The Infinite Zenith

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Tag Archives: Japan

The Real Life Camping Grounds and A Mystery Lake: An Armchair Journey of Yuru Camp△ Part Three

“A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.” –George A. Moore

While this is a Yuru Camp△ post, permit me to indulge in an anecdote completely unrelated to Yuru Camp△, whose relevance will become apparent once I finish. I refer to the mockumetary series Pure Pwnage, whose unusual take on gamer culture and unique sense of humour made the series a highly memorable, timeless satire of gaming. I’ve referred to Pure Pwnage here on several occasions and have even written about the movie, which premièred in 2016. In Pure Pwnage, I’ve found a surprising depth in the series for how it handled life lessons, and another aspect that stood out is that Pure Pwnage is all-Canadian. The series predominantly features locations in Toronto, but also makes some use of locations in Montreal, Hamilton and even Calgary. The biggest query on my mind was where in Calgary FPS_Doug’s most famous scenes were shot: the streetlights seen while Doug is driving around and explaining his backstory are only found in Calgary, and the neighbourhood looked very familiar. The precise location continued to elude me, but then I realised that I could make use of a unique-looking landmark to figure things out. While Doug is driving, he passes by a school with a green, conic roof. Armed with this bit of information, the knowledge that such a school did not exist in the quadrant I am most familiar with, and Google Maps’ 3D mode, I found out that the school is called Monsignor JS Smith School, and using some additional tricks, worked out where FPS_Doug’s most infamous moment occurred. One of Pure Pwnage‘s most iconic moments was filmed in Douglasdale, a community in southeast Calgary, and it turns out that this is probably why FPS_Doug is called Doug. How is this pertinent to Yuru Camp△, one asks? The knowledge of a few basic clues, some resourcefulness and a powerful tool has allowed me to work out some of the locations behind Rin and Nadeshiko’s camping trips: unlike the previous trips, these locations proved to be more challenging to find, and without these techniques, this third and (maybe) final armchair journey post would not exist.

  • While the skies may not match up entirely between the Yuru Camp△ images and the real-world equivalent, it is clear that Yuru Camp△ has captured the moody, brown landscapes of the Nagano hills by autumn, right down to details in the road signs. Unlike many of the previous locations, however, this stretch of open road was not easy to find, since there were no major landmarks to help determine where the route was. It turns out that this is Route 194, just north of the gas station where Rin waved to the traffic camera.

  • I will outline briefly the technique for how these lonely stretches of road are found here, and reiterate the process later – quite simply, it entails knowing roughly where Rin started, where Rin is going, and the fact that Yuru Camp△‘s attention to detail has led the girls to take the shortest path to their destinations. Taken together, this means that we can at least narrow down the route to one. Having a single path to follow means a brute force search of the spots seen in Yuru Camp△ is not as painful as it otherwise would be.

  • This is one of several paths up the mountain to the Yatsugatake-Chushin Kogen. In Japan, a Quasi-National Park is a park that is managed by nearby prefectures, rather than the federal government. Yatsugatake-Chushin Kogen is a quasi-national park designated as such in 1964, managed by the Nagano and Yamanashi prefecture governments, and has a surface area of close to forty thousand hectares: it encompasses several lava plateaus and is a popular site for skiing. The area’s volcanic origins mean that onsen are also found here.

  • Here, we are looking at an ordinary roadside turnout. According to Google Maps, Rin would’ve continued on into the mountains along route 194, turned onto route 199, and then made her way back down along route 142. She would then turn right onto the Shimo-Suwa-Okaya bypass, continued on until she reached the Takabochi Skyline route and then ascend upwards into the mountains again. The entire run is around 37.1 kilometres, and back home, this distance can be traveled in roughly a third of an hour on open road. However, the winding mountain roads and area traffic slow things down.

  • The sign here (高ボッチ鉱泉) to the Takabocchi Hot Springs indicates that it is around six kilometres out, and last I checked, this hot springs has been permanently closed. While there’s the misconception that it was closed for the season, the sign seen in Yuru Camp△ indicates that this closure is indeed permanent, otherwise, the sign would indicate that it was closed seasonally. One can empathise with Rin, who’s traveled for upwards of an hour and a half outside, where it is 2ºC: while this is warm for folks of the True North Strong™, I know that being outside for this long without proper outerwear can be quite chilly.

  • Rin busts some mad moves on her way down to the Takabocchi hot springs. Six more minutes further would have seen Rin arriving at Akanejyuku Hot Springs, which visitors report to be quite comfortable and relaxing. Akanejyuku is a ryokan, but their hot springs are open to the public; admissions for adults is 700 yen, although the site asks visitors to limit themselves to sticking around only an hour to respect the accommodations for the ryokan‘s guests. Like the hot springs at Banff, the site’s water temperature may fluctuate unexpectedly.

  • With her plans to warm her bones in the onsen dashed, Rin returns up the way she came and stops in the wide open spaces of the Takabocchi highlands, which offer a sweeping view of the Japanese Alps to the northwest. Mount Fuji is also visible in the east when visibility is good. Between May and October, dairy cows also graze up here, although since it’s November by the time Rin visits, the grasslands are now quite empty.

  • The Yuru Camp△ incarnation of this field, with its cattle, seems a mirror of what I managed to find on Google Maps, and admittedly brings to mind “Bliss”, one of the most famous Windows wallpapers of all time. Featured as the default wallpaper for Windows XP, “Bliss” depicts an open field in California’s Sonoma County and was photographed by Charles O’Rear, but the site has changed considerably in the years since the photo was taken; there’s a wineyard up here now.

  • The combination of radio transmission towers and fog gives the area a distinctly Syphon Filter-like atmosphere: this series of third-person stealth shooters were released for the PlayStation and PlayStation 2 consoles of old, and when older graphics hardware meant that fog was widely used to conceal distant objects owing to limited draw distances. The towers at Takabocchi belong to NTT DoCoMo, a phone service provider whose name is a shorthand for the phrase “do communications over the mobile network” and also is phonetically similar to the phrase dokomo (どこも, “everywhere”).

  • From this entry, it’s a short 400-metre hike to the very top of Mount Takabocchi, which is 1664 metres above sea level. The ascent is actually not too arduous, as it’s quite flat up here, and, quite dejected by how her day’s turned out, Rin decides to climb up to the summit. It’s impossible not to feel bad for Rin, who wonders if it would’ve been easier to camp closer to home. Her first-ever long-range camping trip was met with a few disappointments, but from the viewers’ perspective, her day also had its high points, as well.

  • Whether it’s the sunset or midday, the view from Mount Takabocchi is spectacular. On Rin’s walk up to the summit, the dense clouds gradually give way, and she’s afforded with a spectacular view of Lake Suwa and the valley below. The density of particulates make it difficult to discern Mount Fuji from this spot, but Rin’s rewarded with a good view of Japan’s most famous stratovolcano, as well. I remark that Lake Suwa formed the inspiration for Itomori Lake in Your Name, and while I was in the area last, I was also actively avoiding spoilers about the movie.

  • As such, I did not make the connections when my travels took me close to Lake Suwa. Nonetheless, I enjoyed my travels considerably, and it was an added bonus that I did end up in the area that partially served to inspire Your Name‘s Itomori. We presently leave Lake Suwa behind and return to Hottarakashi Camping Ground, where Nadeshiko has decided to undertake a walk under the night skies. During her walk down from the campsite, she’s visibly frightened by the dark, but nonetheless persists in her walk and is rewarded for her troubles. Visible on the left is a fruit shop.

  • This viewpoint overlooking Yamanashi offers a stunning view to match the view that Rin’s got at Takabocchi; Yuru Camp△‘s deliberate choice to pick locations with beautiful night views and juxtapose Rin’s solo camping trip with Nadeshiko’s group camping with Chiaki and Aoi show that in spite of outward differences in their chosen approaches, both ways of camping have their merits and lead to a similar destination: a sense of wonder associated with the outdoors.

  • Rin’s travels come to an end with a visit to Suwa’s Takashima Castle and a proper soak in an onsen. The original castle was built in 1592, during the Edo period but was dismantled during the Meji Restoration. The current structure was the result of a reconstruction project that finished in 1970; the rebuilt castle is not entirely accurate to its original form, but it’s nonetheless a pleasant place to visit. Besides a museum, there’s also a park that provides a good view of cherry blossoms.

  • Nadeshiko accompanies Rin on her latest camping trip; after Rin expresses a desire to test her shiny new portable grill out, she invites Nadeshiko to come with her to Lake Shibire. This time, Rin and Nadeshiko receive a ride from Sakura. At the beginning of their journey, Sakura takes a route over Toyama Bridge on the Katakajima Bypass on her way to Iitomi, where the girls pick up provisions for their camping trip.

  • Google’s directions tool provides several possible routes to reach Lake Shibire: Sakura opts to take the slightly-longer but presumably more familiar Motosu-Michi route, which brings the girls by their high school. This particular stretch of road leads up to Lake Motosu, although rather than making a right onto route 412, Sakura continues along route 300 to their destination. From the concrete barriers to the retaining wall, Yuru Camp△ has lovingly illustrated the girls’ routes; at this point in the game, it is evident that intrepid adventurers can take the very same paths in Yuru Camp△, but further to this, one would likely need to rent a vehicle to begin trekking along some of these paths.

  • Sakura takes route 414, a narrow mountain road that leads up to Lake Shibire. The guard rail and narrower road indicates that this spot is deeper in the mountains, ruling out the small valleys along the way, and so, just like that, we find our location. Again, the attention to detail in Yuru Camp△ is exceptional; inspection of the real-world and anime images find considerable similarities: the same power cables can be seen in the anime screenshot as in the image from Google Maps.

  • There is only one way up to Lake Shibire from route 414, and this is up route 409. Because route 414 is down a very narrow, winding road, one imagines it would be quite easy to miss important intersections, so it makes sense that signs indicating directions of places would be placed at said intersections to help motorists out. Thus, the sign and mirror seen here were found fairly quickly. I should note that if my links break for any reason, please let me know immediately, so I can set about replacing them!

