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The Real Life Locations of The Outdoor Activities Club, Rin and Nadeshiko’s Excellent Adventures: An Oculus-Powered Armchair Journey of Yuru Camp△ 2, Part II

“The journey not the arrival matters.” –T.S. Eliot

For Yuru Camp△ 2‘s second third, the Outdoor Activities Club, Rin and Nadeshiko explore a plethora of locations in Yamanashi and Shizuoka as they continue to respectively carry out club activities and explore new horizons. During the course of the girls’ travels, they cover a vast amount of turf: a grand total of 247 square kilometres of map data was scoured to put this post together, and during the course of compiling a list of all locations, it become clear that each of the Outdoor Activities Club, Nadeshiko and Rin each have their own unique footprints as a result of how they choose to travel and have fun, using the modes of transportation available to them. With Chiaki, Aoi and Ena, their trip to Lake Yamanaka is primarily driven by whatever places they can reach by bus and on foot. Finding the spots they visited proved to be the easiest of everyone because Chiaki had organised their itinerary such that they’d be able to hoof it for the most part, using the bus to reach Camp Misaki as their first day drew to a close. Nadeshiko’s first-ever solo camping trip was similarly small-scale – thanks to Rin’s advice, Nadeshiko is keeping it simple for her excursion to Fujinomiya and Nodayama Health Green Space Park in Fujikawa sees her walking to most places, and taking the train to get close to her chosen campsite. Being more inquisitive and armed with Sakura’s suggestion, Nadeshiko’s footprint is slightly larger than that of the other girls, but the places she visits are still relatively easy to find. Conversely, with her experience and moped, the area of the minimum bounding box for the area Rin visits is the largest of everyone’s, and correspondingly, pinpointing where Rin visited proved to be the most time-consuming. However, because Yuru Camp△ 2 continues in its predecessor’s footsteps in using (mostly) real-world locations, even the most remote corners of Yamanashi can be easily found: the narrow mountain roads Rin travels along limits the search space, and with a bit of patience, I’ve been able to identify enough of the places for Yuru Camp△ 2‘s second third to have a post worthy of readers.

  • When Sakura invites Nadeshiko out to dinner one evening, Nadeshiko is seen sprinting past Caribou to reach this restaurant, but a cursory look around Minobu shows no such place. Instead, it’s set at Fujiyoshi Pure Handmade Soba in Kofu – like Caribou, which was modelled after Sven in Hamamatsu and named after Elk (which is fifteen minutes south). Minobu is a little too small to host things, so I’m guessing that Yuru Camp△ has taken a few liberties with its locations to make it easier for Nadeshiko and her friends. In real life, Fujiyoshi makes solid, homemade soba noodles and chicken, but as Yuru Camp△ shows, they do in fact have a prawn tempura dinner set, as well. Customers are generally impressed with both the food and the service, making this a worthwhile destination to visit.

  • I’ve fast-forwarded ahead to the Outdoor Activities Club’s visit to Fujiyoshida, which is the starting point for their camping trip to the shores of Lake Yamanaka. With its distinct glass façade, Mount Fuji Station is the terminal for the Fujikyuko Line and was given its current name in 2011. It services about fourteen hundred passengers daily, but for Chiaki, Aoi and Ena, I imagine they would’ve taken a bus to get here from Kofu: this is the fastest way, entailing a one-and-a-half hour long bus trip.

  • Here, as Ena, Aoi and Chiaki run for their bus, a roller-coaster can be seen in the background. This rollercoaster belongs to Fuji-Q, an amusement park that opened in 1968 and is particularly well-known for its roller-coasters. Beyond this, Fuji-Q also has several themed attractions, including one for Gundam and Neon Genesis Evangelion. However, amusement parks are not the objective in Yuru Camp△, speaking volumes to what’s on Chiaki, Aoi and Ena’s mind for this camping trip.

  • I did attempt to capture a screenshot of the building where Chiaki, Ena and Aoi grab their transit passes, but because of limitations in Google Street View, I was not able to get close enough to get a clean image. Like my previous Yuru Camp△ location hunts, I’ve exclusively used the Oculus Quest and Wander: its API hooks into Google Street View and its awesome capabilities, allowing me to find everything for these posts much faster than using a desktop or mobile version of Google Maps. My general rule is that if a location cannot be reached on Google Maps and has no information from Google Business, then I cannot feature the spot in these location hunts.

  • The large Caribou store in Yuru Camp△ 2 is actually a Montbell, and sells branded Mount Fuji gear that cannot be purchased at any other Montbell locations. Unlike Yuru Camp△, however, there is no Caribou-kun standing watch at the doorway – instead, there’s a giant bear at the doorway instead. Customers report an impressive selection of outdoors products, and its proximity to Mount Fuji makes it a fantastic place to pick up any last minute gear before continuing on a hike or camping trip.

