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Observatory fills small Gifu town with pride

Chunichi Shimbun

An official opening ceremony Sunday was held to celebrate the completion of a small astronomical observatory on the grounds of Tara Elementary School in Kamiishizu, Gifu Prefecture.

The school’s PTA and local residents built the 3-meter-long, 3.6-meter-wide Tara Astronomical Observatory at their own initiative.

“I hope the town’s children will grow to love to it too,” one PTA member said.

The project was conceived after Yasunori Matogawa, professor emeritus at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and a member of the Hayabusa asteroid probe project, visited Kamiishizu in May 2010 and gave a lecture on astronomy.

Matogawa was also moved by the children’s enthusiastic response during his stargazing class and donated a telescope to Yoshihisa Otake, a former president of the school’s PTA who helped organize the event, telling him to “show these children the beauty of stars.”

Matogawa also declared the town, which is surrounded by mountains, well-suited for an observatory.

His enthusiasm motivated PTA members to set up the Tara Star Club and start designing the facility, while senior officials from local associations and community centers helped to establish the Tara Observatory Preparatory Committee.

Residents from the entire area became involved in the project and construction on the school grounds commenced last September, after approval was granted by municipal authorities in the city of Ogaki, which has administrative responsibility over the town.

PTA members, guardians of ex-students and the town’s residents gave up their weekends to build the observatory, using mainly local timber. They worked for free, utilizing participants’ expertise in the construction, carpentry, plating and stonework sectors.

The total project cost of about ¥2.4 million was covered by donations from local inhabitants, companies and store owners, as well as from former teachers and students of the school.

Though small in size, the observatory is a proper scientific facility, equipped with two telescopes — including one donated by astronomy enthusiasts in the prefecture — and a retractable roof.

“I had my doubts at first, but we managed to realize our dream as more and more people pitched in to help,” former PTA head Otake said, expressing pride over the new facility.

JAXA’s Matogawa attended the opening ceremony in person to deliver a speech.

“(The observatory) was the result of residents’ desire and determination to create a wonderful town. I could sense everyone’s drive to complete it,” he said. “I look forward to the future opportunities the facility will bring to the town.”

This section, appearing Saturdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published April 28.