  • As much fun as it sounds, the legend of the bull that Yuru Camp△‘s narrator explains is, unfortunately, bullshit; the lake’s name in kanji is 四尾, or “Four tails”. This is said to have originated from a legend where a four-tailed dragon god resides up here. Here is the same monolith that Rin passes by en route to their campground, although the photograph does not capture the autumnal beauty of Lake Shibire in its full glory. Here, I mention that other sources have considered Yuru Camp△‘s narrator as ‘mysterious’, but I think that the narrator is Rin’s grandfather. Encountered while Chiaki is hunting for camping spots, Rin’s grandfather is an expert camper and inspired Rin to take up camping: it is only logical that he is the one explaining to audiences what the campers are up to.

  • Nadeshiko takes a walk around Lake Shibire while Rin sets up the campfire. This particular camping trip proved to be quite entertaining for viewers: Nadeshiko’s fear of the dark means that she’s reluctant to be out and about after sunset, and she decides to make the most of things while it’s light out. Rin seems unperturbed by the dark, although when returning from the bathroom, encounters a “mysterious shadow” that she bolts from. Rin is so shaken that she decides to spend the remainder of the night in Nadeshiko’s tent, and while she does not outright say it to Nadeshiko, it’s clear that in this moment, Rin is glad that she was not camping solo.

  • Prior to the events of Yuru Camp△, Nadeshiko lived at the edge of Hamamatsu, a moderately-sized city with a population of nearly eight hundred thousand people. She mentions that she was close to Hamana Lake, so this is where I began searching. Because 3D buildings are available, it was possible to fly overhead and, even though I was applying a brute force search, it was moderately quick to locate this intersection by viewing the shoreline of the lake and then working out what landmarks below looked familiar.

  • From features seen in Yuru Camp△, I eventually found this spot, located on a bridge south of Lake Hamana, connecting an island where Nagisaen Camping Ground is located to a series of reclaimed islands. As a software developer, I believe in good documentation and good step-by-step instructions. While I am of the mind that ideas and information that is worth something should definitely be protected, simple or trivial things, such as a simple “indexed table view with a search bar” or locations of an anime are not meant to be kept behind lock-and-key.

  • Nadeshiko had long admired Mount Fuji from afar, and when her family moved to Nanbu, her first decision was to see Japan’s best mountain up close and personal. Nadeshiko recalls the drive to Nanbu from Hamamatsu, so to find this spot along Nadeshiko’s route, I decided to see how one would get from Hamamatsu to Nanbu. The returned results include the Tōmei Expressway and Shin-Tōmei Expressway, a divided highway, and the image from Yuru Camp△ depicts the freeway as cutting through a forested, mountainous area with an overpass visible in the distance. The Shin-Tōmei Expressway cuts through more forest, so I looked overhead for any intersecting routes, and eventually came across the one depicted in Yuru Camp△, which is near the Maoten Shrine. While Mount Fuji is visible from this point on a good day, it is nowhere near as prominent as seen in Yuru Camp△.

  • The remainder of the locations in this post are fortunately, not so obscure: we return to the valley where Nadeshiko and the others spend their everyday lives in Yuru Camp△ here. This is Minobu station, which has been in operation since 1920. The current building dates back to 1980, and the station averages around four hundred and fifty passengers daily. From Minobu Station and the surrounding town of Minobu, the locations that Chiaki, Aoi and Nadeshiko travel along to reach the Caribou outdoors shop are easily found along route 10.

  • This crosswalk is found adjacent to Minobu Station: we are looking at a liquor store and a restaurant. A little further down the road is the confectionery store where the girls buy manju. These are apparently so good that Nadeshiko and Aoi eat their way through theirs in a heartbeat, and rush off to buy more. In their conversation, Aoi, Chiaki and Nadeshiko wonder why the manju are overlooked amidst the other offerings in Minobu. However, since Yuru Camp△ aired, this particular shop has seen an increase in sales, and visitors find that true to what the girls experience, the manju are excellent.

  • Because talking about benches is quite dull, I will deviate from what the screenshots above yield and discuss the Caribou outdoors store: in one of my reviews, I mentioned that looking around the area does not find such a store to exist. As it turns out, the actual store that Nadeshiko, Chiaki and Aoi visit is located in Hamamatsu. I imagine that like Glasslip, the change in location is intentionally so to facilitate the story: from the girls’ train station at Kai-Tokiwa to SWEN in Hamamatsu is a journey of at least three hours rather than the sixteen minutes it takes to get from Kai-Tokiwa to Minobu Station.

  • As we near the end of this third part of my Yuru Camp△ Armchair Journey mini-series, I will note that there might be a fourth part in the future as my schedule allows, but for now, readers will have at least three comprehensive parts to look through and explore. I will make a map available in the future, but for now, readers do have direct links to the Street View points for more obscure locations. For obvious locations like Minobu Station and its surroundings, I leave it to you, the reader, to explore around.

  • While landmarks such as Minobu Station and its surroundings are straightforwards to find, there are challenges encountered with more mundane, obscure locations. Fortunately, locating the last of these locations was not as tricky as finding that intersection in Hinamatsu: as we near the end of this post, we have one more ace-in-the-hole. Previously, we figured out where Rin and Nadeshiko’s school was, and judging from the lighting of the sky, it’s after school. So, the question then becomes “how does Nadeshiko get from school to Kai-Tokiwa Station?”, and knowing this, if we follow the shortest route from school to the train station, we have a relatively short walk that we can follow. Exploring this allows us to find the exact spot where Nadeshiko waves to a dog on a truck.

  • As we follow this route to its conclusion, we come across a bridge with a sign indicating that its maximum load is fourteen tonnes. It is here that Nadeshiko encounters a Google Street View vehicle, with its distinctive camera fixture. From the road sign and storefront, to the adjacent white apartment and street lamps, Yuru Camp△‘s attention to detail is visible again here. While her voice and message indicate excitement, Nadeshiko also seems a bit shocked that she’s encountered such an unusual vehicle here.

  • During the evening, Rin explores the area surrounding her school using a tablet. Google Maps was launched in 2005, and a mobile version for Android became available in 2008. The technology has come a very long way since then, and one of the features I make use of the most frequently is offline mode. This function is most useful when I’m in areas without a cell signal or WiFi, and today, Google Maps on tablets is immensely powerful, allowing me to explore areas in Street View as smoothly as I do on a desktop computer.

  • The surprise that Rin finds while exploring familiar streets is as much of a nice easter egg as the various Stan Lee cameos and the end credits sequences of MCU movies. The real world location is quite devoid of people, and I note here that while Yuru Camp△ is excellent in terms of details, they missed one thing in this Street View segment: Google routinely blurs out faces and license plates to preserve privacy. Nadeshiko’s face is not hidden here: while Google is reasonably thorough, they can sometimes miss things, and users are asked to report anything that they would like to be blurred. Of course, this is one case where realism is not of utmost important: a blurred Nadeshiko would destroy the joke of running into her at this crosswalk.

The backroads Rin took to Mount Takabotchi, Nadeshiko and Rin’s ride to Lake Shibire, Nadeshiko’s flashbacks to Hanamatsu, and the Google Maps locations that sees Nadeshiko encountering Google’s Street View vehicle, were far more obscure than any of the locations I had previously kept track of. There are no distinguishable landmarks, street signs or other indicators of where some of these locations are. However, there is my accumulated knowledge of how Yuru Camp△ does things: two approaches were used to find the locations showcased in this final Yuru Camp△ Armchair Journey post. The first is that the anime sees the girls take the most efficient route to get from point A to point B, and so, given that we know what the optimal route is, we can trace this route and, following it, find things that are more obscure (such as the highway Nadeshiko recalls driving down while moving to Nanbu or the sign pointing to Lake Shibire). The second is that as long as the girls are on foot, we can explore nearby areas (within a one-kilometre radius) if their starting point is known. Nadeshiko’s viewpoint of Yamanashi and the hot spring Rin initially hoped to enjoy were found in this manner. The end result of this is that I find myself highly impressed with the attention to detail that Yuru Camp△ takes in depicting not just the techniques for camping, but also the journey and paths everyone takes to their destinations. By now, it’s become clear that the only way to really enjoy these locations is if one has home field advantage, or a considerable amount of vacation time on their hands – for everyone else, I again defer to the incredible capabilities that Google Maps has conferred upon us. Short of travelling to Japan in person, this tool has offered no shortage of exploration options that will serve to deepen the audiences’ appreciation of the effort that went into making Yuru Camp△. I close with the remark that, back in Pure Pwnage‘s first season’s eighth episode, Jeremy and Doug square off again DeathStriker6666 at LANageddon in Calgary. I immediately recognised the streets and hills as being in Calgary, but for the longest time, I wondered where the location was. After attending a Japanese festival at the Bowness Community Centre, I realised that the site was the one and the same for LANageddon, bringing an answer to yet another long-standing question I’ve had about Pure Pwnage. One thing’s for sure: I highly doubt that there exists anyone else out there who’ve had the audacity to mention Yuru Camp△ and Pure Pwnage in the same sentence, much less in the same blog post.

The Real Life Camping Grounds and Two Campers’ Views: An Armchair Journey of Yuru Camp△ Part Two

“Life is a journey, and if you fall in love with the journey, you will be in love forever.” –Peter Hagerty

Yuru Camp△‘s first episode set the precedence for what to expect with respect to attention to detail and atmosphere, so when the anime continued into its run, it was hardly surprising that the locations depicted were highly faithful to their real-world counterparts. As the anime moved ahead, Rin undertakes a camping trip at Fumotoppara. Her solitude is soon interrupted by Nadeshiko, who’s asked Sakura to help drive her there. With a host of ingredients in tow, Nadeshiko makes a fantastic dinner for Rin as a thank you for earlier. Later, Nadeshiko formally joins with the Outdoors Activity Club and takes a camping trip together with Chiaki and Aoi at. Their adventures happen in parallel with Rin, who takes a solo journey out to Kirigamine Highland in Nagano prefecture with her shiny new bike. Like Rin’s journey to Koan, details in both trips are rendered with exceptional precision, to the point where one could follow the girls’ travels in a near-flawless manner and experience what they did with naught more than a set of coordinates representing the routes they took. Similar to the last post, I will be making use of Google Maps’ Street View utility – all of the screenshots shown here are openly available on Google Maps. The landmarks, such as train stations and the Fuefukigawa Fruit Park, are trivially easy to find. My approach in tracking down Rin’s route through Nagano is a bit more involved but still straightforwards: because Yuru Camp△ takes the time to show highway signs, it becomes possible to work out which route the sign is found on and what intersections it might be near. With this one, a range of locations between the second and forth episodes are found, illustrating the exceptional details Yuru Camp△ places into illustrating the locations the girls travel through and to.

