividly rendered, faithful to their real-world counterparts. No matter how often I do these location hunts, there’s always something novel to discover (and share) with readers. Here, I will note that it was starting with Yuru Camp△‘s location hunts that I used images sourced from Google Street View: prior to that, friends from my dōjō, interested in sharing their travels in an incognito fashion, sent their photos to me for location hunts. These posts still manage to capture the spirit of the anime, but because traditional cameras didn’t have latitude and longitude data, I wasn’t quite able to provide links to the corresponding spots. While using Google Maps means not being able to get the same precise angle, it does offers me the ability to share locations more easily with readers.

  • Haruka and Kanata compete at Nishihara Kira Kira Beach, located in Nishihara Marine Park. With a beach 550 metres in length, this beach has full access to amenities such as showers, changing rooms and equipment rental shops, as well as a concession stand. Unlike Gushikawa Beach, the waters here are much clearer and conducive towards swimming – the combination of its location (about half an hour from Naha Airport) and amenities means that Nishihara Kira Kira Beach is a ways more crowded than the more private beach that Haruka and Kanata train at.

  • Visitors to Nishihara Marine Park (free admissions!) are not limited to just beach activities like building sand castles or chucking a Frisbee around: swimming and water-skiiing are also an option. The site is indeed set up for beach volleyball, as well – nets are visible in the Google Street View image, and folks can rent courts for 540 Yen per hour if they wish to play beach volleyball as Kanata and Haruka do. From the air, the beach is divided into two sides: one is dedicated for marine sports and the like, while the other is for beach-goers.

  • Finding Nishihara Marine Park was a simple exercise because the location name was given in the anime. Coupled with the fact that Google Street View extends from the pavilion entrance right down to the beach itself, I was able to trace the path that Haruka and Kanata walk down on their first match against Ai and Mai: the VR experience means that I cannot feel the tropical sun beating down on me, or here the crowd noises as a beach volleyball match is in session, but I am now able to wander the area for myself with unprecedented freedom far surpassing what photographs alone can do.

  • Another part of the island can be seen across the harbour. In my more recent posts, I remarked that camera properties mean that the Google Street View photographs I use have a larger field-of-view, resulting in a more zoomed-out image. The end result is that Street View makes landmarks and objects feel more distant, whereas in the anime itself (and real life), things comparatively feel closer. This is one of the disadvantages about using something like Google Street View for location hunts, since there will inevitably be some variance between the spot from the anime, and its real-world equivalent.

  • While the Nishihara Marine Park building is much quieter on my virtual tour of the area, it is brimming with activity on the day of Haruka and Kanata’s tournaments. The major competitions both happen here: in their first attempt, they manage to best Ai and Mai before being knocked out by a more experienced team, while towards the season’s end, Haruka and Kanata inevitably face off against their friends, Claire and Emily. This final match spanned two-and-a-half episodes, corresponding to a full volume of the manga. After Harukana Receive‘s airing, the English-translated mangas became available for purchase at my local bookstores, and at the time of writing, I have five of the six available volumes.

  • Given that the manga’s tenth volume features Haruka on the cover, and sees her squaring off against Narumi and Ayase with Kanata at the national level, I imagine that this is going to be the finale. With this in mind, a second season of Harukana Receive would not be unwelcome: the anime had grown on me very quickly after I began watching it, with its simple but sincere and honest messages about friendship, competition and sportsmanship. Unfortunately, even a full two years after its airing, an official animation guidebook was never released. I’m particularly fond of these guidebooks because they show concept art and storyboards, as well as the cast and director’s commentary.

  • As the tournament draws to a close, the sun sets over Okinawa, casting the land in shadows and the skies in vivid hues of red, orange and yellow. The last light of day does not obscure the Nishihara Marine Park pavilion, whose distinct round structure and railings are still visible here. My image is framed a little lower: in the anime, the sign in front of the building (on the lower left of the Google Street View image) can just barely be seen.

  • While Haruka and Kanata’s performance is not competition-ready yet, as the pair are still working on adjusting to one another as partners, Haruka indicates that this experience was fantastic: she’s all sparkles after the competition. The single biggest joy in Harukana Receive was found in Haruka, who consistently brought optimism, positivity and energy into the series. Kanata herself struggles with her short stature and the loss of her parents, and this originally led her to quit beach volleyball. However, with Haruka, Kanata begins to rediscover her old love of the sport and begins to move forwards, spurred on by Haruka.

