Japan: Portable Planetarium Shows in Soma City, Fukushima Prefecture

Delivery of Portable Planetarium Shows

Children of Soma City, Fukushima Prefecture, had been playing in their neighborhood parks and playgrounds before the Great East Japan Earthquake occurred in March 2011. However, they are now having a hard time being able to play outdoors as they want to, since many of those parks and playgrounds were swept away by the tsunami and some areas of the city still have high radiation levels.

Since the opening of its office in Soma City in April 2012, AAR Japan has assisted children of the city in many ways, including the installation of playground equipment at temporary housing complexes. As AAR Japan staff frequently visited the temporary housing complexes and subsidized housings in the city, they have become friends with children living there and often heard them voice their desire to see a planetarium show. In response, AAR Japan decided to hold “Mobile Planetarium Shows,” hoping that the projection of a starlit night sky would not only offer an educational experience to learn about the universe and constellations, but would also uplift the children so that they can pursue their dreams.

“Oh, the moon waxes and wanes this way.” Children eagerly look up at the planetarium’s ceiling.

Tonight, What Stars Are in the Sky Over Soma City?

Soma City has no permanent planetarium facility. Therefore, in order for the children of the city to see a planetarium show, they have to travel to the cities of Sendai or Koriyama, taking 1 to 1.5 hours by car. The mother of a second-grade boy said, “Since my son began to show interest in stars, we’ve visited planetariums in Koriyama and Sendai several times. But after the disaster, we now have fewer opportunities to see planetarium shows because we have to pass through areas with high radiation in order to go to Koriyama.

The venue for the mobile planetarium shows was Soma Municipal Nakamura First Elementary School. Inflating a sky-blue dome, we set up in the school gym a hemispherical planetarium that holds about 40 spectators per show. During the two days of September 29th and 30th, we ran 10 planetarium shows and had as many as 489 visitors consisting of students of elementary school in Soma City and their parents.  

“I can’t wait!” The visitors wait in line as they look forward to the show.

The presenter who gives live narrations is Mr. Miyuki TOHYAMA from “Yokohama Mobile Planetarium,” one of the organizations that made the shows possible. As soon as young spectators are seated inside the dome, light music starts playing and it begins to get dark. They became excited as stars come out in twos and threes on the ceiling that was merely dark. While having their eyes glued to twinkling stars, the children find themselves in total darkness but under a myriad of stars they have never seen before. “Oh, that’s the Milky Way!” they say, pointing to stars joyfully.

Projected on the screen was “The Starry Sky Tonight over Soma City.” Mr. TOHYAMA tells the children how to identify stars and constellations such as the North Star and the Great Summer Triangle. “The star, which is known in Japan as Orihime, is Vega in the constellation Lyra, which forms one corner of the Great Summer Triangle.” “Sitting low in the northern sky over Soma City tonight is the constellation Cassiopeia.” Under the fascinating starlit sky, every 20-minute show just flies by.

The planetarian Mr. TOHYAMA from “Yokohama Mobile Planetarium” carefully explains to the audience what they will see in the show.

“The stars looked clear and the explanation was easy to follow. I learned a lot today.” “The stars were so beautiful that I love them now.”

“This is my first time to see a planetarium show.” “I felt the stars so close to me.”

“This was a very timely event for us, because my son has just begun to show an interest in stars and we bought a constellation guidebook very recently. He was looking forward to this event so much that he filled in the application form by himself without bringing it home and completed the registration at school,” the mother of 8 year-old Kosuke joyfully told us. Kosuke’s father also said, “We’re very glad to be here today as there aren’t many events like this one where children can learn. It would be great if we have more events of this kind.”

“It was like seeing the real universe,” says Kosuke (age 8, center) and Yoko HAYASHI of AAR Japan Tokyo Office (left)

Over 80% of the visitors were children, and for most of them it was the first time seeing a planetarium show. During the intermission, they enjoyed bouncy ball scooping, bingo, and trampolining prepared in the gym.

It was unfortunately cloudy that day, but in clear nights, the sky over Soma City will also be jeweled with glittering stars. In winter, bright stars including the constellation Orion start to twinkle in the night sky. Chances are, the Geminids will also be making their appearance. We hope they will continue to enjoy observing the stars, applying what they have learned from the show. AAR Japan will continue its activities in Fukushima Prefecture.

The setting up of the mobile planetarium dome in the gym. With a passion for stars, grade-4 boys at Nakamura First Elementary School helped the preparation and reception of the show.

During intermission, children enjoyed bounce ball scooping and bingo all together.

With the spectators of the last planetarium show

Soma Planetarium Project was made possible by the support and cooperation of PEACE PROJECT, GlobalGiving, Yokohama Mobile Planetarium, Soma Municipal Nakamura First Elementary School in Fukushima Prefecture, and Nalelu.Co.,Ltd.

Yoko HAYASHI at AAR Tokyo Office
After graduating from university and gaining experience in an airline and Japan's overseas establishments, joined AAR Japan and worked in the Xieng Khouang office in Laos, wishing to be part of assistance that directly helps people in need. Started work at Tokyo Headquarters in October 2012, currently in charge of projects in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan.