Planetariums in Japan -- An Overview
Yokohama Science Center
5-2-1 Yokodai Isogo-ku
Yokohama 235 Japan
The Planetarium Environment
Most planetariums in Japan have been constructed by local districts and are operated by them or by affiliated organizations for both public and educational (school) purposes. According to a survey made in 1990 (all data referred to in this report are from Reference 1 unless otherwise stated), of nonschool planetariums of 5-meters or larger, 59% were founded for the purposes of social (public) education and 21.0% for school educational use; however 96% of the total are visited by school groups for school programs on weekdays.
Most school teachers have no astronomy education, even introductory courses, in universities because few universities in Japan provide astronomy courses. School teachers feel it difficult to direct night observations due to their unfamiliarity with the constellations and because of special circumstances such as poor weather, light pollution, safety, and for other reasons.
This accounts for a great demand for school use of planetariums, where it is the planetarium staff instead of school teachers that usually teach the pupils. As a result, school teachers greatly depend on planetariums for astronomy education.
School groups usually visit planetariums on weekdays, while on holidays lots of families, couples, friends and other groups or individuals crowd there.
Public interest in social education has increased markedly as a result of the improved living standard and the expanded availability of leisure time. The standard of living of the Japanese people has reached a level comparable to that of the West in terms of average income as a result of the rapid expansion of the Japanese economy. Now the emphasis is shifting from material affluence to the quality of living, especially the culture aspect of life. To meet this growing demand for social education, various learning opportunities are offered by local governments, such as lifetime education seminars, adult university courses, and open seminars at some universities; and the authorities are improving and expanding cultural facilities such as art museums, libraries, sports center and parks.
With such a social background, planetariums have been built rapidly-at the rate of about 10 a year since the first manned lunar landing (References 2 and 3). According to the 1990 survey, planetariums, excepting those at some schools, amount to 217.
Domes 5.0 to 9.9 meters in diameter account for 26% of the total number of planetariums in Japan. This is followed by 10.0-14.9 meter domes with 28% of the total;15.0-9.9 m with 8.8%; and 20.0-24.9 m with 14%. The current tendency is to build big domes, sometimes tilted, which have come to be known as the "Space Theaters." 11% of the planetariums in Japan already have tilted domes.
Even in "flat domes," uni-directional seating has come to be used widely-59% of the time. Many visual productions frequently use slides, video tapes, laser disks and movies.
About 96% of the planetariums are made by the two domestic manufacturers (Ref. 3).
Most planetariums own telescopes and hold public observing sessions on regular basis.
About 60% planetariums have a full-time staff of one or two persons only. Even where there is part-time staff, it is usually at most one person.
Most planetariums are not only understaffed but suffer personnel changes once every few years because of government regulations. Furthermore, planetariums are not always staffed by astronomically literate people. In the worst cases he or she must unwillingly learn everything required step by step.
As a matter of course, such planetariums cannot show enterprising spirit or produce programs with their own individual qualities.
About 20% planetariums do not suffer such personnel losses, and they can accumulate their technical and educational experience and knowledge to produce challenging works.
Most planetariums concentrate on school education only and provide no public programs, while others show both school and public programs.
Lack of staff should lead not to in-house productions. In the case of public programs, 54% of planetariums entrust part or all of the show production and installation to software producers which are often affiliated with planetarium manufacturers. 40% of school programs are so produced. 32% of all planetariums have staff that cannot write public program scripts; 24% cannot write school programs. Thus manufactured "show packages" with no live lectures are widely marketed; 37% planetariums use such taped shows for public programs and 16% for school programs.
The quality gap between creative planetarium shows and "canned" shows will be still wider in future.
Planetariums are visited by about two millions persons annually, or 1.7% of the total population of Japan (Ref. 4). This means that planetariums are one of the key media for astronomy education in Japan.
The biggest problem will be breaking the staff-shifting trend. If the administration wishes to establish planetariums that are appreciated by all the citizens, they must look for educators with astronomy literacy, and they may find helpful candidates among young researchers who are interested in sharing astronomical experiences with the public and with young people.
(1) Takabatake, N. and Yamamoto, S. (1990): Proc. the 4th conf. of the Society of Teaching and Popularization of Astronomy, 87- (complete report available from the authors; both in Japanese)
(2) Itoh, S. (1987): Proc. the First Conf. of the Society of Teaching and Popularization of Astronomy, 64- (in Japanese)
3) Kitazawa, J. (1987): Planetarium Research, 4, 23- (in Japanese)
(4) Isobe, S., Sasaki, G, and Shinohara, N. (1986): Proc. the GIREP Conf., 313-
This manuscript is reprinted from Teaching of Astronomy in Asia-Pacific Region Bulletin No. 3, issued by the National Astronomical Observatory, Mitaka, Japan.
Reproduced from the Planetarian, Vol. 20, #4, December 1991. Copyright 1991 International Planetarium Society. For permission to reproduce please contact Executive Editor, Sharon Shanks.