  • The building immediately behind Emily and Claire is home to a few businesses that sell beach toys and equipment, and adjacent to this shop, are a pair of cafés, Moon Terrance Café and Café Solesta. I imagine that for visitors who’ve spent an entire day playing beach volleyball or watching a tournament, these would be great places to wind down: Café Solesta offers several delicious-looking rice bowls on top of coffees and teas, while Moon Terrance sells salads, pastas and desserts with their coffees and teas. While Haruka, Kanata, Emily and Claire don’t swing by, I imagine that for visitors, having a late lunch here could always be an option.

  • Behind the group, the corner of Dolphin Park is visible. It is named for the Dolphin-themed playground, but also features plenty of green space. This site also has bathrooms available, which is especially good if one intends to spend a morning or afternoon with children. The actual playground is not visible from this image, but instead, is located a hundred metres northeast of this spot. The park itself is not dog-friendly, and on that token, Nishihara Marine Park also prohibits pets.

  • The last bit of the Nishihara Marine World pavilion I will showcase is the interior: Google Street View even allows viewers to see what it looks like from the inside. In the corresponding moment in Harukana Receive, Akari looks on at the group, seemingly too anxious to approach them and strike up a conversation. Akari was a bit of a mystery throughout the first parts of Harukana Receive, and I imagined her to be a coach of sorts. However, as it turns out, she was a child actress in a well-known drink commercial (“waku waku shequasar!”) and wanted to join the beach volleyball club to become more idol-like, but eventually takes on a managerial role and comes greatly treasure her friendship with everyone.

  • This still has Akari standing in front of the seawall by Gushikawa Beach. Perspective means the seawall looks much larger in the anime than it does in the equivalent spot in Street View. Looking back, since it has been a shade more than two years since Harukana Receive‘s airing, I imagine that intrepid folks could have already visited Okinawa and tread on the same beaches that Haruka, Kanata, Emily and Claire train on: I had ascertained the locations in this anime while watching it back during the summer of ’18, but one thing led to another, and I never found the time to compile a locations hunt post. This post thus comes to the party two years too late, but I’d figure it would be easier to get it done now, while I’ve got that location hunt momentum going from Koisuru Asteroid and Yuru Camp△.

  • For the New Year, the Beach Volleyball Club visits Futenma Shrine, which sees upwards of a hundred thousand visitors on New Year’s Day. The shrine itself dates back to the Ryukyu era and is estimated to have been built in 1450. Besides being a popular spot for New Year’s, Futenma Shrine is also home to a 280 metre long limestone cave system. Cave tours are run by Futenma’s miko (shrine maidens) and last about half an hour. The first tour begins at 1000, and tours end at 1700. The caves are said to be especially beautiful on sunny days, when sunlight streams into the cave from openings in the ground above, and folks interested in visiting must register to do so.

  • Besides the caves, Futenma also offers ema, wooden plaques visitors write wishes onto. It is here that Akari’s got a surprise for her friends, and despite having drawn bad luck earlier, she’s still in fine spirits: it turns out that bought enough ema for everyone (they’re 300 Yen each). However, during the shrine visit, Kanata catches wind that Ayase and Narumi are preparing to fly out. Not wanting to miss this, Claire asks her mother, Marissa, for some support: moments later, she arrives in a hummer, rearing to take Claire and her friends to the airport to catch up with Ayase and Narumi.

  • Here is a comparison of Harukana Receive‘s portrayal of the gate to Futenma Shrine, with its tori gate. The real world path leading up to the shrine is a bit more ornate, whereas Harukana Receive uses a simpler stone tiling for the floor. However, beyond this minor difference, the commonalities between Harukana Receive‘s portrayal of the real Futenma Shrine are apparent. Futenma Shrine is located sixteen kilometers north of the heart of Naha, near Camp Foster and Camp Buckner.

  • Marissa’s driving takes the girls through the heart of Naha, but despite her efforts, they get caught in a traffic jam. An Eneos Gas Station (“Emcos” in Harukana Receive) can be seen on the right hand side of both images. Initially, finding this spot was tricky, but I ended up working out where it was based on which bridge Kanata sprints across: she is seen running alongside Prefectural Road 221 en route to the airport. In my original post for the eighth episode, I highlighted the methodology for how I came to locate everything. Naha Airport is the constant here, and backtracking from the airport, I ended up using Google Maps’ 3D photogrammetry to check bridges over the Kokuba River to find a match. Once I had the bridge, working backwards allowed me to find the gas station.

  • As far as I can tell, the bridge is not named, but the railings and the fact that another bridge can be seen to the east means I’ve found my mark. The methodology I’d utilised back in ’18 also allowed me to quickly plot out how long the run for each of Kanata, Haruka, Claire, Emily and Akari would’ve been. From the Enos Gas Station to the entrance at Naha airport is a 3.9 kilometre distance, and since the girls are in reasonable shape, it is not difficult to imagine that they could run the distance in under half an hour – as I noted in the original post after episode eight’s airing, 8 km/h is the average jogging speed, and 13 km/h is the average running speed, so covering this distance within the span of 20 minutes or so to reach Narumi and Ayase is not particularly remarkable or implausible.

  • I’ll wrap this post up with a screenshot of the overhead rail line belonging to Yui Rail, which leads to Naha Airport: Emily and Claire can be seen running underneath here. The parkade seen in the background of the real-world location belongs to Toyota Rent-a-Car, and there’s a Nissan adjacent: some visitors looking to do their own tour of Okinawa with a Harukana Receive flair to it might find that driving could be easier than mass transit, on account of how spread out the different locations are. With this in mind, it’s great to finally have my latest location hunt post come to an end, During my original run through Harukana Receive, I’d already located the central locations, but never got around to consolidating everything into a single post for readers until now. It did appear that the locations I found were compiled by another site some time later (they’re dated after my episodic posts) without attribution, but this is completely fine – Google Maps is available to all users, and it’s not as though anime locations should be regarded with the same secrecy as something like launch codes!

Rather than taking viewers to popular destinations, Harukana Receive takes viewers to places that locals know about; as with slice-of-life anime that make extensive use of real world locations, Harukana Receive‘s faithful reproduction of Okinawa serves an important purpose in the anime, namely, to accentuate that the path Haruka and Kanata take towards reaching the National Tournament is framed in reality. Having Kanata and Kanata compete at real venues gives credence to the idea that, with the right mindset and training, promises can be renewed, and dreams can be pursued with one’s fullest efforts. With this in mind, location hunting for Harukana Receive was not a particularly easy task – while the island’s relatively small size and the presence of 3D photogrammetry data makes it straightforwards to find all of the locations without difficulty, I concede that Harukana Receive‘s chosen activity made it challenging to focus on the background and locations: I’d originally made the decision to watch and write about this series entirely on the basis that Haruka had been an interesting character, and I had been curious to see her journey throughout the series. The fact that she has a stunning figure certainly helped, and by the time she and Kanata participate in a smaller tournament, Harukana Receive had definitely made a strong showing with its portrayal of beach volleyball. However, as with my previous location hunts, a desire to push my Oculus Quest further led me to return to the shores of Okinawa. This time, with a renewed determination to find the locations, I believe I have succeeded in laying the groundwork for folks who wish to see for themselves what locations Haruka and Kanata make use of as a part of their journey to fulfil a longstanding promise and reach the National Tournament.

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.

The Earth Science Club’s Real Life Adventures in Kawagoe and Fujimino, Saitama: An Oculus-Powered Armchair Journey of Koisuru Asteroid Part I

“What master do I serve? What am I supposed to say, Jesus?”
“You’re from Earth?”
“No, I’m not from Earth, I’m from Missouri.”
“Yeah, that’s on Earth, dipshit! What are you hassling on us for?”