  • Rin travels along a small road off Route 139 leading to Fumotoppara Campground. The Google Street View team evidently has come later in the year: the leaves have already fallen from the many of the trees, making the distant hills and plains more visible than in Yuru Camp△.

  • This view is taken some 15 kilometres away, as the mole digs, from the quiet country road Rin is travelling on: we are looking east along Route 803 towards the bridge that Nadeshiko was crossing in the first episode. From Nadeshiko making a request to the point where she touches down at Fumotoppara, every step in Yuru Camp△ is presented. This is one of the reasons why I count Yuru Camp△ worthy of the mantle “Survivorman The Anime” – Les Stroud is very meticulous and methodical in his survival advice, similar to how things are done in Yuru Camp△.

  • While Sakura was seen giving Nadeshiko a (admittedly adorable) physical beating in the first episode, her willingness to drive her all the way out to Fumotoppara from Nanbu is a strong indicator of the warm bond that the two siblings have. A large mountain range separates the two locations – the road distance is a hair over 40 kilometres, and owing to speed limits, it takes around an hour to go around the mountains.

  • The Fuji River is visible down Route 10 here: in both the anime and real-world images, the green guardrails lining the road and a train tunnel to the right, are visible. With a total length of 128 kilometers, the Fuji River features several dams along its run for generating power, and downstream, the bridge where the Tōkaidō Shinkansen crosses the Fuji River, with Mount Fuji visible in the background, is one of Japan’s most iconic views. When I first looked at my itinerary to Japan more than a year ago, I thought I would be going south through Shizuoka, but my travels brought me to Yamanashi and Nagano.

  • The turn here is located along Route 469 near the Hachiman Shrine between the Toshima and Inako station. The mountains in Japan are by no means formidable compared to the likes of the giants that characterise the Canadian Rockies, but nonetheless represent barriers to travel. Tracing the route that Sakura takes to Asagiri Plateau shows that she’s taking the most efficient route possible. This is logical from a production perspective, as well – the art crews are unlikely to be impressed if their route is all over the place, and it is more economical to simply follow a route and render choice points along the way.

  • This stretch of road is quite near Asagiri Plateau: owing to the narrow lanes, the speed limit here is 50 kilometres per hour. It is located around 21.6 kilometres (thirty-six minutes) away from the point illustrated in the earlier set of screenshots: the times and distances returned by Google Maps indicates that a speed limit of 50 kilometres per hour is the norm. While this seems very slow, having driven on narrow mountain roads, I can say with confidence that these lower speed limits are intentionally so for the drivers’ safety: while in Banff National Park, the narrow, winding roads to some features are such that I feel uncomfortable going any faster than 30 kilometres per hour.

  • While Google Maps passed this area in November, the area has dense foliage. By comparison, the anime incarnation of this area shows a much sparser foliage, making Mount Fuji more visible. Careful inspection of the images also show that along the guard rails of Route 139, those tall grasses are visible in both the anime and real-world screenshots, suggesting that, even if I’m not precisely where Nadeshiko and Sakura pass by, I must be close. The choice of colours in Yuru Camp△ suggest a much chillier, drier day.

  • As evening sets in, Sakura and Nadeshiko finally reach the parking lot at Fumotoppara. This wide open expanse is a far cry from the cozier spaces of Koan Campground at Lake Motosu: with an elevation of some eight hundred metres above sea level, the region east of Mount Fuji consists of a large amount of pasture land. This is quite suitable for dairy farming, and during Yuru Camp△‘s final camping trip, Chiaki and Aoi enjoy ice cream from a local producer.

  • The Outdoor Activities Club’s first camping trip takes them to Hottarakashi Campground. Minobu Station to Yamanashi Station is around an hour and sixteen minutes by train, and from here, the girls have a bit of an uphill walk to reach their campsite: it’s 4.1 kilometres out, and while this can be walked very quickly, Aoi, Chiaki and Nadeshiko are also carrying a nontrivial amount of gear for their trip. As such, when the girls reach the uphill portion of their walk, they tire very quickly.

  • The bridge over Fuefuki River is less than two hundred metres from Yamanashi Station, and true to its real-world counterpart, has a railing that is reproduced faithfully. The smokestacks visible in the Yuru Camp△ screenshot are not found in the real-world equivalent: this series of warehouse and storage tanks belong to the Japan Carbon Co. Ltd: they have a manufacturing plant in Yamanashi.

  • Nadeshiko’s boundless energy stands in stark contrast with Aoi and Chiaki, who slowly haul their gear up the mountain. During this trip, Nadeshiko is also carrying an entire rice cooker. This road is located off a right turn on Route 140: maps mark this as “Fruit park Entrance”, and the street lamps here are fruit-themed, as seen in their distinct red housings. One interesting thing in Japan is that their streets don’t have names: districts in Japan are divided into blocks, and while unintuitive for us gweilos, the system is actually similar to the Military Grid Reference System that NATO militaries use.

  • While I leave readers to again enjoy the similarites between Yuru Camp△ and real life, I continue on from the point before. Use of a system similar to the MGRS eliminates ambiguity: back in Canada, if I say “5th Street and 4th Avenue”, because of the way this works, I could be referring to different intersection. To solve this, I would need to specify which 5th Street and 4th Avenue I’m referring to (e.g. 5th Street East and 4th Avenue North). Another minor detail about Japanese addresses is that they start with a coarse granularity and work their way down, while addresses most of my readers are familiar with will start with a fine granularity and work their way up.

  • After an ardous climb that leaves Chiaki and Aoi exhausted, the girls reach the park at the base of Fuefuki Fruit Park. Nadeshiko has energy to spare and runs around like a cheerful puppy, and while the Street View has not provided readers with the same view of Mount Fuji that Yuru Camp△ does, on a clear day, the summit of the stratovolcano is just visible over the other mountains in the distance.

  • The Fuefukigawa Fruit Museum consists of three large glass domes. One acts as a greenhouse and houses a variety of tropical fruits, the second is a combined restaurant, fruit shop and book store, and the third is an enclosed open space that occasionally hosts performances. For folks in this area, the museum is definitely worth visiting: for one, it’s free admissions, and the area also provides a spectacular view of the Yamanashi valley below. The domes are open between 09:00 and 17:00, and the gardens and parks surrounding these are always open. I will be covering Nadeshiko and the others’ camping experience at Hottarakashi in a later post.

  • We hop over some 46.25 kilometres (as the mole digs) to a spot on Route 17: Rin passes by this point on her way to the Kirigamine Highland. For both anime and real-world images, some greenhouses are visible here. I passed through this region last year while travelling from Lake Kawaguchi to the Shirakabako Hotel on the shores of Lake Shirakaba last year: rather than Route 17, I was on the Chuo Expressway. Unlike the Outdoor Activities Club’s camp, whose locations are not only walkable, but also trivially easy to locate, Rin’s route is a bit more obscure. Locating it by brute force would take forever, and this is time I don’t have, especially considering that I did not pass along this road, but fortunately, there is a trick.

  • We recall that in my previous Yuru Camp△ armchair journey, I mentioned that the total accuracy in signs between the anime and real-world incarnations would be useful. With this sign, we know that Rin is taking Route 17 and is coming up on an intersection for the Yatsugatake-Echo Line (八ヶ岳工コーライン on the sign). With this, we can precisely pin down where Rin is, and from here, it becomes reasonably straightforwards to trace Rin’s path as she travels into the Kirigamine Highlands.

  • Moving along Route 17, one can see all of the intersections Rin stops at: she’s following a car with a dog in it for a considerable distance, and I feel that a some of the Manga Time Kirara series seem to have animal motifs for their characters. Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka?‘s characters resemble bunnies, while Kiniro Mosaic and K-On! characters are kitten-like. In Yuru Camp△, puppies seem to be the motif.

  • We are very nearly at the end of this post, and I will take some time to explain the rationale behind these posts. While looking around for information, I found another series of similar posts that dealt with the real-world locations of Yuru Camp△. While similarly detailed as the content here, the difference between my posts and theirs is that theirs uses small 320 by 140 images. My story with location hunt posts begins in 2012, when I was given a request to translate and make accessible a series of location posts for CLANNADKanon and The Disappearance of Suzumiya Haruhi. Originally formatted in SHIFT-JIS, the pages were indecipherable in some browsers and featured tiny images that made comparison difficult.

  • I am forgiving of the old SHIFT-JIS sites because years back, broadband was just becoming commonplace and bandwidth was still expensive. However, it is now 2018: 2007 called and want their 320 by 140 images back. These images are too small to be comfortably viewed on a phone and are too fuzzy to appreciate on a desktop browser – I know that some folks are protective of their content, but we exist in an age where some things exist to be shared. Since the screenshots of Yuru Camp△ and the corresponding locations in Google Maps are publicly accessible, I see no reason that anyone should play the gatekeeper for freely available content. As such, this series of posts will feature screenshots in a proper resolution.

  • While I’m a bit lazy to link the screenshots directly, folks interested in checking the locations out for themselves can always click on the links to do so, and I am willing to send out links to the full-resolution screenshots if there is demand for them. Returning the party to Yuru Camp△, we’ve reached the Kirigamine Highlands, and here, Rin stops in front of the Chaplin Restaurant, which visitors have remarked to have a good view and reasonable service. However, Rin’s destination is a smaller inn to the back, known as the Korobokkuru Hutte. This inn is not reachable via Street View, but by this point in time, I should have no troubles in convincing readers that Korobokkuru Hutte is also faithful to its real-world counterpart.

  • Up here on the Kirigamine Highlands, it feels distinctly like the open plains around Southern Alberta’s foothills. Shorty after the episode aired, I popped up here for myself and located the very same traffic webcam that Rin is waving from. Because I knew where Korobokkuru Hutte was, I reasoned out Rin’s path of travel and found a gas station facility further to the west. I’ve mentioned this in the earlier post, but for folks who don’t like clicking on links back to another page on this blog, here is the location in Google Maps. In my talk at Yuru Camp△‘s halfway point, I noted that the webcam Rin waved at is real and has a website providing real-time footage. However, because it is powered by Flash, readers will have to give Flash permission to run in order to see anything.

