“If there is magic on this planet, it’s contained in water.” –Lorene Eisley
Readers may recall that a little less than a year ago, I’d hit the white sands of Okinawa’s beaches with the Oculus Quest and its Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 SoC processor to find where Haruka and Kanata’s quest to become Japan’s top under-18 beach volleyball players took place. During this journey, I most enjoyed the fact that Harukana Receive took viewers to corners of Okinawa that locals would be familiar with. In The Aquatope on White Sand, after Fūka Miyazawa arrives in Okinawa on a spur of the moment, after deciding she needed to get away from things following her decision to quit the idol business, she immediately finds herself in a shopping district in downtown Naha. Fūka ends up meeting a fortune teller who tells her to go east, and after falling asleep near Hyakana Beach, she encounters Karin Kudaka, who recommends that Fūka check out the local aquarium near Nanjō. Here, Fūka has a fateful meeting with Kukuru Misakino; this chance meeting changes both girls’ lives forever, allowing them to pick themselves up from what the anime described as the ruins of shattered dreams. Like Harukana Receive, The Aquatope on White Sand focuses on locations that are a bit more out-of-the way to really convey a sense of authenticity, and during the series’ first half, Okinawa’s eastern coast is lovingly depicted, becoming as familiar and friendly as Fūka and Kukuru were. The region around Gama Gama is faithfully portrayed, although right from the start, it became clear that The Aquatope on White Sand was going to take liberties with locations – Gama Gama is located where Azama Sun Sun Beach stands, and a glance at satellite imagery finds no such aquarium at this spot. However, whereas The Aquatope on White Sand‘s first half portrayed Okinawa in such a way as to render viewers familiar with Kukuru’s home, the second half of the series placed a much greater emphasis on Kukuru and Fūka’s professional development as they work for the larger, better-funded and newer Tingarla Aquarium. The intensity of work displaces the wonders of Okinawa, and fewer locations were seen in this series’ second half; like Gama Gama, Tingarla is a fictional aquarium tailor-made for The Aquatope on White Sand. However, this hadn’t stopped me from keeping an eye on the locations in The Aquatope on White Sand – that the series continues to utilise real world locations speaks to the fact that both Fūka and Kukuru’s experiences are something with a basis on reality, something relatable. Since I’d already been familiar with Okinawa from previous location hunts, as well as the fact that Okinawa has 3D photogrammetry data, I continued on with my location hunt as the series progressed, and in the end, was able to find a few more locations of interest, far removed from the beaten trail that visitors normally tread when they visit Okinawa.
- Being Japan’s equivalent of Hawaii, or Japan’s equivalent of Heinan, Okinawa is an oft-visited destination in anime: I’d previously done an Oculus Quest-powered location hunt for Harukana Receive, but will note that anime like Non Non Biyori, Azumanga Daioh, PuraOre!, Ano Natsu De Matteru and countless others have also hit Okinawa’s tropical beaches and inviting waters during the summer. The Aquatope on White Sand returns things to Okinawa with its own unique spin of things, and utilises the wonderous sights of Okinawa for a new goal: to serve as the backdrop for two journeys of self-discovery and growth.
- When The Aquatope on White Sand first began airing, P.A Works immediately established that the events would be set around Nanjō, Okinawa. This city has a population of 41000 and was established in 2006 from the merger of several villages in the Shimajiri District, together with the town of Sashiki. Located on the southeastern edge of Okinawa, Nanjō is due east of capital Naha. The fact that Nanjō is only fifty square kilometres meant I had a very manageable search area to work with, and after the first episode of The Aquatope on White Sand, I’d located the roads that Fūka had travelled along, starting with her walk here along Niraikanai Bridge.
- Following Route 331 north allowed me to find the same spots The Aquatope on White Sand portrays throughout its earliest episodes, and while these are unremarkable in every way (they’re not exactly attractions or points of interest), they do showcase the level of attention paid to details in this anime. Although I had to imagine the tropical heat of Okinawa whilst using the Oculus Quest, every other detail was faithfully rendered, and I could imagine a lost Fūka wandering down the sidewalk along Route 331, wondering what the fortune teller’s advice from the previous day had meant.
- As with the location hunt I’d done for The World in Colours, there are some spots in The Aquatope on White Sand where the Oculus Quest can’t reach simply because of constraints with Street View data: were one to have boots on the ground, they’d be able to simply walk up to a spot and grab a photo. However, Street View is still sufficiently comprehensive in Okinawa such that I had a reasonable time of finding everything: here, I locate the spots for one of the stills from the first episode’s beginning, which featured several frames of locations along Route 331.