–Peter Quill and Tony Stark, Avengers: Infinity War

Because Koisuru Asteroid has an emphasis on astronomy, experiencing the activities that Mira and Ao do in real-life is as simple as looking up at the night sky. With the naked eye, one can appreciate the aurora, eclipses and meteor showers. Having a pair of binocular opens one up to dimmer stars in a constellation, star clusters and some of the brighter nebulae, as well as reveal details about the moon. Finally folks with telescopes can really begin exploring the heavens in detail: the Jovian moons become visible, along with Saturn’s rings, dim nebulae, galaxies and double stars. Amateur astronomy is a flexible hobby, and regardless of where one is in the world or what equipment one has available to them, there is always wonder to be had in looking into the skies at celestial objects, whose light has travelled no small distance to reach our eyes. This aspect of Koisuru Asteroid can be conducted from the comfort of one’s own backyard for most viewers – whether one is in Japan or Canada, the northern skies share similar constellations and features. However, there is an aspect of Koisuru Asteroid one cannot so readily experience just from walking the same paths and enjoying the same events as the Earth Sciences Club do. While Mira and Ao look upwards into the same constellations that Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer describe, the former’s everyday experiences with the Earth Sciences Club extend well behind setting up a telescope and consulting star charts as a part of their club activities. Thus, to fully experience Koisuru Asteroid as Mira, Ao, Mai, Mikage and Mari do, one would need to put some boots on the ground in Kawagoe, Saitama. Ordinarily, such an excursion is only a plane ticket away – armed with little more than a smartphone and pocket full of Yen, one can trod the same ground and take in the same sights that Mira, Ao, Mai, Mikage and Mari enjoy as they each strive towards their own goals. With its old town host to a collection of iconic buildings, including the Toki no Kane Bell Tower, Confectionary Row with its sweets shops and Kurazukuri Street’s warehouses, the town of Kawagoe is located some thirty kilometres northwest of Tokyo and has a population of around three hundred and fifty thousand. Much of Koisuru Asteroid is set in Kawagoe, and while my Oculus Quest powered tour of Kawagoe means that it’s a few flicks of the wrist to get here, once the global health crisis is well in hand, travellers may begin considering what a real trip might look like, and the first thing to do is consider ground options for reaching what is affectionately referred to as Little Edo. For this discussion, I will assume that the traveller is landing at Narita International Airport. There are several ways of getting here from Narita, with the best option being to either board an express bus for Kawagoe Station, or use trains. With the latter, one first takes the Keisei Main Line’s Rapid Express train from Terminal 2-3’s station to Nippori Station at the heart of Tokyo, which will take around forty minutes (trains run hourly). Here, one transfers to the Keihin-Tōhoku/Negishi line, which takes them to Akabane Station in fifteen minutes. Finally, Akabane to Kawagoe Station, along the Saikyō/Kawagoe line, is a fifty minute journey.

  • A small bridge over the Shingashi River on the western edge of Kawagoe kicks off this post. This spot is only seen during the opening, as the Earth Science Club never comes here during the course of their adventures. Like the location hunt for Yuru Camp△‘s first season, I’ve elected to do this post in two parts to ensure the length isn’t excessive: for this first half, I’m going to purely to focus on locations in Kawagoe itself, and the second half will showcase places in Ibaraki, Tokyo and the nearby spa the Earth Sciences Club visits towards the end of the second episode. All images for the real-world locations in this post and the second half are sourced from Google Street View and Google Places: there isn’t any place in my location hunts that cannot be visited in the comfort of one’s own home, and I will be providing links to most places for ease-of-access.

  • Koisuru Asteroid portrays Raku Raku Bakery as a mere burger joint that Mira and the others stop at to think of a good activity for the Earth Sciences Club. In real life, Raku Raku Bakery sells freshly-baked goods and Japanese kashi-pan using wheat from Hokkaido; their breads are most similar to the sorts of bread that Hong Kong-style bakeries sell, featuring sweet bean paste and even curry mixed into the dough, yielding a flavourful bread. The soft, chewy bread that is popular in Japan is equally as popular in Hong Kong, and my favourite sandwiches have always been made using thick-cut bread with a hint of mango in it.

  • The street that Mai and Mikage walk along is adjacent to Café Torocco, a café that specialises in sweet potato dishes: for over two and a half centuries, Kawagoe has been a key sweet potato producer, and Café Torocco offers a variety of sweet potato dishes on their menu. Folks can sit down to a sweet potato cake for 500 yen, or spurge on a sweet potato kaiseki for 1900 Yen. The restaurant is located adjacent to Yamawa Pottery, and although the fledgling Earth Sciences Club never visit the café or partake in any sweet potato related foods on Ao and Mira’s quest to find an asteroid, seeing these sights reproduced faithfully does indicate that Koisuru Asteroid was serious about getting the details right.

