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Off Into Space at JAXA Space Center

A visit to the Japan Aerospace and Exploration Agency (JAXA) is a must for any space fan.

By 4 min read 1

As we pulled up I saw a rocket in the distance. It was the same rocket I had seen in the anime, Uchu-Kyodai. I couldn’t help but feel like we just entered a sacred ground of intergalactic awesomeness. A place with a direct connection to the space beyond us. We had landed in JAXA.

JAXA (Japan Aerospace and Exploration Agency) Space Center is the Tsukuba branch of Japan’s space agency. It is the most popular of all the branches; comparable to Houston Space Center in the USA. I am a space enthusiast and have been wanting to take the trip to Tsukuba for some time now. In November I finally decided to just go ahead and do it.

The tour started off with a rocket simulation, which let us hear what a take-off would sound like from various distances. Followed by that was a tour in Japanese. English tours are available too, but have to be scheduled in advance. Space Dome, the visitor’s section of the premises is like an interactive museum. There are various things you can view, enter, or play around with. But do be aware of the signs; you can’t interact with everything. For your convenience, just about every display is accompanied by a detailed English description.

There were people there of all ages. From babies clinging to their parents, to grandpa’s wearing leather JAXA caps. Regardless of our age, there was one thing we all had in common: a childish enthusiasm for the mysteries of space.


Interest in the great beyond seems to be a cultural phenomenon in Japan. One of the most popular anime/manga series in the country is Uchu-Kyodai (Japanese: 宇宙兄弟/Eng.: Space Brothers). The two main characters are JAXA astronauts. The fact that I can have conversations about this anime with my students as well as my coworkers speaks of its wide appeal.

This interest in space goes beyond entertainment. I can only speak from personal experience, yet most of my Japanese friends and coworkers seem to be aware of the current astronauts in JAXA’s lineup, and even some satellites (such as the recently launched, Hayabusa). I would consider myself especially interested in these things, yet even I don’t know who was the last American to serve on the International Space Station.

Maybe Japan is experiencing a scaled-down version of what the US experienced when Apollo 11 landed on the moon. The advent of a new era in exploration. In the global history of space exploration, the JAXA entity is a fairly new arrival. Yet since they have been on the scene, they have contributed significantly to the ISS and NASA projects. Japanese people are probably feeling the same national pride Americans felt in the late 60s.


The moon itself has held symbolic meaning for Japan since ancient times. It has been the focus of many poems, art, and stories (e.g. Kaguya-Hime). The moon even has multiple names in Japanese, depending on how it appears under certain weather conditions. In the early fall, the tradition of Tsukimi is observed (translated literally as “moon viewing”). Parties are held, during the seasonal harvest is symbolically offered to the moon. To my knowledge, there is no such tradition in Western cultures that directly correlates to Tsukimi. Even Uchu-Kyodai directly references on multiple occasions the deep connection the Japanese have with the Moon.

In the summer, the star festival of Tanabata is observed. The tradition is rooted in the ancient story of two, quite literally, star-crossed lovers. The two lovers Orihime and Hikoboshi represent the stars, Vega and Altair respectively. They are forbidden to meet, separated by the Milky Way on all but one day of the year. During this day, when the stars are in proximity to each other, wishes are tied to bamboo trees in hopes that they will come true. This holiday is yet another example Japan’s relationship with the celestial.

Maybe space culture is a fad in this nation, or maybe it’s something more. It’s hard to tell. Yet from the looks of it, space has always been apart of Japan’s culture, and probably isn’t going to stop anytime soon. If you live in the Kanto region and have even the slightest interest in the stars above us, I’d suggest a visit to JAXA.


Price: Free Admission
Web: http://global.jaxa.jp/
Tsukuba Space Center: http://global.jaxa.jp/about/centers/tksc/files/traffic_e.pdf

Useful Information:
English speaking tours have to be scheduled in advance.
Passports are required for the weekday tours (due to entry into secured facilities) but never on weekends.

JAXA may not take up your entire day so I’d suggest going in the afternoon or plan to do other things while in Tsukuba. There are many places to shop, as well as museums to visit. And for the more active types, Mt. Tsukuba is not to far away.

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  • Pablo Kerlleñevich says:

    great post! I would love to go, surely on my schedule for my next time in Japan



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