  • Yamanakako Onsen (Benifuji no Yu) is a hot springs located 5.3 kilometres southeast of Montbell. It’s a 55-minute walk to get here on foot from Montbell, but since Chiaki, Aoi and Ena picked up transit passes, they can simply board a bus and arrive within fourteen minutes. Visitors are have nothing but good things to say about Yamanakako Onsen: although the staff aren’t too familiar with English, the best experience is to be had if one has a Japanese speaker in their group. The onsen are comfortable and peaceful, offering beautiful scenery, and the cafeteria itself is also excellent. offering meals in addition to ice cream.

  • Admissions to Yamanakako Onsen is 800 yen per adult, but one can get a ten percent off discount if they bring in a special flier handed out by the tourism office. Credit cards aren’t accepted, so one should bring cash if they wish to visit. Beyond the outdoor pools seen in Yuru Camp△ 2, Yamanakako Onsen also has indoor pools, a sauna and steam room on site. This onsen is open every day of the week except for Monday and Tuesday, from 1000 to 2100, and while not shown in Yuru Camp△ 2, there’s also a small gift shop here, as well. From what I’ve read of Yamanakako Onsen, one could comfortably spend a half day here just taking in everything, although reception closes after 2030.

  • Ogino Supermarket is only 800 metres away from Yamanakako Onsen: it’s under ten minutes to walk here from Yamanakako Onsen. Yuru Camp△ 2 renders the supermarket as Hagino. I’ve previously mentioned that my thoughts immediately strayed to Hinako Note because Hagino happens to be the surname of the landlady to Hitotose, and in a curious coincidence, her first name happens to be Chiaki, as well. Unlike Chiaki Ōgaki of Yuru Camp△, who is energetic and spirited, Chiaki Hagino is soft-spoken and reserved, although also quite kind. Looking around Ogino, it looks like they sell locally made wines, and generally speaking, they have a wide selection of fresh produce and ready-to-go meals that are less pricey than their counterparts in the Tokyo area.

  • Misaki Camping Ground is located 4.9 kilometres east of Ogino, at the eastern edge of Lake Yamanaka. There aren’t too many attractions nearby (everything is located on the southern side of the lake), and the nearest convenience store is a 7-Eleven about 1.8 kilometres away, the camp ground itself is quite beautiful. Yuru Camp△ has traditionally presented the campsite managers as being friendly people, so it was a little surprising to see Yuru Camp△ 2 present the manager as being more intimidating. Having said this, visitors report the camp’s staff are friendly, and during the summer, the camp’s location makes it great for swimming. The site’s facilities, while not extensive, are adequate, and campers generally have an excellent time here.

  • Yuru Camp△‘s sixth episode remained largely on the shores of Lake Yamanaka and didn’t take viewers to new destinations, but by the seventh episode, things felt more like an episode of Rick Steves’ Europe: between Nadeshiko and Rin’s travels, a lot of turf was covered. With the pair’s solo adventures kicking off, Rin visits Akasawa Village, a centuries-old stopping point for visitors visiting Keishin Temple. Today, Akasawa is a quiet place: the narrow mountain roads are too narrow for larger vehicles, and Akasawa itself is perched on the mountainside between fields of tea trees. Here, Rin travels down a side street leading into Akasawa’s old town.

  • The aesthetic of Akasawa is reminiscent of Magome, the forty-third of the Nakasendō’s sixty nine stations, rest areas located along the route between Kyoto and Edo. Prosperous in its heyday, Magome briefly fell to ruin after the Chūō Main Line railway opened in 1889, but has since been restored to its former glory. Unlike Magome, which is now a popular spot for tourists, Akasawa remains tranquil: the owner of Shimizuya remarks that the average day sees about a hundred visitors at most, and even during the afternoon, when the sun bathes the village in a strong light, the place remained peaceful. This viewpoint overlooks the old town, and to the right, Shimizu-ya can be seen.

  • Shimizu-ya is the cafe that Rin visits while in Akasawa, where she sits down underneath the kotatsu and begins melting from the comfort. She ends up ordering a mamemochi (豆餅) and amazake: the former is, per its name, a mochi with soybeans inside, whereas the latter is a sweet drink made from fermented rice. I’ve always found that Japanese sweets have a gentler flavour to them compared to confections I’m used to, and this allows for more subtle flavours to be tasted, as well. Unlike most places, Shimizu-ya’s staff are fluent in English.

