“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 construction; Koisuru 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.