  • This area of Kawagoe is known as Kashiya Yokocho (“Confectionary Row”) owing to the high concentration of sweets and candy stores. The area’s history is an interesting one – Tozaemon Suzuki opened a shop in the area to provide candies in 1796, inspiring other shopkeepers to open their own businesses, as well. The Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923 would help cement Kashiya Yokocho‘s reputation as a candy-selling district: the earthquake destroyed other candy suppliers, leaving Kashiya Yokocho to be the main provider of candies for a time, and today, these stories continue to manufacture candies using traditional methods. Together with the stone roads and architecture, Kashiya Yokocho is a well-known point of interest.

  • Google Street View is not so extensive as to have coverage of the entire pathway located along the shores of the Iruma River. I ended up approximating the site using satellite imagery and got as close as I could to what could be a candidate site. Of course, differences are apparent in the spot I found – mountains are not visible (the location in Koisuru Asteroid suggests that the Earth Sciences Club is holding their barbeque on the eastern banks of the river, since the mountains are westward), and there’s a truss bridge for a rail line rather than a beam bridge seen in the anime. I imagine that Yuki would’ve chosen somewhere close to the Kasumigaseki East Green Space or Kawagoe Park, but lacking the Street View coverage, this is about as close as I can get.

  • On a quiet Sunday afternoon, some time after Aoi and Mira pass their do-over exams (which resulted from a comedic bit of error-making), they meet up in front of Honkawagoe Station. Ao can be seen sitting on one of the benches, and across the way is a residential area. Observant readers will note that the Google Street View images I have appear to have a higher field-of-view (FOV) than their anime counterparts. The observable world in a single frame from Google Street View is larger than that of what Koisuru Asteroid presents, feeling more zoomed-out in comparison.

  • The contrasts simultaneously result from the nature of the cameras that Google uses, as well as the studio’s desire to keep the camera focused on the subjects (i.e. the characters) – a high FOV in anime is usually done for establishing shots or B-roll type materials. For moments such as when Mira finally gets to Honkawagoe Station, the FOV chosen is appropriate, focusing on the characters. However, the Lawson on the loop by Honkawagoe Station can be seen, along with the stairwells on the side of the building here.

  • Honkawagoe Station services the Seibu Shinjuku Line; as the terminus, it is located around 47.5 kilometres from Seibu-Shinuku Station in Tokyo, and has three tracks at the ground level. Honkawagoe Station opened in 1895 as Kawagoe Station, but was renamed in 1940 after the Japanese Government Railways opened Kawagoe Station. The station averages around 48290 passengers per day as of 2013, and in 2016, underwent expansion to make it easier for passengers to transfer to Kawagoe Station.

  • After Mira spots Moe and Mai by an ice cream stand in front of the Prince Hotel, curiosity kicks in, prompting her to ditch her original plans of going shopping for a bit of Tom Clancy-style foot surveillance. The Prince Hotel is conveniently located, being built adjacent to Honkawagoe Station, and is only a short walk from Kawagoe’s attractions: Confectionary Row and the Toki no Kane bell tower are under a quarter-hour walk from Honkawagone Station. Folks visiting Kawagoe would find this to be a reasonable option for accommodations: the average rate per night is 120 CAD, although there are better-priced accommodations nearby that are only slightly further from the heart of Kawagoe.

  • The convenience store franchise Lawson is ubiquitous in Japan, and is headquartered in Tokyo. However, it has its origins in Ohio, when James Lawson started a store to sell milk in 1939. By 1959, Consolidated Foods bought his store out, and in 1974, they signed an agreement with Japanese company Daiei Inc., opening their first store in Osaka in 1975. Daiei Lawson Co. Ltd. became Lawson Japan, and today, they operate some 11384 locations across the country, being the third-largest convenience store chain after 7-Eleven and Family Mart. One of the joys about location hunts is apparent here: common sights, such as convenience stores, prompts investigation, which often yields fascinating bits about something.