  • After her stop in Akasawa, Rin travels north up route 37 towards the westernmost reaches of Yamanashi. Route 37 runs along a narrow valley deep in the Minami Alps, and there are very few intersections or alternate routes, making it relatively easy to find everything. For Yushima Great Cedar Tree and Naradanosato Hot Springs that Rin visits up here, it was a matter of following the route north and doing a search for these attractions. Thus, even without precisely knowing the names of the places Rin visited, I was able to find everything without too much difficulty. Here is the same bridge Rin passes over from Akasawa en route to her next stop.

  • Yushima Great Cedar Tree is thought to be the oldest tree in Japan: scientists estimate that it is anywhere from two to seven thousand years old, and despite not being particularly tall, its trunk is five metres across. Rin only stops to check out the most famous of the cedars here, which was spared from the axe on account of its impressive dimensions. The area is host to numerous other noteworthy trees, but a full hike takes up to ten hours. After swinging by, Rin heads off for her next destination and spots Sakura’s car after she reaches the trailhead, which is marked by a sign visible both in anime and real life.

  • Rin subsequently heads north and stops at Sotoryo Temple, seven kilometres north of the trailhead leading to Yushima Great Cedar Tree. This temple, however, is not Rin’s final destination: she’s making use of the parking lot out front, and subsequently takes a walk around Hayakawa, the small village where Naradanosato Hot Spring is located. Adjacent to this hot springs is Cafe Kagiya. Tucked away on the forest’s edge, Cafe Kagiya offers a selection of sweets: Rin ends up trying their Shiso cheesecake, which has a sharp, citrus-like taste.

  • Sakura’s decision to take a dip at Naradanosato Hot Springs was meant to accentuate her similarities to Rin. Because of its remoteness, the price of entry to Naradanosato Hot Springs is 550 Yen for adults, and as Sakura notes, the waters here are a bit cooler than the typical onsen‘s. Moreover, the facilities are a bit older and not wheelchair-accessible. Having said this, the atmosphere at Naradanosato is unparalleled, and much as Sakura had experienced in Yuru Camp△, the scenery from the baths are fantastic. Locals note that the lower intensity of the onsen‘s temperatures means that one can bathe for longer, allowing for the scenery of the mountain valley below to really be enjoyed.

  • Forty seven and a half kilometres from Naradanosato Hot Springs as the mole digs, is Fujisan Hongū Sengen Taisha Shrine. Here, Nadeshiko passes by the torii at the front gates, having disembarked from Fujinomiya Station, which is only ten minutes away on foot. Located on the Minobu Line, Fujinomiya Station opened in 1903 and serves about 2400 passengers daily. From Ide Station in Nanbu, it’s a half-hour ride costing 320 Yen to Fujinomiya. Nadeshiko’s first solo camping trip isn’t particularly challenging: to go from Ide Station in Nanbu to Fujikawa Station only requires a single transfer from the Minobu Line to the Tkaido Line, and takes around 72 minutes in total one way.

  • Dating back to 806 AD, Fujisan Hongū Sengen Taisha is a Shintō shrine that is said to have been built to appease the gods during a time when Mount Fuji was an active volcano. Although historical records for this shrine only date back to the ninth century, Mount Fuji only went dormant in 1707, giving this legend some basis in scientific fact. The shrine is intensely associated with Mount Fuji, and people visit here prior to ascending the mountain to pray for a safe journey. Fujisan Hongū Sengen Taisha’s hongen (main hall, seen here) was constructed in 1604, but has since undergone several renovations and repairs.

  • After finishing her shrine visit and praying for a safe solo camping experience, Nadeshiko heads off for lunch. Right at the doorsteps of Fujisan Hongū Sengen Taisha, she finds a yakisoba place called Fujinomiya Yakisoba Antenna Shop – with a regular plate of noodles going for 450 Yen, portions are generous, and the noodles themselves are delicious. This does look like a pleasant place to stop, but Nadeshiko resists the temptation to have lunch here and head off – Sakura had left her with a recommendation from a place she likely visited previously on her own road trips.

  • This recommendation is for a place called Okonomishokudō Itō (お好み食堂伊東, literally “Favourite Restaurant”), where Nadeshiko finds a lineup upon her arrival, which is located three kilometres away from Fujisan Hongū Sengen Taisha. The special she orders here is the Gomoku Shigure-yaki, a variation on the Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki where the yakisoba noodles are swapped out for Fujinomiya-style yakisoba noodles, and nikukatsu (rendered pork fat) is added, resulting in an incredibly rich and hearty okonomiyaki. Despite the generous portion sizes, okonomiyaki here only cost around 750 Yen, and so, Nadeshiko is able to order a little something extra, too. Credit cards are not accepted here, so visitors should be mindful of this and bring cash (which is never a problem for Nadeshiko and her friends).

