Planetarium in Shibuya

This old Zeiss projector was used at Goto Planetarium between 1957 and 2001.
Cosmo Planetarium on a rainy day

The first planetariums were built in Japan in the 1930s. However, the one in Tokyo was destroyed during WWII and no planetarium existed in Tokyo in the early post-war years. Therefore, the opening of Goto Planetarium(1) in 1957 on top of the newly built Tokyu Bunka Kaikan was a fascinating event.

(1)The name "Goto" comes from the family name of the owner of Tokyu Group and has nothing to do with the company GOTO INC which produces now 40% of world planetarium projectors.

Tokyu Bunka Kaikan was privately run by the Tokyu Group with Tokyu Corporation (a major private railway company) as its core company. It was unique that a huge cultural complex was built and run privately. In my childhood I saw a number of Disney animation movies such as "Sleeping Beauty" and "One Hundred and One Dalmatians" in its huge movie theatre Pantheon.

Goto Planetarium crowed the eight story modern cultural complex and it not only attracted many astronomy fans both young and old but also functioned as a center of astronomical information. Latest news in the astronomy was first available on the bulletin board of Goto Planetarium.

I visited Goto Planetarium again shortly before its closure in 2001. The astronomical show of the Planetarium using its 20m diameter dome was still very impressive and I renewed my childhood excitement. Tokyu Bunka Kaikan was then demolished due to the deterioration of building and the necessity to build new subway rails in its underground space. While a new building is now being built on the place of the former Tokyu Bunka Kaikan to open in 2012, a new planetarium "Cosmo Planetarium" opened in Shibuya a few hundred meters away in November 2010.

Cosmo Planetarium, in particular its show featuring "Hayabusa"(2) is so popular that it is not easy to get entrance tickets for the show which takes place twice a day. Therefore, I became curious and recently visited Cosmo Planetarium with some expectations. However, I was disappointed. Its dome is smaller than the old Goto Planetarium, only 17m in diameter and the show was not as impressive as I expected.

(2)"Hayabusa" was a tiny unmanned spacecraft, which landed on an asteroid Itokawa and returned to Earth on 13 June 2010 after seven years and one month space journey. This miraculous undertaking fascinated Japanese people. Please check the web site of Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

What interested me at Cosmo Planetarium was the display of the Zeiss projector used at the old Goto Planetarium. The characteristic shape of the projector fits the image of a machine that creates a fantastic world of stars.

According to the Japanese web site "Planetarium Guide", there are 22 planetariums in Tokyo. This means that nearly all of 23 wards of Tokyo have a planetarium. There are in total more than 200 publicly accessible planetariums in Japan. 46 among 47 prefectures possess one or more planetariums. While the one in Shibuya is relatively small, the planetarium in Nagoya which opened after renewal in March 2011 has the world largest dome, whose diameter is 35m. While Japan has leading planetarium producers such as Goto and Konica-Minolta, people in Nagoya chose to replace an old Carl Zeiss machine with the latest machine of the same company "Universarium model IX".

Though Japanese companies presently dominate camera and other optical markets of the world, many Japanese people still adore Carl Zeiss for its legendary quality. Sony for example sells Carl Zeiss lenses for their digital cameras, though their lenses are only licensed lenses by Zeiss and no originals. Germans should be satisfied with the persistent worship of Zeiss in Japan.