  • iOS devices will not run Flash unless jailbroken, and Android devices need some tinkering with to run Flash, so if you’re running stock iOS, that link to the webcam won’t work. I left my talk at Yuru Camp△‘s halfway point on the conclusion that in Yuru Camp△, either Flash is more secure and mobile phones allow Flash to run natively or Nadeshiko has 1337 phone customisation skills. This brings my second part of the Yuru Camp△ armchair journey to a close, and looking ahead, there is to be one more part in this mini-series. This final post should be out before May is over, but for now, my attention has turned towards Amanchu! Advance and Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online, which has turned out surprisingly engaging. As well, with Battlefield 1‘s latest weapons crate update, and some of my latest experiences, I will also be looking to share that with readers in the very near future.

Thanks to remarks from Yuru Camp△‘s author, Afro, and a bit of Google-fu, Rin’s second campground is quickly pinned down, along with the location of Korobokkuru Hutte, a small restaurant that Rin stopped at en route to her campground in Nagano and the route the Outdoors Activity Club take on their way to Pine Wood campground, including Fuefukigawa Fruit Park and Hottarakashi onsen. To be able to trace these routes means that fans can experience both Rin and the Outdoors Activity Club’s travels in full, down to the exact same dishes and food items that the girls enjoy on their adventures. With this in mind, the Outdoors Activity Club’s trip to Pine Wood is the easier of the two to replicate for visitors: Yamanashi station up to the campground is around a 4.7 kilometre walk. With an elevation gain of 371 metres, the walk can be completed in around 50 minutes at a moderate pace. By comparison, Rin’s travels from Minobu to Korobokkuru Hutte is around 102 minutes and spans 108 kilometres: the shorter route has a toll, so it follows that Rin will be going the long way around. Unless one has their own transportation, following in Rin’s footsteps would be rather more difficult. Consequently, if individuals were interested in retracing the adventures of Yuru Camp△, I imagine that a greater number of recollections for Nadeshiko and her friends’ path would exist. However, this should not dissuade inquisitive individuals from checking Rin’s journey to Nagano if their resources allow for it – as I’ve mentioned in the first part of this Armchair Tour of Yuru Camp△, if you’ve got adventures to share about your visit, I would love to hear about it!

A Thousand Yen View of Mount Fuji: An Armchair Journey of Yuru Camp△ Part One

“I’ve been camping and stuff, but if you left me in the woods I’d probably just curl up and cry until someone found me.” —Norman Reedus

When I watched Yuru Camp△‘s first episode, it was a cold January evening, and I had just returned home after a warming, hearty dinner of beef short ribs and Andouille Sausage, fried green tomatoes and yam fries with cornbread. Entering Yuru Camp△, my expectations of the anime was limited to that it would depict camping amongst a group of friends, and that campgrounds surrounding Mount Fuji would be prominent. However, as the first episode began rolling, it became clear that Yuru Camp△ was vying for the title of “Survivorman The Anime” – its exceptional attention paid to details in camping is evident in step-by-step instructions of how tents are set up and how one can use pinecones as a fire starter simultaneously provides viewers with useful information about camping, all the while presenting Rin and the others’ camping trips as pleasant experiences. The details in Yuru Camp△ are such that one’s curiosity is piqued, and after some Google-Fu, I learned that the locations of Yuru Camp△ were inspired by real-world locations. Faithfully rendered, this adds a sense of realism and immersion into the anime, and moreover, with the sophistication that Google Maps offered, it became clear that it was possible to trace the very route Rin took on her way to Lake Motosu. This forms the motivation for this mini-series of posts, collectively titled “An Armchair Journey Yuru Camp△“: in this mini-series, I will be exploring some of the locations visited in Yuru Camp△ and matching them up with their real world equivalents. Unlike previous posts, where photographs were provided by intrepid readers, this time, I will be making exclusive use of Google Maps and Street View to match locations seen in Yuru Camp△ to real locations.

  • Yuru Camp△ opens with Rin cycling along Route 300 (Motosu-michi). The real-world location images are sourced from Google Maps’ Street View, and dated to November 2017. Appropriately, the leaves in the area are yellowing as Autumn sets in: I imagine that the Google Maps incarnation is somewhat later than when Rin set off for Lake Motosu, as there is more greenery in Yuru Camp△ than there is in the real-world equivalents. To kick things off, folks interested in exploring this stretch of highway may do so here.

  • Yuru Camp△ sees Rin and Nadeshiko biking around a great deal in the beginning. Rin’s bike ride from Minobu up to Lake Motosu and Koan Campground sees her ascend some 700 metres in elevation: Koan Campground is around 938 metres above sea level. While 700 metres is a considerable gain in elevation, involving a lengthy uphill climb with a bike, how hard it is to actually ascend a hill is dependent on several factors.

  • Rin makes the ascent look easy, and I remark that there’s also a psychological component in biking: once one has done a route before and know what to expect, they become more efficient at choosing when to expend energy and when to take a “slow and steady” approach. Having biked extensively, I usually prefer taking hills one stroke at a time to conserve on energy. Other factors in Rin’s biking is that her folding bike is a world apart from my mountain bike, being much lighter.

  • Rin reaches the Nakanokura Tunnel here, a section spanning some 558 metres. Yuru Camp△ depicts there being a sign on the tunnel’s western end, but nosing around, I was unable to find the sign on this side of the tunnel. I remark here that because Yuru Camp△ has a great deal of scenery, duplicate screenshots from my other posts might be a very real possibility. In general, I try not to have duplicate screenshots where possible, but the exception is for location hunt posts.

  • There’s a thrill about biking through a tunnel, but this is also a dangerous task if one lacks proper tail and head lights on their bikes. In Canada, the minimum requirements are that bikes must be equipped with both a tail and front reflector. More serious cyclists will use LED lights to increase their visibility. While noticeable in the other screenshots, slight differences in perspectives are visible between the anime screenshots and images taken from the real world.

  • Once Rin reaches the eastern end of the tunnel, it’s only a stone’s throw to the Koan Campground. After viewing the first episode and realising the extent that Yuru Camp△ has gone to reproduce the actual locations, I began contemplating a mini-series of posts to be titled “An Armchair Journey of Yuru Camp△“: there is no substitute for actually being somewhere, but technology has become sufficiently sophisticated such that it is possible for one to explore some locations in the comfort of home to get an idea of what a location might look like.

  • Rin exits Nakanokura tunnel here, and true to the same spot in reality, there is another sign specifying the tunnel’s name and length. Visible above the tunnel is a sign that indicates the tunnel is a no-stopping zone, and the speed limit is fifty kilometers per hour. The speed limits in Japan aren’t too radically different than they are in Canada: they default to 60 kilometers per hour unless otherwise posted (it’s 50 kilometers per hour in Alberta).

  • The signs seen in Yuru Camp△ are identical to their real-world counterparts, and so, it is actually a reasonably straightforwards task to map out how the girls get to their campgrounds in later episodes. The first episode has Rin coming up from Route 300 eastward, and the anime depicts the last 1.5 kilometre leg of her journey to the Koan Campground, making it trivially easy to trace her path, but the implications of the high detail means that for the later episodes, it would be similarly straightforwards to follow the girls’ paths as they embark on their travels with a very high precision.

  • Third largest of the Fuji Five Lakes in surface area and the deepest, Lake Motosu has a maximum depth of 121.6 meters. Sharing the same surface elevation as Lake Shoji and Sai, geologic evidence suggests that these three lakes were a single lake prior to Mount Fuji’s eruptions in 864-868 AD. Presently, Lake Motosu is, along with the other Fuji Five Lakes, popular as a sightseeing and vacation destination. While Mount Fuji in Yuru Camp△ is obscured by clouds in the same manner that I saw when I was in Japan last, the Street View version shows Mount Fuji under much more favourable viewing conditions.

  • As noted in my first Yuru Camp△ talk, this public restroom is a bit of a walk from Lake Motosu’s shore. One thing in Japan that takes some getting used to is the fact that their standard “Western” style toilets are as complicated as the cockpit of an air superiority interceptor. For my part, I did not use any of the complex functions with Japanese toilets: my only requirements for a fully-functional toilet is that it can flush.

  • Details, right down to the facade of the public bathrooms, are rendered in great detail. While one cannot reasonably expect to find a Sleeping Nadeshiko™ here if they were to visit for real, a look at the terrain surrounding Lake Motosu and the fact that Nadeshiko’s home, some forty kilometres away in Nanbu would explain why the normally-energetic Nadeshiko is now bushed: new to the area, she’s cycling in uncharted roads and therefore, lacks the same psychological readiness that Rin has. With this being said, I’ve never seen anyone sleep like this in a public space, although I do concede that there is an adorable element in seeing Sleeping Nadeshiko™.

  • A mountain visible in Yuru Camp△ on Lake Motosu’s opposite shore is visible in the real-world equivalent. Now is a good time as any to explain the title of this post: it is inspired by Nadeshiko and her wish to check out Mount Fuji for herself, after being inspired by the design seen on the current iteration of the Japanese 1000-yen bill, which began issuing in 2004. The presentation of Mount Fuji on this note, the lowest paper denomination of Japanese currency is can be seen on Koan Campground’s official website and is adapted from a photograph taken by Kōyō Okada, a renowned photographer.

  • Koan Lodge’s main building is where Rin goes to check in and pay for admissions to the Koan campground. According to their official website, the base cost is 600 yen for adults (7 CAD at the time of writing), and there are additional fees for assistance in setting a tent up and parking. For children, the cost is a mere 300 yen. The site does not rent camping equipment, and availability is on a first-come-first-serve basis. Cabins are also available, with a six-person cabin beginning at 17280 yen per night (208 CAD). From Koan Lodge’s main building, it’s straightforwards to find the public washrooms and the chain gate leading down to Koan campground.

  • It’s been a year since I last visited Japan, and a year ago today, my tour brought me to the Yamanashi region. While the weather was exceedingly pleasant, clouds continued to obscure views of Mount Fuji, and I was denied the view of the stratovolcano’s flat summit. However, what I could see of Mount Fuji was majestic. We had yakiniku and explored a small village surrounding the Oshino Hakkai, then ascended the south face of the mountain to the Fujinomiya Fifth Station for an up-close-and-personal view of Japan’s most iconic mountain. The day concluded with a lengthy ride to the Shirakaba Hotel, at the eastern edge of the Kirigamine Highlands.

  • Further Google-fu finds that for folks interested in travelling to Lake Motosu from Tokyo, the number of options are limited: only one bus route exists. Departing from Shinjuku, this option costs 2200 yen (25.86 CAD), and the ride is around two-and-a-half hours. The bus does not stop close to the Koan Campground’s main building, so there’s a bit of a walk to actually reach the site.