  • With lunch done, and shopping taken care of, Nadeshiko disembarks from Fujikawa Station and sets off for her campsite at Nodayama Health Green Space Park. Fujikawa Station would be a station one would pass by if they were headed for Hamamatsu, but Nadeshiko’s destination is a bit closer this time around. The station opened in 1889 as Iwabuchi, but was renamed in 1970, and today, it averages around 1500 passengers daily.

  • The underpass that Nadeshiko uses is about four hundred metres west of Fujikawa Station and are known as “subways” in the United Kingdom and Hong Kong. This creates a bit of confusion for folks from North America. In Hong Kong, whenever I saw such signs during my earliest visits, I imagined they were for the MTR, which is the underground rail mass transit system: upon coming down the steps to these subways, I was always confused that there was no entrance to the MTR. Underpasses are a bit rarer in my neck of the woods, but I am glad that the nearby park uses these to make it easier to get here without crossing a busy road.

  • Nadeshiko soon ascends up a switchback that offers a stunning view of Fujikawa below. Because there’s only one way to ascend from Fujikawa Station to Nodayama Health Green Space Park, following the most optimal route will allow one to retrace Nadeshiko’s route with perfect accuracy, allowing one to gaze upon the same scenery that Nadeshiko gazes upon. This walk is no joke, being 5.5 kilometres in length and seeing an elevation gain of around 477 metres. On its own, this would be a decent entry-level hike, but considering Nadeshiko is carrying a full complement of camping gear totally between 20-30 pounds, it speaks to her incredible endurance and stamina that she’s able to make it up here and continue to sing without becoming short of breath at any point.

  • In both the anime frame and the real-world equivalent, Mount Fuji can be seen behind the solar array at the intersection. From here on out, the path isn’t provided with Google Street View: Nadeshiko makes her way onto a trail to finish the climb, and it’s about 2.8 kilometres up to the campsite from here. As the mole digs, it’s only 1.8 kilometres up, but the switchbacks, intended to lessen the slope, adds distance. Drivers need to take an alternate route to get up to Nodayama Health Green Space Park, accessible north of the E1 Expressway, although with a vehicle, the elevation gain wouldn’t be noticeable at all.

  • This pair of tunnels proved to be the trickiest spots to find for this Yuru Camp△ 2 location hunt: I initially thought they were located on a mountain pass on the edge of a cliff, but another frame later revealed that the tunnels were actually located at the base of the mountain. With this in mind, I decided to search for bridges alongside the Haya River, and ended up at the Yamanashi Hayakawa Hydroelectric Station. This is actually as far as Google Street View goes, but unlike the closed main tunnel Rin finds, the Street View imagery shows the tunnel is open, with the secondary tunnel being closed instead.

  • Yuru Camp△ 2 presents Rin as having a very abbreviated drive from the tunnels back down to Amehata, which is thirty kilometres (forty minutes) away. Thanks to Yuru Camp△ 2 providing a hint here, I was able to pin down the last set of locations for this post, which is located on the shores of Lake Amehata. It does strike me that the locations Rin visits on her latest trip are quite out of the way, and for folks without their own scooters or cars, reproducing this trip could prove to be more challenging: as far as I can tell, there are no public transit options into this part of the mountains.

  • The consequence of this is that the Amehata area is remarkably calming, a perfect visual representation of Rin’s own personality. Like Rin, I greatly enjoy visiting obscure, relatively out-of-the-way places that few would visit: last year, I drove out to a remote grain elevator and abandoned mining town in the prairies for fun, knowing that the mountains would be busy. In Yuru Camp△ 2, Rin marvels at the calm beauty that is Lake Amehata here: she’s got clear skies and turquiose lake waters, whereas in the Google Street View equivalent of the same spot, the lake’s got a mirror-like surface instead.

  • The suspension bridge over the Amehata River is about 120 metres in length, and according to the satellite images, leads into a dense forest. One cannot fault Rin for wanting to turn back, since the trail does look a bit tricky. Rin’s reaction to the swaying span of the suspension bridge was an endearing one, and I’ve always found the best way to cross them without being overwhelmed by the motion is to plant one’s feet firmly before taking the next step.