  • A kilometre north of Honkawagoe Station is Kurazukuri no Machinami (蔵造りの町並み, the Warehouse District), one of the most famous sights in the whole of Kawagoe. The area’s history dates back to the Edo period, when trade resulted in merchants requiring facilities to store their wares for easy access. However, after a massive fire that leveled a third of Kawagoe in 1893 owing to the dominance of wooden materials in period Japanese architecture, a novel construction style, kurazukuri, was devised to prevent the warehouses (and their contents) from going up in smoke.

  • Kurazukuri utilises a special kind of plaster in their roofs and layering the walls with clay, the resulting buildings proved to be much more resilient to fires. Their heavy, durable construction has meant that many kurazukuri warehouses have survived to this day, appearing much as they did after their construction. While the buildings have endured, their functions have changed over the years, and many of the buildings in Kurazukuri no Machinami are now museums, restaurants and even private homes.

  • While tailing Mai and Moe, Mira and Ao pass in front of a private residence. While the residence’s gates and window grilles in the anime resemble the real world counterpart’s, subtle differences between the two frames suggest that Koisuru Asteroid has taken a few creative liberties here. Most notable, an apartment building and power lines can be seen in the anime, whereas in the real world, this residence is located adjacent to a wooden building home to Iwata, a store that sells sweet potato products.

  • In Koisuru Asteroid, Kawagoe‘s Kurazukuri no Machinami ends up being a backdrop rather than a destination: Moe and Mai are not particularly interested in stopping here for sweet potatoes, and instead, after Mai photographs a flowerbed in full bloom, the pair head off down a side street leading away from the Warehouse District. The timing of this scene suggested that the location was actually down the side street, but using the Oculus Quest to canvas said side street, I wasn’t able to find any flowerbeds of this sort, so I concluded that this would’ve been the location Mai took her photograph at.

  • The building Mira and Ao pass by is Hinomoto Hapu, a luggage store known for selling reliable canvas bags and backpacks. They remind me of the now-closed Pipestone Travel store in my area – a few years ago, I came here to buy a small travel bag for my conference in Cancún. Because I was travelling alone, and didn’t need much in the way of carry-on, my requirements were for a bag that could hold a 9.7-inch tablet, plus all of my travel documents and had space for a water bottle. I ended up picking out a bag with RFID blocking and was slash-proof. This bag has been in service for several of my travels, accompanying me to Japan back in 2017.

  • Following the side street further will find visitors back in a more ordinary side of Kawagoe: private homes and businesses line this street, but there isn’t anything too historical or noteworthy about it. In real life, attempting to re-trace the path that Moe and Mai took during their treasure hunt based purely on what was seen in Koisuru Asteroid would be a difficult endeavour: while I’ve managed to locate everything in this post, it turns out that the district marker, which Mai had been looking for, is located in Fujimino the next town over.

  • The distance between Mai’s destination and the intersection in Kawagoe is some 6.4 kilometres as the mole digs, but accounting for road distances, is closer to 7 kilometres. This is about an hour and twenty minute’s walk – folks looking to reproduce the walk could simply walk the distance, since 7 kilometres isn’t terribly far to travel on foot, and taking the train (using the Tobu-Tojo line) would require almost an hour anyways: one would need to travel back to Honkawagoe Station and ride to Kamifukuoka Station in Fujimino.

  • Mai and Moe pass through a quiet residential area, with Mira and Ao tailing closely. An awning can be seen here both in the anime and real-world location, providing cover for one of the resident’s vehicles. This neighbourhood is located in the western edge of Fujimoto, and locating it was a matter of backtracking from the district marker. Owing to the ease of finding this spot, I feel duty-bound to remind readers that folks who do travel here to replicate Mai and Moe’s walk should be respectful of the residents here and not hassle them in any way.

  • This effect brings to mind The Dark Knight Rises, during the final climactic battle when Batman faces off against Bane for a second time. As they fight, Bane delivers a kick to Batman, which sends him from Wall Street in Manhattan all the way to Carnegie Mellon Institute in Pittsburgh. Real world locations are often mashed together in fiction to create familiar, but unique spots for the story at hand, and Koisuru Asteroid is no different. I imagine that using a real-world spot for locations is to allow background artists to create locations much more quickly: it is easier to draw inspiration from a photograph than come up with a spot anew.

  • Similarities between the houses seen in Koisuru Asteroid and real life are visible in this still, which occurs moments after Moe catches on to the fact that she and Mai had been tailed. During the course of their mini-adventure, Mira had been posting to Twitter and appending なう (Hepburn nau) to everything, indicating that her observations were being made in real-time. For English speakers, the meaning appears intuitive enough (feeling like a cute way of saying “now”), but it turns out that なう is simply a shorthand for denoting a present action. This particular trend is unique to Japanese SNS, and was also seen in Yuru Camp△ when Rin was detailing her travels to Nadeshiko during a trip to Kamiina.

  • It turns out that Mira’s live-Tweeting did not go unnoticed, and Moe soon busts them, causing Mira to wilt in shame. However, Moe’s irritation vanishes instantly when Mira wonders if the pair are on a date of sorts. Their conversation takes place on this peaceful side street, and the location is identified by the fence and hedge beside one of the houses: even though my angle is different, the similarities are indisputable.

  • Mai explains that her outing had been to see an enclave of sorts, and Moe ended up accompanying her. This still was found looking northwest, and past the row of houses on the street is the edge of town. Again, inspection of details between the anime and Street View shows the impressive extent of similarities: the house on the left has a window above its front door opened slightly, and Koisuru Asteroid reproduces the detail precisely.

  • Strictly speaking, an enclave is a geographical feature in which one territory or region is entirely surrounded by another. Mai’s explanation includes regions that are partially surrounded by other territories, but this is technically incorrect. Such mistakes in an anime usually result either from the author not having a full understanding of the material, or deliberately choosing to have their characters make a factual error to show that they’re still in the process of learning. I typically give the author the benefit of the doubt and suppose that it’s the latter, since watching (and writing about) anime is not a pissing match about who’s more knowledgeable about a given topic.

  • Moe and Ao manage to find another sign indicating where the district boarders are, and Mai celebrates with a group photo to commemorate their day together. On the topic of factual pissing contests, one wonders why I do location hunt posts when dedicated fans, both in and outside of Japan, have gotten to the finish line much sooner than myself. The answer to this question is simple: other location hunt folks often write posts with low-resolution images and may decline on disclosing locations for their own reasons. However, I’ve always found location hunts to be fascinating, as they often indicate the level of effort a studio has taken in adapting an anime: location hunts are therefore a fun way of conveying this for readers.

  • To ensure that my location hunt posts offer something different, I take the pains of researching locations as to provide readers with something beyond the comparison between anime and real life. This is why I structure my posts to also include a bit of a blurb about locations, and where possible, a link to the spot in Google Street View. I believe that information such as this should be shared rather than obfuscated, and I aim to provide a post that gives readers an outline for what a potential in-person visit to anime locations could look like.

  • After a day where Mikage and Mira visit a mineral show in Tokyo (I’ll detail that in the second part to this post), they swing by a small cake shop to unwind and discuss the day’s experiences. While Koisuru Asteroid presents this as being located by Kawagoe Station, it’s actually a stone’s throw from Honkawagoe Station. The storefronts are quite different, and finding this location was probably the trickiest, involving a bit of a trial-and-error. Fortunately, Wander is not a movement intensive app, and I was able to keep my Oculus Quest plugged in while I did my search. I eventually located the cake shop: it’s known as Chouette in real life, and serves a range of cakes and pastries. Visitors describe it as being a very peaceful and quiet location with delicious cakes.

  • Inside Chouette, there is no doubt that this location inspired the cake shop Mira and Mikage stop at after their mineral fair visit. In general, my usual technique for finding a location is to use landmarks, such as local attractions and train stations, to gain my bearings, and then use the Oculus Quest to explore the area as though I were walking on foot, searching through areas based on the paths shown in the anime between different landmarks. The full immersion and spatial awareness makes it much easier to spot things than on a conventional monitor. Once I see enough features line up, I go in for a closer look, and if it’s a match, I record the location. For easily found and obscure locations alike, I use this method: the latter only differ in that they take me a little longer to search for them.

  • For the really tough spots, I use a bit of computer vision to see if the anime location matches any known photographs of the location in real life. While Chouette was the toughest spot for this first half, I did not use those techniques: locating Chouette was a brute force search of the areas surrounding Kawagoe Station (and then realising there were no candidates, I repeated a search around Honkawagoe Station). Kawagoe Station is Koisuru Asteroid‘s Hoshizaki Station: operated by Tobu Railway and East Japan Railway Company, it is the busiest station in Kawagoe, averaging 128 thousand passengers daily.

  • Kawagoe Station was opened in 1915, and the station seen today became operational in 1989. Kawagoe Station is a quarter-hour away from Honkawagoe on foot. The imagery in Google Street View shows the pedestrian walkway as undergoing constructionKoisuru Asteroid shows the same construction in place as Mikage prepares to head home after saying goodbye to Mira, suggesting that Doga Kobo may have relied on this tool extensively to provide a reference for the different locations of Koisuru Asteroid.

  • I’ll close off this first half with a comparison of Koisuru Asteroid‘s 16-metre high Toki no Kane (“Time Bell Tower”) and its real-world counterpart; this bell tower is an iconic part of old Kawagoe and was originally built between 1627 and 1634. Kawagoe was devastated by fires in 1856 and 1893: the current tower was constructed in 1894 and chimes four times a day (0600, 1200, 1500 and 1800). The 700 kilogram bell is visible in both images. With this post in the books, I will be returning to close off my virtual, Oculus Quest-powered tour of Koisuru Asteroid at some point in the near future, and in the meantime, it’s time to make progress with the other posts that were left behind as a result of this project.

Of course, the trek I’ve described is not exactly the best idea in the world at present, but fortunately, viewers can turn to the next best alternative. A good virtual reality headset, such as the Oculus Quest, will allow one to immerse themselves in iconic locations from Koisuru Asteroid. After the successes I’ve had with using the Oculus Quest in locating Heya Camp△ and Houkago Teibou Nisshi locations, Koisuru Asteroid seemed to be the next suitable anime to try my hand at finding the spots to. Unlike Houkago Teibou Nisshi, which was set largely in and around Ashikita (with a few exceptions), or Heya Camp△, whose Stamp Rally was primarily in the Minobu/Nanbu area of Yamanashi, Koisuru Asteroid sees Mira and Ao visit a host of locations. Their everyday experiences are in Kawagoe, which I identified after spotting the Toki no Kane in the ending sequence and subsequently used to find the locations seen in the first few episodes. A cursory search for JAXA’s Tsukuba Space Centre led me to swiftly determine the locations of the Earth Science Club’s summer trip with instructor Yuki (which I will cover in part two). From there, the unparalleled ability in the Oculus Quest allowed me to explore the same old-town streets that Moe and Mai wander on the latter’s quest to find a prefectural boundary marker, and see for myself the Tsukuba Space Centre’s exhibit hall (the latter will be the topic of a later post). Even more so than with Houkago Teibou Nisshi, another Doga Kobo production, doing this location hunt for Koisuru Asteroid outlined the capabilities of virtual reality technologies and how a complete 3D immersion can offer spatial advantages for certain activities. VR technology has come a long way since I was in graduate school: back then, the Oculus Rift system had been a glorified stereoscopic head-mounted display, and the CAVE remained the simplest way of entering a VR environment. In the years following, Oculus upped their game, and with HTC Vive hot on their heels, other companies stepped up to the plate. It was not until Oculus Quest, however, where VR truly became a viable technology: unbound by wires and room-mounted motion trackers, the Quest’s easy setup and usage has made it an appealing headset to use. Coupled with a powerful onboard processor and display, plus a respectable battery life, the Quest has made it possible to fully explore the same locations Ao and Mira visit in stunning detail and comfort. The size of this post attests to the UX the Oculus Quest confers; obscure and little-known locations were found without trouble – that the Oculus Quest has demonstrated itself a versatile and capable tool for anime location hunts, it is tempting to consider what locations could be next on the list of places to check out with a hitherto unmatched level of immersion. However, before then, I will be turning the Oculus Quest’s considerable powers towards one more set of locations that were shown in Koisuru Asteroid, this time, in areas outside of Kawagoe.

The Breakwater Club’s Real Life Fishing Grounds in Ashikita, Kumamoto: An Oculus-Powered Armchair Journey of Houkago Teibou Nisshi

“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.