  • In this post, I’ve opted to provide simple links to the equivalent spots on Google Maps so you, the reader, can explore them for yourself if you so wish. Rin’s journey and camping at Koan Campground occur in a relatively small region, so all of the spots seen in Yuru Camp△‘s first episode are very easy to locate once a few waypoints are known. As Rin’s journey broadens in scope, and the anime’s travels extend to encompass Nadeshiko and the Outdoors Activity Club’s adventures, the amount of surface area to explore in Google Maps will increase considerably. I put together a map shortly after finishing Yuru Camp△ and will share this in a later post.

  • Observant folks will notice a corner of Nadeshiko’s pink jacket in the anime image: she’s moved. Her story is a hilariously piteous: after tiring out from biking all the way from Nanbu, she fell asleep, missed the scenery and awoke when it was dark. The first episode of Yuru Camp△ shows that for her stoic, taciturn manner and love for reading about the occult, Rin frightens surprisingly easy. Once she calms down, she helps Nadeshiko out and learns more about her, all the while leading Nadeshiko to see a peaceful and spectacular view of Mount Fuji under a full moon.

  • Sakura arrives to pick up Nadeshiko, coming from the same direction that Rin took earlier. She’s pulled up and parked at a space adjacent to the Minobu Information Center, which is the log cabin just visible above the black Toyota Matrix in the real-world photo. A glance at the maps shows that, as nice as the location was, it would have been around eighteen kilometers from Lake Kawaguchi, which was the last stop of the day when I was visiting the Yamanashi area a year ago.

  • From Lake Kawaguchi, the fastest way to get to the Minobu Information Center is actually down route 139, which takes visitors through the infamous Aokigahara, which is a particularly dense, pristine forest stretching between Lake Motosu and Lake Saiko. Satellite imagery shows an uncommonly thick forest which makes navigation very difficult. Aokigahara which is best known as the “Suicide Forest”: owing to its dense growth, it can be very easy to become disoriented, and some unfortunate individuals have chosen to make this their final destination in past years. It would be hilarious to see the Outdoors Activity Club attempt camping Aokigahara in the way that only Yuru Camp△ can present, but in reality, camping in the forest is a difficult task: the terrain is not well suited for camping, and as far as I can tell, there are no sanctioned campsites here.

  • Yuru Camp△‘s first episode concludes with Nadeshiko riding a bike through the Nanbu area. She’s biking over the Fuji river here: Nanbu (南部, literally “South Area”) is a small town of around 8600 and has no secondary schools. Details, such as the guardrails, are faithfully reproduced, although evident from the screenshots, the weather in Yuru Camp△ is rather nicer than the moodier skies seen in the Google Maps image. This particular bridge is located at the heart of Nanbu along route 803, facing east.

  • Because Nanbu has no secondary schools, Nadeshiko’s commute to school is a lengthy one: she must bike to Utsubuna Station, then take the train up to Kai-Tokiwa station and disembark here before setting off on a 770-metre uphill walk to her high school. The train stations along the Minobu line are older: Kai-Tokiwa station opened in December 1972, and the iteration of Utsubuna Station seen here opened in March 1967. The Minobu line itself runs for around 88.4 kilometers, and along its run, there are 39 stations.

  • Close inspection of the town in the valley below shows that Yuru Camp△‘s incarnation is much less developed, less densely-built than the real world equivalent. The great distances separating the locations of Yuru Camp△ are apparent in the first episode alone, and even attempting to cover off the areas seen in the first episode alone would require a vehicle to do effectively: mass transit would be quite slow out here.

  • In both the anime and real-world images, a corner of the high school is visible. Having taken a look around the area, the high school is not named on the maps. Closer inspection in Street View will find that there is indeed a school here. This school is out of the way, so I’ve provided a link here to this location for easier exploration. This brings the first part of my “Armchair Journey of Yuru Camp△” to a close, and looking ahead, I see at least two other parts in this mini-series. I did remark that May seemed to be a quieter month, so I’d figured that I should roll on this series before things get more busy in the future.

With the camping facilities and Lake Motosu so readily located, Yuru Camp△ made it apparent that all of its locations would be based on their real-world equivalents. The manga further explains details of each locale, providing yet another excellent resource for folks: I’ve heard that camping attendance has surged since Yuru Camp△‘s airing, attesting to the sort of excitement and inspiration that anime can generate amongst its viewers. In Yuru Camp△, every step is so vividly rendered that one would, with the appropriate equipment and some basic outdoorsman know-how, be more than capable of following Rin’s footsteps in recreating her solo camping experience. While this is very tempting, for folks outside of Japan, such a trip would also be prohibitively expensive: from a value perspective, it simply is not worth flying over to Japan for the singular purpose of camping at Lake Motosu. Having said this, I will be exploring some other locations that Nadeshiko and Rin camp at in the very near future: with a few more locations in mind, if there are any folks out there who wind up flying over to Japan and camping at a variety of the sites seen in Yuru Camp△, I would certainly love to hear your stories and adventures. In the meantime, for folks whose thoughts for this trip are still in the consideration phase, I invite you to look around on Google Maps for yourself: I will be posting a more complete map when this mini-series of posts end, but for now, I’ve chosen to kick things off with a link to the Street View around Lake Motosu as a starting point.

Reflections on visiting the Land of the Rising Sun and Pearl of the Orient

“All right, okay, now we’re in the quiet safe room where none of the stuff that I bought from various shops can be lost in transit. Now, let’s look at all the stuff we got. We got a Kimi no na wa Official Visual Guide, that’s sixteen hundred yen. We got a Mount Fuji fridge magnet, that’s four hundred and eighty yen. We got, uh, a…some bells from the Hong Kong airport. Seventy Hong Kong dollars.” —Stealy, Rick and Morty

I’m back from my travels across the ocean to Japan and Hong Kong after two weeks; having returned for a week now, the effects of jet lag and a persistent cough picked up on the flight back are no longer felt, and the time is appropriate to do a short reflection at my travels through a section of Japan, which encompassed a journey from Tokyo to Osaka over a four-day period. It’s the first trip I’ve done in some time that did not involve my graduate work, and during the course of my travels, I noticed that time moved at a much more relaxing, casual pace than it does when I’m at work. After brief stay in Tokyo and an overnight at the Hotel Heritage Resort (where I had a fantastic evening dinner and soaked in the onsen) on the first day, we travelled to Mount Fuji and toured Oshino village nearby before ascending to the Fifth Station located on the side of the mountain for a closer look at Japan’s most famous mountain for day two. The day ended at the Ikenotaira Resort, located in the Kirigamine Highland. On the third day, after enjoying some fresh strawberries at the Enakyo Observatory overlooking the Kiso River, we strolled down the walk at Magome Village and sat down to a Japanese-style lunch before visiting Nagoya’s ​Atsuta Shrine. On the final day, Kyoto’s legendary Kinkakuji was first on the list of things to take in, followed by Nara’s ​Tōdai temple in the afternoon. The day concluded in Osaka, bringing the lightning tour of Japan to a close. Subsequently, I flew to Hong Kong and spent a week there with family, doing a self-guided tour by day and sitting down to dinner with relatives and family friends by night. It’s been a most pleasant experience, and by the end of things, I was quite ready to return to the True North Strong and begin working again.

The experience in Japan was a wondrous one, an opportunity to visit the Land of the Rising Sun for myself: it’s definitely a fine destination for visiting, striking a fine balance between modernity and history. Most of my travels saw me visit more traditional locations, such as Tokyo’s Meiji Jinju Shrine and Imperial Palace, but a glimpse of the Tokyo Skytree and drive through Tokyo’s metro area also showcased Japan’s urban aspects. Most of the trip was actually spent exploring historical and rural attractions: Magome and Oshino Village were located a ways from urban centers, offering a quiet respite from the hustle and bustle of the city that is a far cry from images of a busy, never-sleeping nation. I greatly enjoyed these places, where the pacing was calm and easygoing; it is one thing to see these things from behind a screen or written on a page, so to have experienced a diverse array of places and foods in Japan personally was most illuminating and enjoyable: besides Japanese snow crab, Kobe beef was also to be savoured. As with France last year, the Japan component of my vacation was also a humbling one: compared to Hong Kong, where I can get by moderately well on account of fluency in spoken Cantonese, my command of the Japanese language is not particularly good, so even though I can wield enough of the basics to order food and ask for directions, travelling in a foreign country serves as a constant reminder that the world is vast, and complex societies that have developed reflect on the sheer diversity on our planet. Overall, this vacation to Japan was superb in all ways, and while only scratching the surface of things, afforded me a chance to explore and experience a plethora of elements in Japan.

Image Gallery

  • Last I did a post featuring photographs with anime vectors superimposed was back for the Cancún ALIFE XV Conference last July, and this post will feature thirty images on top of the standard issue discussion. The vectors are deliberately placed, to liven up the images, although some images lack these vectors, since placing them would seem illogical. The photographs begin on the full first day in Tokyo: we had arrived in the early evening on the previous day and stayed close to the hotel, being exhausted from the flight and dissuaded from exploring the nearby plains on account of a shower. This image was taken from the open area besides the Imperial Palace in Tokyo’s Chiyoda district.

  • Driving into Tokyo from Narita, then visiting the Meiji Jinju Shrine and Imperial Palace took up most of the morning of the first day. We stopped by a nabe place that featured a hot pot already set up with cabbage, shiitake mushrooms and bean sprouts, with an egg, fried chicken and thinly-sliced beef strips and udon noodles. It was quite fun to cook the meats for myself, and lunch was a highly delicious affair. Following lunch, we spent some time in the Ginza district, browsing around the shops in the area.

  • The Wako building in the Ginza district is visible in this image, being dwarfed by the other developments along the road. The building was constructed in 1932, and I know it best from the film King Kong vs. Godzilla. It houses the Wako department store, selling fancier items like jewellery and designer clothing. I suddenly recall that I’ve yet to actually beat Go! Go! Nippon! – having visited Japan in person before finishing a simulated visit is perhaps one of the strongest reminders of just how big of a procrastinator I am when it comes to entertainment.