  • This is Villa Amehata, the onsen that Rin ends up stopping at while in Amehata, an older mountain inn with friendly staff and a cozy atmosphere, but more limited amenities. Like Naradanosato, the location means that the cost of admissions is reduced compare to facilities in more well-travelled areas: getting into the onsen at Villa Amehata is 550 Yen for adults, and the baths are open from 1100 to 2000 on weekends. This time around, Rin’s not shown enjoying her soak in the waters, which are sulfur-rich and of a neutral pH.

  • Instead, Rin is shown hanging out in the common area’s massage chairs: like the real-world equivalent, Yuru Camp△ 2 faithfully portrays the busy interior of this space, bringing it to life, right down to the cat who’s fond of staring at patrons inside the room from outside. With Villa Amehata covered off, I believe I’ve checked off all of the more notable Google Street View-accessible spots for Yuru Camp△ 2‘s second third. I will be returning once the second season’s come to a close to deal with the final third’s locations, and in the meantime, I hope readers do enjoy this post, which kicks off the month of March.

The sheer variety of places that Yuru Camp△ 2‘s covered between its fourth and eighth episodes is impressive: from hot springs and tea shops, to train stations and remote mountain roads, Yuru Camp△ 2‘s given off the distinct vibes of a food and travel show – the gentle vibes and incredibly faithful portrayal of real world locations gives Yuru Camp△ 2 a feel not unlike that of Rick Steves’ Europe and Man v. Food, with a hint of Great Continental Railway Journeys and You Gotta Eat Here!. The end result is an anime that, on top of conveying an incredibly cathartic and meaningful thematic piece, also doubles as a light travel show that highlights some of the best that Yamanashi and Shizuoka have to offer. The pacing in Yuru Camp△ 2 suggest that while some truly spectacular locations can be visited if one had a vehicle, there’s still an impressive range of destinations that can be reached on foot and via public transit – the visitor without a moped or car will therefore still be able to enjoy the okonomiyaki that Nadeshiko tries, and enjoy an ice cream following a blissful soak in the onsen near Lake Yamanaka, while folks with access to a vehicle will really be able to drive right into the narrow switchbacks of the Minami Alps to check out Hayakawa. As Sakura so elegantly puts it, travel shows do often inspire people to check out local attractions, and Yuru Camp△ 2 has done a fantastic job of showing off some of the best places in the area, to the point of inspiring readers to visit for themselves. With two thirds of the Yuru Camp△ 2 in the books, I am looking forwards to one final location hunt as the series gears up for its big finish.

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 Real Life New Year’s in Minobu, Camping Grounds of Rin and Nadeshiko’s Shizuoka Excursion: An Oculus-Powered Armchair Journey of Yuru Camp△ 2, Part I

“But, rest assured, this will be the fourth time we have written one, and we have become exceedingly efficient at it.” –The Architect, The Matrix Reloaded

With Yuru Camp△ 2 now in full swing, and in the interest of not accumulating a large number of anime locations to sift through, I’ve decided to try something a little different this season. Previously, with Houkago Teibou Nisshi and Koisuru Asteroid, I had demonstrated that the Oculus Quest has been an immensely powerful tool for doing anime location hunts while I’m still in my pajamas, before my first cup of Earl Grey. Yuru Camp△ 2 continues to prove the power of VR-powered location hunting. Right out of the gates, this second season takes viewers to the Shizuoka prefecture, as Rin longs to camp by the ocean for a change of scenery. Her journey takes her to Ryukyokayo Koen Auto Camping Ground, and when an unexpected snowstorm prevents Rin from returning home to Yamanashi, she visits Nagisaen Camping Ground in Hamamatsu, near where Nadeshiko lives. By a serendipitous turn of events, Nadeshiko had been, in fact, set to visit family in Hamamatsu, and upon learning that Rin’s here, she visits a day earlier, treating Rin to some of the finest eel in the area before taking her to visit her grandmother and childhood friend, Ayano. The aesthetic of Yuru Camp△ 2 is distinct from that of its predecessor, but the lessons remain strikingly familiar, and Rin’s adventures see her visit attractions that only locals know of, including Kimikura Teahouse near Kakegawa and Shizuka Confectionery in Kanzanjicho. Concurrently with Rin’s adventures, Chiaki and Aoi visit Mount Minobu in order to check out the first sunrise of the year. Par the course with my previous location hunt posts, everything in this post was done using the Oculus Quest and Wander, which makes extensive use of the Google Maps API to retrieve Street View data and project it into a 360° environment, where the immersion makes it easy to really feel as though one were wandering the same places Rin, Nadeshiko and the others pass through. Having previously used the Oculus Quest for location hunting, I’ve found this tool to be remarkably efficient for making posts like these; unlike the location hunt for Koisuru Asteroid, where I’d spent upwards of five hours tracking down everything, this time around, locating the places Rin and Nadeshiko visit in Shizuoka (and Mount Minobu for Chiaki, Aoi, Akari and Minami) only required an hour of searching inside the Oculus Quest.