- A-Coop is a supermarket chain in Japan, and this particular A-Coop is one that visitors recommend: it stocks souvenirs as well as local Okinawan products like seasonings and sweets, selling them for reduced prices compared to more touristy shops in the area. This sort of thing wouldn’t be known to travellers who don’t wander off the beaten path, and it strikes me that, were I to visit Okinawa now, if I were looking for Okinawa specialties, A-Coops would not be a bad choice. I certainly wouldn’t have known about this had a not done a location hunt post, and this is one of the reasons why I’m so fond of location hunts (the effort to write about them notwithstanding).
- A little further down the road is a post office, general store and travel agency: the travel agency occupies the same spot that Tsukimi’s family restaurant is located, and in the distance, the Minamishiroichi Sight Seeing Information Center can be seen. I’ve chosen not to include sites related to the characters, such as Tsukimi’s family restaurant and Gama Gama itself, because these were locations that were tailor-made for The Aquatope on White Sand. It is not uncommon for studios to modify locations to fit the anime’s story, and so, it goes without saying that folks looking to do a tour of The Aquatope on White Sand should not expect to find a cozy street-side eatery serving up Okinawan classics.
- The building seen here is actually a coworking space called Agai Tida, which overlooks the Chinen Peninsula and offers a gorgeous view of the Pacific Ocean. Despite its unassuming exterior, Agai Tida has a beautifully appointed interior. Coworking spaces are a relatively new construct that became popular in Europe during the mid-2000s, and in North America, became popular after Anca Mosoiu established a coworking space in the Bay Area. Presented as a chance for cross-discipline collaboration, coworking spaces allow different companies to share office space and utilities, as well as providing remote workers an office-like environment that working from home cannot provide. In my home town, coworking has seen limited success: my previous employer operated out of a coworking space owned by Aspen Properties, and I absolutely loved the environment the space provided.
- In late 2019, WeWork had announced they had bought out a few floors in our building, including ours, forcing us to move to a smaller building a few blocks away. This building was removed from the hustle and bustle of downtown and had a lower occupancy, making it feel a little more isolated. However, at the global health crisis’ onset, we would ultimately give the space up and worked from home remotely to cut costs further. I’m no longer with this start-up, but having acclimatised to working from home, I’ve been able to adapt to my new position quite readily. Back in The Aquatope on White Sand, I’ve made a right turn off Route 331 down Shining Sun Road, which leads to Azuma Sun Sun Beach, home of Gama Gama Aquarium.
- It turns out that the driftwood swing set seen in The Aquatope on White Sand is located at Azama Sun Sun Beach, and while it’s probably not the most exciting swing set in the world, there is an appeal about its aesthetic: it conveys a very lonely feeling that mirrors how this early on in The Aquatope on White Sand, Kukuru is completely alone in her endeavours to save Gama Gama Aquarium from closure. Looking back, I’d gone into The Aquatope on White Sand hoping that Gama Gama would be saved, since this was the magic of fiction, but the series ended up going above and beyond expectations in its portrayal of the transition to adulthood by showing how aspirations and dreams can be realised even if in the moment, it seems like there is no other way.
- Azama Sun Sun Beach lies at the easternmost end of Nanjō, and its location means that compared to more well-known beaches in Okinawa, it is a ways less crowded. The beach offers basic services like showers and change rooms, in addition to tubing and paragliding. The shallow waters make this a suitable place to bring children, and there are a host of gazebos with picnic tables that are perfect for a day out, although visitors report that fees are charged for everything from parking to toilet paper and towels.
- It is here, adjacent to the shores of Azama Sun Sun Beach, that Gama Gama Aquarium is located – it appears that the shallow waters east of the beach have been filled in to accommodate an aquarium, and moreover, in The Aquatope on White Sand, this aquarium’s been here for quite some time. Although Gama Gama itself is fictional, it is with some degree of irony that visitors looking to check Azama Sun Sun Beach for themselves will find it quite true to life in that Gama Gama was demolished during The Aquatope on White Sand‘s second half.
- While looking around the Nanjō area to see if Gama Gama was indeed real during The Aquatope on White Sand‘s first few episodes, I employed 3D imagery to lend a hand to the search process, and in doing so, I came across a pair of wind turbines located a short ways away from Niraikanai Bridge. Fūka and Kukuru aren’t ever shown as coming up here themselves, but during the first episode’s opening moments, a wind turbine can be seen through the grass.
- The first half of The Aquatope on White Sand offers the lion’s share of the anime’s real-world locations: by the second half, the focus is in Kukuru and Tingarla Aquarium. Tingarla Aquarium itself is fictional, set in an undisclosed location, and after the second half began, I did a naïve search for all aquariums in Okinawa to see if any of them could have inspired Tingarla. If memory serves, nothing came up: DMM Kariyushi Aquarium is the largest in Okinawa and is located at the heart of Naha, but inspection of its exhibits find that Tingarla is an order of magnitude more sophisticated. However, I ended up finding another aquarium at Aeon Mall Rycom, the mall that Haruka and Kanata went swimsuit shopping at. This in turn led me to find the spot where Kukuru and Fūka’s apartment is located. The Aquatope on White Sand has a rental complex on the site, whereas in reality, private residences fill the site.