  • Owing to time constraints, we did not actually go inside the Tokyo Skytree, and instead, stopped on a promenade along the Sumida River about a klick and some away from the Skytree. The heavy cloud cover would have made it difficult to get a good view of Tokyo that day. With a height of 634 meters, it is the second tallest structure in the world, bested only by Dubai’s Burj Khalifa. While a broadcasting and communications tower for several Japanese television stations, there are also two observation decks, a larger capacity one at 350 meters and a smaller one at 450 meters. By comparison, Taipei 101’s observation deck is 391.8 meters above the surface, and the International Commerce Center in Hong Kong’s observation decks is 387.8 meters above the surface.

  • The Koganji temple is located around seven klicks ways from the Skytree as the mole digs in a shopping district. It is a popular destination, as the temple is a place where people can purify and heal minor ailments. On the fourth, fourteenth and twenty-fourth day of each month, a small festival is also held here. This image was captured facing south from the temple grounds.

  • On the second day, we headed for Mount Fuji, visiting three different locations that each offered a unique view of Japan’s most famous mountain. We began at the Fuji Bhuddist Temple in Gotemba: Mount Fuji is just across the way, and while that morning was beautiful, the mountain itself was enveloped in cloud, almost as though it was still preparing itself to be seen. Here, the views of the mountain would have been spectacular, although despite not being able to see the mountain itself, I nonetheless enjoyed the cool, fresh air here.

  • The main reason for why I’ve been able to document my travels over the past two years is because of my iPhone: the combination of a powerful camera and a good set of offline maps allowed me to chronicle every destination visited. I note that Google Maps does not provide offline areas in Japan owing to laws and regulations, so I went with Maps.me. Having good maps is essential to travel and takes away a bit of the guesswork in estimating where I am in relation to a destination, and in the aftermath of a vacation, also has the benefit of providing exceptionally precise recollections of where I went.

  • We made our way to Yamanakako shortly after, where we stopped at a yakiniku restaurant besides Lake Yamanaka for lunch. Plates of beef, chicken and pork awaited us, and I drank miso soup while waiting for my lunch to cook. There was a shared grill that we used to bring the meat to perfection, and I chose to grill the pork and chicken first, leaving the beef for last. I do love a good grill, and this lunch was as fun to eat as it was to cook.

  • Yamanakako is situated right beside Lake Yamanaka, and our stopping point was on the lake’s western shore, so I was not able to get any photographs of Mount Fuji and the lake. Largest of the Fuji lakes in surface area, it is also the shallowest and is a popular spot for water sports. In the moments after lunch, there was sufficient time to purchase some souvenirs, so I picked up a fridge magnet and was on my way.

  • Next on our destination was the village of Oshino, where we visited Shibokusa. The quiet and tranquil of the village gave way to a bit of a crowd as we neared the Nigoriike pool and sourvenir shop. I ordered an ice cream: the weather that day had remained quite pleasant and warm, hence my wish for something cool. In a bit of carelessness, I had forgotten my hat back home, but a good supply of sunscreen and mercifully cooler weather on the trip meant that this mistake was not too much of an issue.

  • While I was walking the streets of Shibokusa and marvelling at a water wheel driving a traditional mill, some folks in my social media feed were deep into the Kantai Collection Spring Event, fighting the impossible Random Number Generator in the hopes of besting the Abyssals and unlocking ships. From their remarks and those of other Kantai Collection players, the game seems to be more trouble than it’s worth (the setup alone requires a doctorate in computer science, from what I hear), so between Shimushu, get! or eating an ice cream in a peaceful village thirteen klicks from Mount Fuji, Mount Fuji would win every time.

  • Although the season for hanami has passed, some trees were still in blossom at Shibokusa. As this image attests, the area is quite popular amongst tourists, being a ways livelier than the quieter reaches of the village. One of the locals handed out some peanuts to us while we were walking en route to Shibokusa, and I immediately wondered that, had I chosen to eat the peanuts, where would the shells go? One of the challenges about Japan is the relative lack of trash cans: the broken window theory is offered as the reason why, suggesting that forcing people to hold onto their trash means a decreased inclination to throw refuse out at random.

  • The clouds around Mount Fuji had lifted somewhat by afternoon, and here, I caught a glimpse of the mountain before it was engulfed by clouds again. We had reached the end of the shops on the street and found ourselves looking into someone’s backyard at this point, hence the decision to turn back, revealing the mountain. Another aspect of Japan that I was unaccustomed to were the presence of toilet seats that seem more advanced than the seat of a fighter aircraft even in public facilities. Found at our hotels, I admit that heated toilet seats were quite nice, but I never bothered using their additional functions, which seem quite intimidating. By comparison, the toilets in Hong Kong were rather more familiar and straightforwards to use. One of the things I noticed while in Japan was the lack of soap dispensers in public restrooms: carrying a small bottle of hand sanitizer rectifies this.

  • The final destination for the second day was the Fifth Station, located 2400 meters above sea level. Being the highest point that climbers can begin making their ascent from, the site is home to some shops and restaurants, and the mountain itself is vividly visible. Up here, the conditions are rather different than the warm temperatures of the surrounding regions: there is a distinct chill in the air, and having a nice jacket makes it more comfortable to wander about here.

  • By the time we finished the descent Mount Fuji and travelled out to Ikenotaira Hotel, on the shores of Shirakaba Lake. While utterly exhausted, I was reawakened by the buffet dinner at the hotel. I enjoyed their tempura and snow crab to a great extent and did not partake in the onsen, preferring to hit the hay almost straightway. The next morning was the third day: I woke up early and walked out to the lake’s edge to capture this image, before exploring the resort connected to our hotel. It’s an older facility that bring to mind some of the haikyo I’ve seen, but is still well-maintained and comfortable.

  • There’s no anime character vector here because I took this photograph with my phone over the railing of the Enakyo Lookout point over the Kiso River, and it simply won’t make sense to obscure the image 😉 It was shaping up to be a warm day, and we puchased some strawberries from a vendor on the roadside, savouring their sweetness before moving on. There’s an amusement park, Enakyo Wonderland, adjacent to the observation point, and unlike the legendary Nara Dreamland, this one is still active: open most days from 9:30 AM to 5:00 PM, admissions start at 1100 yen.

  • This house carries with it a very Takehara-like feel to it, overlooking Magome-juku. Forty-third of the Nakasendõ‘s sixty-nine stations that were located along the ancient road between Kyoto and Tokyo, Magome-juku’s old town is well preserved, featuring buildings from the eighteenth century. It was a thrill to walk down the town’s main road and take in all of the buildings, among them a water mill.

  • Mount Ena is just visible on the left-hand side of the image here, being partially covered by some trees. The walk through Magome-juku brought to mind Taiwan’s Jiufen Old Street, which I had visited back during 2014. Not quite as busy or crowded, but exuding an equal amount of atmosphere, it was a pleasant experience to be treading the a path that’s existing since the Edo period, and here, I reach a point in the street where Mount Ena is visible.

  • Upon reaching the bottom of the hill and the end of the walk, lunch was served in a bento form: picked daikon, vegetables, fish, fried chicken, Japanese omelettes and large, sweet red beans. We also had a bowl of freshly-prepared noodle soup accompanying lunch, and a recurring theme is that while portion sizes appear smaller in Japan, that’s an illusion. Finishing everything provides plenty of food energy and of course, is an adventure in and of itself.

  • By the time lunch ended, the skies had turned overcast, and I took a short walk around the area. During the course of this trip, I’ve spent more time in the inaka than I did in urban areas, and this was a wonderful surprise; the Japanese countryside has always held a certain draw for me, as I’ve taken a keen interest in the languid, slower-paced feeling from the rural areas conveyed by anime such as Please Teacher!Ano Natsu De MatteruNon Non BiyoriFlying Witch and Sakura Quest. Not quite as remote or empty as the Canadian Prairies, the inaka offer a sense of quiet while at the same time, give a warm, inviting sense that is absent when I drive through the parts of my provinces outside of any towns or hamlets.

  • Leaving Magome-juku, our next destination was Atsuta Shrine in Nagoya. A location steeped in history and interesting architecture, I have no photographs here to show because most of them were quite dark as a result of the large cypress trees in the park. There is a museum here housing upwards of four thousand Japanese artifacts, among them a dagger that is one of Japan’s National Treasures. With this location checked off, it was off to Gifu, where our hotel was. After checking in, I had ramen at a nearby shop: although the owners did not speak English, I spoke enough to place my order, a savoury, piping hot pork ramen. The restaurant shortly filled with Chinese tourists, and for a brief moment, it felt like I was in a Hong Kong noodle shop.

  • On our final full day in Japan, the first destination was the Kinkaku-ji in Kyoto. One of the city’s most famous landmarks, the building we see today is a reconstruction: after a monk torched the original in 1950, it was rebuilt in 1955 and given an extensive gold-leaf exterior that confers the temple’s distinct colour. Yui and her classmates visit the Kinkaku-ji in K-On!‘s second season, stopping to take photographs in the exact same spot that we visited, and whereas I bought a matcha ice cream to enjoy, K-On! has Yui and the others order a more traditional matcha desert and tea.

  • After lunch in a park whose location and name I can’t quite remember (that lunch was notable for being a nabe with tempura on the side, in addition to being the only place where we had to kneel rather than sit), we made our way to Nara Park and ended the day in Osaka. Spent from the travelling, we had omurice for dinner (I ordered the curry katsu omurice, which was delicious) and I browsed around at Tsutaya, a Japanese bookstore, coming upon a volume of Your Name. Our journey in Japan concluded here, and we left Osaka for Hong Kong at the Kansai International Airport, where I bought the Your Name Official Guidebook for a mere 1600 yen.

  • On the flight to Hong Kong from Osaka, our Cathay Pacific flight featured Your Name, so I watched that before dozing off on the flight. It was midnight when we arrived in Hong Kong, and on day one, we visited the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen museum in Central Hong Kong, before stopping by the Western market to window shop and have lunch. There’s a delightful bistro on the first floor that I ordered a prawn spaghetti from, and the day closed with a family dinner. The next day, Repulse Bay and Aberdeen were on the list of places to visit. Despite having went to Hong Kong previously, we’d only gone to Stanley, so this time, I figured it was time to try something different. Repulse Bay is rather quieter than Stanley, and has a beautiful beach that was featured in the first moments of Roman Tam’s “幾許風雨” music video.