  • After my Koisuru Asteroid location hunt, I feel like I’m on a streak for location hunting, and so, I’ve opted to write this post sooner so that the locations are still fresh in my mind. This time around, I begin with a rather more ordinary location closer to the girls’ home: Minobu Post Office (2483-37 Umedaira), which is where Nadeshiko takes up a part-time job delivering letters to fund her desire to purchase some serious camping gear. This post office is located across the river from where the girls had stopped after their visit to Caribou during the first season. After the first episode aired, I swiftly found this location by doing a brief search for every post office in the Minobu area that was located near a river: my strategy this season is to locate spots as episodes air, mention them in the episodic post and then do a location hunt post afterwards, consolidating the spots under a post.

  • I appreciate that the post title for these location hunt posts sound very obtuse, but it’s done deliberately to increase search engine visibility – these posts do take a bit of effort, and so, I would like more folks to have a chance to check them out. Back in Yuru Camp△ 2, Rin begins her trip for Shizuoka and travels down Route 10 by early morning, crossing a bridge just north of Nambu while heading south. One of the pluses about the Yamanashi area is that the valley is relatively narrow, and there are fewer routes one can take going north-south. This makes it easy to trace the routes that Rin and the others take to their destinations: since Rin was heading into town here, I worked backwards and travelled north from Nambu to find this spot, located around six hundred metres north of the starting landmark.

  • After arriving in Nambu, Rin runs into Nadeshiko near New Yamazaki Daily, a convenience store at the heart of Nambu: Nadeshiko moved to Nambu from Hamamatsu at the start of term (roughly in September or October), and while she’s spent some time in the area, Yuru Camp△ has her spending a great deal of time in campsites. Heya Camp△ remedies this by having Chiaki and Aoi bring Nadeshiko to local attractions. I originally found this spot by hunting down Nambu Bridge East, which a sign had been pointing to. However, I think this post would be quite unexciting if I stayed in Yamanashi the entire time.

  • So, it’s time to kick things upstairs, and travel some 79 kilometres south south east to Cape Omaezaki, where Rin takes in the beautiful ocean sights. This is the southernmost point in Shizuoka, and there’s a lighthouse here (visible in this image): a lighthouse has existed here since 1635, although it wasn’t until the Meiji Restoration that the modern structures were built. The parking lot Rin makes use of is visible in this scene, as is the lighthouse itself: now a tourist attraction open to the public, the lighthouse had sustained damage during the Second World War, and in 1949, was re-opened with an upgraded Fresnel lens after undergoing repairs.

  • After satisfying her desire to enjoy the ocean (and taking a bunch of photos in the process), Rin travels west along Sun Road to her next destination, a tea shop. This seaside path is indeed beautiful: while Rin’s westbound path takes her away from the ocean, heading eastbound gives drivers an even nicer view of the ocean. The scenery here brings to mind gentler sections of Taiwan’s Hualien-Taitung Coastal Highway (Provincial Highway 11) on the country’s eastern coast. Overlooking the Pacific, Highway 11 passes through some of Taiwan’s best sights, running along narrow cliffs overlooking the ocean’s edge below, but other portions of the highway just north of Taitung are easier to negotiate, presenting a gentle ride along the coast to drivers.

  • After Cape Omaezaki, Rin heads for Kimikura Teahouse. This is a drive of around 30 kilometres, taking an estimated 40 or so minutes to complete. The end result is well worth it: despite being located a bit out of the way, the store sells a variety of teas (senchahojicha and matcha), along with tea sets and other items. Rin runs into a familiar face here: the hiker she’d encountered during the first season happens to work here. After Rin buys tea for her mother, the lady working her suggests that Rin check out the second floor, which is home to a tranquil teahouse that serves a range of teas and Japanese sweets, as well as ochazuke (a simple but tasty rice bowl with savoury ingredients steeped in tea). At the time of writing, it appears that a honey-strawberry parfait is their seasonal special. Kimikura’s tea shop is typically open from 1000 to 1900, and the teahouse itself opens from 1030 to 1800.

  • While Rin worries that the teahouse’s relaxing atmosphere may prevent her from leaving, the prospect of doggos sees her set off for her main event in Iwate: Mitsuke Tenjin Shrine, home of Shippeitarou III. Here, I’ve shown the position of the gate leading to the shrine, which is a 21 kilometre drive from Kimikura Teahouse (assuming Rin takes the routes without tolls, this is a 20 minute journey). Mitsuke Tenjin Shrine is open from 0830 to 1700, and as Yuru Camp△ presents, is home to the spirit of a dog that vanquishes a monkey spirit to keep the nearby village safe. The shrine is also visited by folks praying for academic success.

  • Rin’s final destination for the day is Ryuyokaiyo Koen Auto Camping Ground. Located on the eastern branks of the Tenryū river (Japan’s ninth longest), Ryuyokaiyo Koen offers a variety of camping options for visitors, ranging from RVs and cottages to sites for tents. The “free sites” that Rin camps at doesn’t mean “free of charge”, but rather, refers to an open site that allows a camper to set up their tent wherever they wish on the grounds. Renting a spot here overnight costs 3140 Yen, but since Rin is camping here on a weekday, a 900 Yen discount lowers her price to 2240 Yen.

  • While Ryuyokaiyo Koen is doubtlessly a scenic sight, and the wind farms are visible, much of the path that Rin takes while exploring the coast isn’t covered by Google Street View. As such, I’ve briefly returned the party to Minobu: this is Kaisando (常護堂), a Bhuddist Temple perched on the summit of Mount Minobu. It is here that Chiaki, Aoi, Akari and Minami pray for happiness and success in the New Year ahead of the first sunrise of the year. These are the stairs that everyone climbs en route to the temple itself, replicated faithfully to their real world counterparts.

  • At the top of the steps is the temple proper. Folks looking to visit Kaisando can do so by boarding a tram at Minobu Ropeway. Ascending to a height of 763 metres during its 1665 metre long, 7-minute trip, it would cost Chikai, Aoi and Minami 1500 Yen each for a round trip ticket (Akari’s ticket costs 750 Yen). After reaching the top station, it’s a relatively short walk to Kaisando, and behind the temple is an observation deck overlooking the valley below, perfect for enjoying the first sunrise of the year.

  • With the Minobu sunrise behind us, the next destination is Hamamatsu itself as Rin heads here ahead of Nadeshiko’s arrival. She travels down Route 301, which is adjacent to both the Tōkaidō Main Line and the Tōkaidō Shinkansen; the latter is actually visible in both Yuru Camp△ and the real-world counterpart. The Tōkaidō Shinkansen bullet train began operating in 1964 and could reach speeds of up to 285 km/h, connecting Tokyo to Osaka. The original trains had a maximum speeds of 210 km/h, but upgrades to the technology allows the trains to operate at their current speeds.

  • Because Hamamatsu has 3D buildings, I was able to utilise the Shinkansen’s placement, coupled with rudimentary of geographical features in the area, to locate most of the spots that Rin visits. Knowing that Rin’s path followed the Tōkaidō Shinkansen line, I simply followed this in Google Maps’ 3D mode until I found an underpass matching the one Rin passed by, then switched over to the Oculus Quest, allowing me to find the bridge Rin crosses en route to her next destination, Nagisaen Camping Ground.

  • Nagisaen Camping Ground is located on an artificial island on the southern edge of Lake Hamana. Rin is charged 420 to make use of a free site (again, free as in “FFA”, not “free of charge”), although the website for Nagisaen now gives the price as being 410 Yen. I imagine that the location on an artificial island means that Nagisaen is a veritable oasis amongst the urban bustle of Hamamatsu (a city of around 800 thousand people). There’s an aquarium on this island, as well, but given Rin’s funds remaining, she chooses not to visit (320 Yen per adult), instead, heading off to see the ocean. Details of the main building are faithfully replicated, right down to the placement of vending machines.

  • Kaishunro Hotel is located on the island Rin had entered earlier, being adjacent to Bentenjima Seaside Park. From this site, Bentenjima Red Gate can be easily seen: after Rin enjoys a relaxing onsen soak here for 800 Yen, she comes upon a crowd gathered to see the sunset. Visitors report that the onsen‘s waters are very pleasant, and while the hotel offers both indoor and open air baths, the latter are a mixed area, so one must bring a swimsuit to use it. Rin, on the other hand, is content to enjoy the onsen in a traditional manner through the indoor baths. After returning to her campsite, Rin begins looking at buying a little something for Nadeshiko.

  • The next morning, Rin has the instant noodles Nadeshiko had given her (they did come in handy, after all!) before setting off for Kanzanji. Upon her arrival, she’s greeted by the sight of streets full of restaurants serving unagi (eel), and in a moment reminiscent of the 1945 film The Lost Weekend, struggles with the idea that she doesn’t have enough funds to try the area’s eel out. However, she does get what she came for: here at Shizuka Confectionary, the strawberry daifuku are indeed something the shop is famous for, but should these sell out, it is fortunate that the shop’s other products are excellent, too.