- Kukuru and Fūka’s apartment was probably the toughest spot to find in the whole of the location hunt. Like the tougher spots from The World in Colours, finding the apartments that Kukuru and Fūka reside at simply took a lot of hours looking at a lot of locations inside the Ouclus Quest, and in the end, I canvased both the build-up areas east and west of the mall. In the end, I found the apartments, located four kilometres away from Aeon Mall Rycom on foot. It would take around 40 minutes to walk, whereas The Aquatope on White Sand suggests that the apartment is no more than 15 minutes from Tingarla.
- The pair of Shisa guarding the entry into Route 39 can be found near the Nippon Life Naha Building at the intersection between Routes 39 and 42. Things look a little glitzier in the real world than they do in The Aquatope on White Sand, but the combination of Shisa and palm trees indicates this is indeed the spot, even though there are minute differences between anime and reality. Unlike Fūka and Kukuru’s apartment, these spots were considerably easier to find; after her arrival, Fūka is limited to only a few modes of transportation and ends up at a shōtengai, so a quick search for these shopping districts returned Makisihi Public Market down Route 39.
- From here, I was able to trace Fūka’s steps from the airport to Makisihi Public Market, a total walking distance of 4.6 kilometres if one travels along Route 331. The building here, behind Fūka, is the entrance to a store and office building of sorts. Adjacent to this is an ice cream shot, Blue Seal: if memory serves, this is where Fūka ends up grabbing an ice cream. Blue Seal was originally an American company that made ice cream for Americans in Okinawa, but by 1963, they served everyone and began integrating Okinawan flavours into their ice cream.
- This is the entrance to Makisihi Public Market, known to locals as Naha’s Kitchen for its dazzling array of fresh vegetables, fruits, meat and fish. The market opened in 1972, and there’s a second floor with all manner of Okinawan eateries on the second floor. For visitors looking to have the most authentic Okinawan experience possible, Makisihi Public Market is the place to visit. It suddenly strikes me that, how these establishing shots were framed really serve to capture the melancholy in Fūka when she first set foot in Okinawa.
- The incidental music in The Aquatope on White Sand absolutely captures this, and on the topic of the soundtrack, it released earlier today. Yoshiaki Dewa reprises his role from The World in Colour, incorporating the sanshin into songs that convey a sense of longing and sadness. In particular, the tracks that stood out most for me was Fūka’s theme, Sea Turtle Fūka and Farewell to Dolphins. The Fūka at The Aquatope on White Sand‘s end the difference between night and day, being more outgoing and confident. However, every journey began somewhere, and it is amidst one of the smaller shops at Makisihi Public Market where Fūka’s course changes forever, when she meets a fortune teller who sends her eastward, towards Gama Gama Aquarium.
- Having already shown where Gama Gama is, I see no reason to go back, and instead, will present a shot of Naha’s skyline from Daiwa Roynet Hotel: this hotel opened in 2015 and combines clean facilities, attentive staff and an excellent location with reasonable rates. There’s a restaurant on the top floor that offers an unmatched view of Naha, visible here. From here, the Naha Terrace (another hotel, visible as the building with a stairwell outside) can be seen, as well as the Fuso Building (just above the large apartment complex) and the ocean itself.
- The building that Kukuru and Tetsuji meet the wedding planner at actually does host a wedding-related company in reality: Bridal House Tutu. They’re located down Route 58, and specialise in wedding attire rental. Bridal House Tutu actually has locations throughout Japan, from Sapporo to Osaka, and besides Western-style dresses and tuxedoes, Bridal House Tutu also rents out traditional kimonos, too. Tutu has access to several venues in Okinawa, and it speaks to the realism in The Aquatope on White Sand that a similar company is looking to expand the variety of places it has available to customers.
- Looking around, one finds the road Tetsuji and Kukuru stand alone prior to entering the building. Finding this location boiled down to a bit of luck; it was a shot in the dark as to whether or not I would actually be able to locate the building, and I ended up doing a search for a range of wedding-related topics to see if anything would stick. Similarly to Kukuru and Fūka’s apartment, it took a bit of searching using the Oculus Quest to find the location. Standing in contrast with the locations from The Aquatope on White Sand‘s first half, which were clustered around Nanjō’s eastern edge, the second half’s locations are scattered throughout Okinawa.