  • While my trip in Hong Kong was largely oriented around spending time with family over there, we had plenty of time to go sightseeing because this time around, we were visiting during the regular season, during which everyone is working. I myself took two weeks off work for this vacation, and previously, one of my coworkers noted that leaving for any period of time meant coming back to what felt like a completely different company. While on vacation, I did keep an eye on things occasionally, so I was roughly in the loop for comings and goings, so I can’t say that coming back felt like too much of a shock. Here is a photograph of Hong Kong’s central district, where I rode the Hong Kong Observation Wheel and got a nice discount on admissions on account of it being the twentieth anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China.

  • While we did not ride any junks across Hong Kong Harbour, we did ride the Star Ferry over to Kowloon to walk the streets, and I spent an afternoon at the Tsim Sha Tsui Clocktower, the Avenue of Stars and iSquare adjacent to the infamous Chung King mansions. While there are three cross-harbour tunnels and the MTR linking Victoria Island to Kowloon, taking the Star Ferry from Central (or any ferry from North Point) has more character. Ferries are also a pleasant way of visiting Discovery Bay, a quiet resort town with a nice beach and mall. I’m a little envious of the quality of sandwiches that Hong Kong fast food joints make — their burgers are about as nice as the burgers I can get at pubs back home for a fraction of the price.

  • This is the Hong Kong Heritage Museum in Sha Tin, a city just north of Kowloon. There’s an indoor wet market at the far side of Sha Tin in Sunshine City Plaza; it’s one of the cleanest wet markets I’ve ever seen and has a very solid ambiance, bringing to mind locales from Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided: it’s filled with people browsing the stalls selling fresh cuts of fish, shellfish and squid, as well as siu laap and baozi. There’s a profound beauty in the cacophony, as folks order fish to take home and slurp noodles in streetside stalls.

  • Eating in Hong Kong represented a world of difference from Japan: whereas Japan was all about trying Japanese cuisine, Hong Kong wasn’t too different from home, although definitely delicious, to be sure. I went out for dim sum on two occasions, and had dinner at 嘉豪酒家 in Shau Kei Wan with family during some of the evenings. Cantonese food in Hong Kong is about the same as it is in Canada, so I’m familiar with what restaurants serve. There were some nights where we ate elsewhere: here, I’ve got a close-up of an Italian style seafood rice (scallops, mussels, calamari rings and a large prawn) at the Itamomo in Shau Kei Wan, and on another evening, I had a chicken-and-beef steak sizzling hot plate at Taikoo Shing Mall. During another evening, we had dinner at the Harbour Plaza Hotel, whose seafood buffet was simply fabulous. While being advertised as a seafood buffet, they had pork ribs, prime rib, rack of lamb, siu mei, chicken and veal in addition to whole fried crab, crayfish, large prawns, scallops and sushi. With family, we stayed from opening until closing, partaking in both the buffet and conversation as the skies grew dark.

  • The biological sciences building of Hong Kong University is visible here. This vacation was, for the lack of a better adjective, incredible, and looking back, I can understand why folks undergo a bit of a change after visiting Japan. While going to Japan did broaden my perspectives, fear not, I’m not going anywhere: it’s not sufficient to lead me to drop my career and attempt to move there. By comparison, Hong Kong feels like home, minus the exceptional humidity and crowds. With this last image, my reflections come to an end, and this means that it’s back to business as usual both in reality and at this blog: the upcoming Call of Duty posts won’t write themselves, and I’ve got an eye on Koe no Katachi, which I may write about later in June as time permits.

In Hong Kong, on the other hand, my wonder and amazement gave way to a sense of familiarity and belonging, being a world of difference from Japan. Although I am naturally most at home in Canada, my background means that if there were a place in the world that feels to me like a second home, Hong Kong would be it. Making my way around Hong Kong is remarkably straightforwards: the MTR allows one to reach almost anywhere in Hong Kong quickly, and on Victoria Island, a tram links the island’s eastern and western reaches together. Finding directions and ordering food is as straightforward as it is back home. The incredible contrast between Japan and Hong Kong was thus another aspect of this vacation I enjoyed greatly. Aside from visiting attractions in Hong Kong, such as the Observation Wheel in Central and the Antique Street in the mid-levels, I spent a considerable amount of time with family there, as well as browsing through their shopping centres. Dim Sum was invariably to be had when visiting family and friends, as were large evening meals, although there were some evenings where we dined out at smaller establishments, too. With this vacation now over, I leave feeling refreshed, a bit more learned, and will definitely anticipate a return trip at some point in the future. For the present, as a part of returning to my typical routine outside of writing Swift 3.1 code and architecting apps, I will be easing back into the swing of things for blogging, as well as reading through the various Your Name books I picked up, playing Battlefield 1 and generally making the most of what is shaping up to be a fabulous entry into yet another beautiful summer.

Hirosaki Region, Aomori: Home of Flying Witch

“Magic is believing in yourself, if you can do that, you can make anything happen.” —Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Terror in Resonance depicted the Aomori prefecture of Japan as a perpetually snowy and miserable locale perfect for governmental agencies to conduct secret nuclear weapons research, but this is a gross over-generalisation of the prefecture as a whole. Granted, being the northern-most prefecture on the Honshu does subject the prefecture to heavy snowfall and has a relatively cool climate, and its rugged terrain results in Aomori having a lower population density. However, this also corresponds with mountains and lakes that remain quite pristine: it is amongst the quiet plains of western Aomori that Flying Witch is set: the events of the anime are set in and around the city of Hirosaki. With a population of 176590 (September 2015 estimates), the town’s castle and surrounding cherry blossoms are the central attractions — during Golden Week, there is a cherry blossom festival held near the castle. Hirosaki is also known for its agricultural sector: besides rice, the Hirosaki region accounts for nearly a fifth of Japan’s apple production. The area has been populated since the Heian Period, and Hirosaki was renamed several times over the course of history: its current moniker was adapted in 1808 from its former name, Takaoka. Besides the Hirosaki castle, the town is also home to a collection of Western-style buildings dating back to the Meiji restoration. With its humid continental climate, summers in Hirosaki are hot, reaching a daily average of 23°C in August, while winters are mild in comparison.

  • Moving from the hustle and bustle of Yokohama to the comparatively quieter Hirosaki region marks a substantial change of pace. I live in a city of around a million people; it’s a fine balance between the quiet of a smaller town and the energy of a larger town, and I am quite happy with the city. With this in mind, the city sprawl, arising as a consequence of (presumably ill-informed) consumer preference, is very grating, since it drives up the costs of infrastructure. There’s more surface area to cover for power grids, water, transportation and sanitation, increasing the costs per person, but not everyone shares my views, and some former classmates have lectured me for not supporting subdivision growth.

  • Of course, I couldn’t give two hoots about their opinions, so we won’t peruse that topic further. Back in Flying Witch, here is a local shopping center where Makoto goes to purchase a broom for travel. The placement and storefronts of the anime incarnation closely resemble the real-world counterpart, which is located in Hirosaki’s western edge. While brooms are typically depicted as magically enhanced to be capable of flight, Flying Witch suggests that they act as conduit for magic, so a skilled Witch need not ride the broom, but can fly merely by touching the broom and willing themselves to fly.

  • While initially mistrustful of Makoto, Chinatsu warms up when Makoto agrees to take Chinatsu to her favourite doughnut shop in the mall. The real-world equivalent is a bit more ornately decorated, compared to the more conservative colours seen in the anime version, but the resemblances are quite apparent. Us Canadians are said to consume the most doughnuts per capita of any country on earth (Japan comes in second place), and this is partially owing to the presence of Tim Hortons in the country.

  • While on a walk, Makoto crosses a bridge over a small canal. A handful of these canals cut through Hirosaki, and a cursory glance at the city reveals that it is mostly low rises, with Hirosaki Castle and Park at the heart of the city. Makoto’s penchant for getting lost is a personality trait that is gradually phased out over the course of the series as she grows familiar with the area, although she still enjoys taking things at a casual pace and can appear to be going off-mission.

  • On her walk to a local fabrics shop, Makoto runs into Nao, who is on a delivery for her parents. With a maximum east-west distance of around 6.5 kilometers and a north-south distance of 6.9 kilometers (to traverse those distances would be a short 10 minute drive assuming light traffic at 50 km/h), Hirosaki is not a particularly large town, and so, one could make their way around town by bike. The city is built in the Tsugaru plains, and being relatively flat, making this trek more straightforwards than back home, where the hills and valleys present a bit more of a challenge for cyclists.

  • Café Concurio is modelled after Hiarosaki’s Taishō Roman Tearoom (大正浪漫喫茶室), located a short ways from the southwestern edge of Hirosaki park inside the Fujita Kinen park. Its naming is derived from the Taishō period in Japan — running from 1912 to 1926, this period was marked by the convergence of Japanese and Western culture thanks to increased exposure to foreign elements, reinforcing Japanese cultural values while integrating aspects from the west. It is a highly romanticised period, hence the moniker “Taishō Roman”.

  • The interior of the tea room is faithfully reproduced in Flying Witch, although in Café Concurio, the lights are dimmed, and only natural light illuminates the interior. Beyond differences in lighting, elements in the real-world equivalent make it into Flying Witch, whether it be the wooden paneling of the walls, or the stone fireplace and its attendant decorations. The major difference between the two cafés are their location: the real world tea room is located at the heart of Hirosaki, while in Flying Witch, Café Concurio is located in a quieter area.

  • The Taishō Roman Tea Room is popular amongst locals, who note that the apple pie sold here is of a particularly excellent quality and some have even claimed the Taishō Roman Tea Room’s apple pie to be the best in the city; the tea room is often crowded as a result, and naturally, the terrace seats offer the best environment to enjoy an apple pie under. With this in mind, the number of patrons means that it can be difficult to get a seat here, and while Café Concurio is depicted to be very quiet, allowing Makoto, Kei and Chinatsu to sit in the terrace, at the Taishō Roman Tea Room, some patrons sit in the inner areas during busier hours.

  • Aside from their apple pie and coffee, the Taishō Roman Tea Room also serves a variety of pastries and some hot meals. While the tea room appears to be hidden in plain sight, some English-speaking patrons have noted that the menu, while limited in variety, is excellent: the tempura soba is said to be unparalleled, and the owners speak English. Between the atmosphere and quality of the food, the Taishō Roman Tea Room seems like a location worth visiting should one ever be in Hirosaki: to really have a Flying Witch experience, one merely needs to visit the nearby Hirosaki Park by morning, and then stop by the Taishō Roman Tea Room for lunch.

  • In Flying Witch, Café Concurio is given a Harry Potter treatment in that it is bewitched to be hidden away from Muggles, and it is Makoto’s knowledge of magic that allow Chinatsu and Kei to visit, bringing to mind how Witches and Wizards conceal their locations in the Harry Potter universe using a variety of spells, with Diagon Alley being the most famous of these locations. Access is controlled by a woebegone-looking pub known as the Leaky Cauldron, and there is a special brick that must be tapped in order to reveal the entrance.

  • Construction on Hirosaki castle began in 1603, but following Ōura Tamenobu’s death a year later, the project stalled until Tsugaru Nobuhira resumed the project in 1609, finishing the castle in 1611. It was destroyed by a lightning strike that subsequently ignited a fire in 1627, and it was not restored until 1810. A large park surrounds the castle and is home to a large number of cherry blossoms that have made the park famous: towards the end of April and early May, the park’s 2600 cherry trees come into bloom, receiving upwards of a million visitors over this time-frame.

  • Makoto flies over Hirosaki Park’s southern edge en route to a fabric shop, and Sannomaru Ōtemon Gate is visible here. This particular image was captured from a staircase on Hirosaki’s Tourism Board building, close the public library.

  • Makoto, Chinatsu and Kei enter the park via the Sannomaru Ōtemon Gate, one of the five surviving gates to the castle. Located on the park’s southern end, the gate’s assembly and surroundings is rather similar to that of the Kitanokuruwa gate in the park’s northern edge, which directly faces the city (there is a small parking lot in the park’s southern end).

  • This is one of the ponds in Hirosaki Park: details such as the crookedness of the tree and the placement of ornamental shrubs are meticulously captured to reproduce actual elements from the area, and I imagine that locals familiar with the park would have no trouble picking these details out. A ways back, Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans did a scene using Edmonton, Alberta as the setting: our neighbours to the north immediately identified which buildings and locations downtown served as the backdrop for the anime’s events.

  • Originally opened in 1894, the present-day facilities at Hirosaki Station were completed in 2004 and as of 2012, has a daily ridership of around 4500. The nearest hotel, visible here to the right, is the Art Hotel. A four star hotel boasting modern facilities, it is located approximately 1.67 kilometers (just a hair more than a mile) from Hirosaki Castle and would only necessitate a 15-20 minute walk to reach.

  • A bus terminal lies just outside of the train station: Makoto takes the number five route, which takes ridsers to Namioka, Goshogawara, Onoe, Kuroishi, Okawara and the Aomori Airport. This scene brings to mind an experience I had during my Cancún conference: I had arrived at the George Bush International Airport and realised I had forgotten to arrange for transportation to the zona hotelera from Cancún International Airport. Armed with an iPhone and Google-fu, I managed to book a private shuttle that ended up costing around 50 USD for a round trip.

  • The lessons learned there is to do my research before taking off: after I sorted that out, the Cancún conference turned out to be much smoother than Laval, as my hotel was located right beside the conference venue. In Laval, owing to our last-minute bookings, a colleague and I only managed to get a hotel at the outskirts of town. It would have taken around three quarters of an hour walk this distance, but we later found a bus that took us close to the conference venue.

  • This guardrail may seem unextraordinary, and by all counts, it is an ordinary guardrail. What makes it special is  the fact that Makoto, Chinatsu and Akane are going whale watching and make a brief stop while trying to locate a sky whale. While Edmonton has been featured in an anime now, I wonder if Cowtown will do the same: our city’s still-futuristic downtown core, with its glass buildings, was featured in the 1983 film Superman III and 2001’s Exit Wounds. Neither film turned out to be critically acclaimed, and the latter turned out hilarious for trying to pass off Calgary as Detroit.

  • If an anime were ever to use locations from Calgary, I would notice almost immediately. Back in Hirosaki, a bridge provides a vantage point, looking out over a river canal. Besides providing an excellent side-by-side comparison of anime locations against their real-world equivalents, the location posts I do also offer a prime opportunity to showcase some of the scenery in anime through screenshots that are otherwise not selected (often, it’s a difficult decision) for use in conventional posts.

  • Chinatsu and Makoto cross a small bridge en route to the shopping center on their first outing in Kamisukisawa, and this bridge is roughly five-decimal-four klicks from the centre on foot. This would make a fantastic walk lasting around an hour at a casual pace, and a year ago, while in Kelowna for the Giant Walkthrough Brain performance, I walked to the Kelowna Community Theatre from the Manteo Resort on both days of the presentation. While it would be a longer walk, it can also be quite pleasant.

  • While one might imagine that it would be fairly straightforwards to recognise areas from one’s own town were it to be featured in a show, the truth is that even locals are unlikely to be familiar with every nook and cranny in their neighbourhoods. It is this reason that I am so fond of taking walks, and one of the best surprises was in fact from Pure Pwnage: while the show had portrayed Lanageddon 2005 as taking place in Calgary, for instance, it took me quite some time to work out that the setting was Bowness Community Center. It was during a Japanese cultural festival, when I visited the Bowness area myself, that things clicked together.

  • Nao finds Makoto under a pavilion during the fifth episode, after Makoto decides to follow Chito for a walk. A cursory glance at a map suggests that locations in Flying Witch are closer than they are in actuality: this is typically done to give characters a chance to share conversations while walking to a destination, and I recall a café in Glasslip that was located much further from Mikuni than initially thought: it’s quite a ways away from the city where the characters reside, but the frequency of their patronage suggests that it would be within walking distance.

  • Creative liberties such as these are perfectly acceptable, as they allow an anime to facilitate both its narrative while conveying a sense of realism (Glasslip remains an unusual exception!), and back in Flying Witch, this view of Mount Iwaki is taken from near Apple Park. With a maximum elevation of 1624.7 metres, it is a dormant stratovolcano whose last eruption occurred in March 1863, and the summit can only be reached by hiking to the top. This trek takes roughly four hours to complete, starting from a shrine, although a more widely-used route involves a ski lift that takes hikers to within half an hour of the summit.

  • There’s always a joy about visiting small towns for their tranquility, and while Hirosaki is not a small town (being only a shade smaller than Regina, Saskatchewan) by any definition, the outskirts of town have a very rural feel to it: it becomes difficult to tell where the countryside ends and the city begins until one is a ways into town. This stands in sharp contrast with Canadian cities, where build-up is found up to a certain point, and then abruptly stops, giving way to the countryside.

  • The Yuguchi Shinto Shrine is where Akane decides to provide some instruction to Makoto about spell casting: she’s taught a simple spell to summon crows in the third episode. As I’m not too versed with magic and magical lore, I wouldn’t know what the application of such a spell would be. Long considered to a symbol of respect for family in Chinese culture (孝), the crow’s call is also considered to be an ill-omen, and when I was an undergraduate student, I recalled a story where Cao Cao heard a crow’s call before his ill-fated campaign during the Battle of the Red Cliffs whenever hearing a crow’s call before an examination.

  • Inspection of any pair of images in the location posts will invariably find that the photographs (top) are much more detailed than their anime counterparts: the real world simply has unmatched textures, detail and lighting effects. By comparison, anime locations often feel much cleaner, devoid of any visual clutter: the cleaner anime renditions make them less busy and allow for focus to be directed towards things that move (such as the characters).

  • While well-known locations are expected to be reproduced with a high accuracy, one of the biggest draws about slice-of-life anime such as Flying Witch is that the artists go out of their way to ensure that even seemingly trivial locations are rendered such that they faithfully represent their real-world equivalent. This is a small street that Chinatsu walks along while following Chito around on his walk during the fifth episode.

  • The high school that Makoto, Nao and Kei attend is modelled after the Hirosaki Seiai Academy (弘前学院聖愛中学高等学校), with facilities for both middle and high school students. The school is located in Hiarosaki’s southern area, around 3.75 kilometers from Hirosaki park and seven kilometers from the locations where Makoto and Chinatsu share their first walk. Makoto is seen frequently walking to school from her residence, another indicator that distances in the anime have been modified to better accommodate the atmosphere in Flying Witch.

  • This is a Shinto Shrine in the Mount Iwaki area, an area steeped in mythology. The Slenderman Harbinger of Spring stops here briefly before continuing on with his travels, and the Shrine itself officially encompasses the whole of the mountain. Established in 780, most of the present-day structures were built in 1694 with support from the Tsugaru clan of Hirosaki Domain. The shrine hosts the Oyama-sankei, a festival held annually during the autumn equinox with a parade from the shrine to the top of the mountain as its centerpiece where where pilgrims carry colorful banners and are accompanied by traditional drums and flutes.

  • I’ll round this post off with an image of the Imaya Knitting and Sewing shop that Makoto stops at to purchase cloth for her cloaks during the finale. While nearly identical in terms of appearance, right down to the banner, placement of items and the storefront’s design, inspection of the Hiragana finds that the real shop is known as the Shimaya Knitting and Sewing Shop. It’s been five months since Flying Witch aired, and I recall giving it a strong recommendation: there has been no news of a continuation, but I have had a chance to check out Flying Witch Petit, a short anime depicting the characters in chibi. With this Flying Witch location post finishe, this marks another anime whose locations have been presented in a manner accessible for English-speakers. My next locations post will be for Kimi no na wa: the photographs are ready, and all I need are high-resolution screenshots from the movie itself.

A large part of the magic in Flying Witch, aside from the actual magic that Makoto practises, lay in how the choice of setting. Makoto is presented as a Witch who is very attuned to her surroundings, and as she is originally from Yokohama, the rural backdrop of Hirosaki offers her an opportunity to really explore the environment and master the disciplines required for becoming a fully-qualified Witch. A great many discussions, my own included, do not fully cover this, but it is the tranquil, laid-back atmosphere of the countryside that allows Makoto to focus on her tasks: life in a city is rather hectic, which would have detracted from Flying Witch‘s theme that an effective Witch is someone with an open mind and a sense for adventure amongst nature. Consequently, it should be clear that the setting has a substantial contribution to the messages being portrayed in Flying Witch; the anime brings all of this to life, and while I’ve presently not heard of any news for a continuation, the manga is on-going, so it would be most pleasant to see what lies ahead in the future, especially considering how Chinatsu’s innate curiosity about Witches and magic later lead her to apprentice under Makoto. To watch her own journey as a Witch would likely be very enjoyable, considering how well-executed Flying Witch‘s first (and only) season is.