  • While Rin is panicking about the crowds of shoppers equally as excited as she is about the strawberry daifuku, Nadeshiko swings by Fujita, a confectionary store near Kiga Station – this store has been around for just a shade over half a century and is very well-known in the area. Nadeshiko picks up custard cream filled imagawayaki (今川焼き), a pancake-like dessert that originated from the Edo-period. Besides a cream filling, this shop also offers imagawayaki with anko (red bean) paste. Fujita’s imagawayaki is said to be particularly delicious, being flavourful without overwhelming the palette and going for 120 Yen apiece (hence Nadeshiko’s ordering two!). Visitors should keep in mind that the shop is closed between June and September.

  • Hamanako-Sakume Station is located only twenty minutes away from Kiga Station, and it is here that Nadeshiko meets with Rin. While an otherwise unremarkable location in Yuru Camp△, the actual station is indeed home to flocks of black-headed gulls. The original station was constructed in 1938, and since 1970, the station no longer has any active staff. This station is probably one of the quietest I’ve written about, averaging around 25 passengers a day.

  • Sakume is just across the road from Hamanako-Sakume Station, and this unassuming building is home to a brilliant unagi restaurant. As Yuru Camp△ portrays, eels are prepared live in front of patrons: they are gutted, cleaned and then grilled over charcoal. The resultant eel is said to be melt-in-your mouth and has an excellent taste owing to how fresh it is: it is unsurprising that Rin finds herself in flavour heaven after taking her first bite. Yuru Camp△ appears to have changed some details slightly, having the restaurant serve different qualities of eel: in reality, Sakume offers two types, and three portion sizes for each. Further to this, the prices seen in Yuru Camp△ are a bit more conservative than they are in reality.

  • After lunch, Nadeshiko and Rin continue down the road (Route 310), past a railway crossing. The elevated freeway above is a part of the Tomei Expressway, a toll road. These small details serve to reiterate that Yuru Camp△ is very much about providing the most authentic experience possible, and with the exception of the characters’ houses, everything is rendered with a very high degree of precision, right down to the patterns on the barriers and railway signs at this crossing. Locations such as these, ordinary intersections or sections of road, are normally much trickier to find, but fortunately, this spot was located a shade under three hundred metres from Sakume, and so, proved very easy to find.

  • I’ll close off this first part with a screenshot of what the actual site of Nadeshiko’s grandmother’s house looks like compared to its anime counterpart: there’s a vacant lot here instead of a small, cozy-looking house. I found it by following Route 310 along the shores of Lake Hamana until I found this building, with its distinct x-railing guards and red roof. Because this is a vacant lot, there are no residents to hassle, but folks who visit this area for real should still be respectful of folks who live in the area. With this post in the books, I will be returning to write about Yuru Camp△ again once the fourth episode airs, and in the meantime, it’s time to focus my efforts on a reflection of Left 4 Dead 2, now that I’ve finished the original campaign, as well as my thoughts on Black Mesa‘s first act.

This post is likely to be the first of several Yuru Camp△ 2 location hunts; because the series has previously indicated it would be faithful to real-world locations, it stands to reason that the remaining episodes in the series will take viewers to hitherto-unvisited locations, all of which have their own history and special features worth sharing. Location hunt posts are always fun: in the current climate, these Oculus Quest powered ones demonstrate how a little imagination and powerful hardware can confer upon folks adventures to tide them over. Under ordinary conditions, location hunt posts give readers an idea of where everything in an anime is located, allowing folks to plan out their own excursions to Japan and experience the things that are portrayed in a given anime. Whether it be my location hunt posts, or those from other bloggers and writers, I do hope that readers will find the information contained in these posts useful for anything from creating dinner conversation to drafting out plans for an actual visit. Of course, having now seen Yuru Camp△‘s presentation of specialties in Shizuoka and Hamamatsu, viewers are better prepared for their own travels should they decide to check out Nadeshiko’s hometown: for instance, since real-life visitors won’t have the equivalent of a Nadeshiko around, they would do well to carry some extra cash if they’re interested in sitting down to a delicious eel special for lunch (it’s always useful to have a little extra cash in Japan, since some of the smaller shops and restaurants do not accept credit cards). Having showcased some of the attractions Yuru Camp△ 2 takes viewers to, I will be returning periodically to explore other locations; so as long as Google Street View or Google My Business, and its associated photographs and 360° images, are available for said locations, it would be possible to immerse oneself in Yuru Camp△ from the comfort of a good chair, without digging out one’s passport, which is the next best thing to being in Japan in person.

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.