- This spot, for instance, is located along the Hija River in Furugen, and again, was only found because I’d been looking around the shores of Kadena Air Base to see if there were any familiar spots. Given how everything is placed in The Aquatope on White Sand‘s second half, the series’ detractors might argue that the haphazard choice of locations mirror the shift in the story’s focus. Fortunately, it is usually the case that people who tear down anime don’t exactly have the sharpest of minds or the best understanding of literary analysis – no one has yet suggested that the locations of The Aquatope on White Sand parallel the quality of writing. Had this happened, I would counter that in the series’ second half, Kukuru’s focus is narrowed, mirroring how adults often lose sight of the world around them because of their singular devotion towards accomplishing their goals.
- During my search for other aquariums around Okinawa that might’ve been the inspiration for Tingarla, I came across Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium. This aquarium opened in 1975 as a part of the World Expo, and is one of the largest aquariums in the world, being one of the few places that exhibit whale sharks and manta rays in its tanks. In 2002, the original expo facility was replaced by a larger, and more modern installation, leading attendance rates to increase nearly six times. General admissions for adults is 1880 Yen (20.90 CAD), and a glance at the map shows that Churaumi (“Beautiful Ocean”) is vast: besides the main building, the entire area is a park. The pavilion here, where Fūka, Kukuru and Karin often have lunch, is replicated faithfully. Unfortunately for proponents of realism, Churaumi is located some 65 kilometres away from where Kukuru and Fūka live: it is simply not walkable.
- One location that was almost certainly tailor-made for The Aquatope on White Sand was the island Kukuru ends up visiting on her unsanctioned break, and a quick look at the topological data found nothing in Okinawa that resembled this island. Conversely, when Fūka returns home, she and Kaoru head down Route 58 just south of Nago. This particular bend in the road is located near Nuchigusui, a coastal restaurant with an impressive menu: visitors report fair prices and large portions for dishes, which are tried-and-true classics with an Okinawan twist. While The Aquatope on White Sand represents one of the more tricky location hunts I’ve ever done, right alongside The World in Colours, I’m glad to have taken the time to do a handful of comparisons between anime and real life: it definitively shows the effort that went into making both series captivating and compelling.
The Aquatope on White Sand presented a different set of challenges for location hunting compared to The World in Colours – the fact that The Aquatope on White Sand had utilised fictionalised spots in conjunction with real world locations, and this has made the process considerably more difficult. For instance, Kukuru and Fūka are shown to live within walking distance of Tingarla, but no landmarks near Tingarla are ever shown. Attempts to do a search of coastal areas comes up short; an aquarium of Tingarla’s size would be located in Naha, and in reality, the largest aquarium in Naha is DMM Kariyushi Aquarium, which is five klicks south of Naha Airport. However, the entire area is flat, and Tingarla is shown as being located near some cliffs. This led me to search for aquariums elsewhere in Okinawa, and although this approach allowed me to find Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, which is an established aquarium that does provide some of the inspiration for Tingarla, I was left with no more clues about things, since the nearest town, Nago, is twenty-two kilometres away by car, making it unlikely that Fūka and Kukuru would commute here on foot. Similarly, Rycom Aquarium, inside Aeon Mall Okinawa Rycom, is located too far inland to be an appropriate candidate. However, knowing that this did show up in the search led me to look around the area, and while it’s not particularly walkable, I did end up finding the area that inspired Fūka and Kukuru’s apartment. I was left to conclude that, while the major aquariums of The Aquatope on White Sand might be fictional, there remained a large number of places that inspired the places seen in the anime; the decision to retain some real world locations and create fictionalised spots speaks to how The Aquatope on White Sand is intended to tell a very specific story, and that there were moments where it was more appropriate to modify things a little so the anime was more effective in its intended aims. This aspect is a common part of fiction, and the fact that The Aquatope on White Sand took this route is to mirror the fact that realism isn’t a given anime’s objective. However, while the largest players in The Aquatope on White Sand might have no real world equivalent, numerous other spots in The Aquatope on White Sand are indeed real, speaking to the idea that the lessons this anime were aiming to convey have a basis in reality, as well. Having now gone through yet another location hunt set in Okinawa, home of my martial arts style (gōjū-ryū), I am left with the conclusion that, should I ever decide to travel to Okinawa in the future, I’d be able to do a three-in-one special: besides experiencing the touristy things that anime often depict, I’d also have a chance to walk the same beaches Haruka and Kanata vie for the beach volleyball championships in, as well as treading the same paths that Fūka and Kukuru take on their journey to becoming fully-fledged members of society. Such a trip is enticing, but as I’d noted in the location hunt for The World in Colours, any journey of this scale is going to have to wait a little while longer. Until the time is appropriate, however, I have access to a tool that will allow me to imitate the experience: Okinawa is only the opening of an app, and the flick of a wrist, away for me in the Oculus Quest.