Staff writer Visit the Osaka Maritime Museum when it opens this summer, and you might want to take along a waterproof poncho, motion sickness pills and a sword. This has nothing to do with the location of the all-glass, globe-shaped museum, which floats like a giant mirror ball on the waters of Osaka Bay. Rather, they might assist your adventure aboard Portuguese Capt. Domingos Monteiro’s 16th-century trading ship. Guided by Japanese seaman Yajiro, the galleon is scheduled to make several trips daily between Macau and Osaka via the museum, promising a ferocious sea battle and encounters with a raging storm and Azuchi Momoyama Period warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi. All this in a trip scheduled to last 15 minutes and titled “Well Met in Osaka,” a virtual reality adventure produced for the museum by Canadian simulation show developer SimEx Inc., creator of some 30 such special venue attrac tions in Japan, including Ultimate Roller Coaster in Tokyo and Deep Sea Adventure at Fujikyu Highland amusement park in Fujiyoshida, Shizuoka Prefecture. According to Well Met creator and SimEx Chairman Michael Needham, the show presents a view of one of the first meetings between Japanese and European traders that took place more than 400 years ago; the project took four years and $4.5 million to complete. Visitors take this trip back through history aboard a 45-seat motion simulator, which is equipped with some additional “tricks and gags,” such as seawater sprayers, that allow visitors “to live the adventure,” Needham said. The rest of the action is left up to computer animation, which Needham said is of a similar quality to James Cameron’s epic “Titanic.” “All this is an attempt to allow people to suspend their imaginations and feel as though for 15 minutes they’re actually there,” Needham said during a recent visit to Japan, where he was shooting the live action footage for the show. “This is the digital age, and kids today have access to more interactive and compelling ways to amuse themselves. They want more than a passive experience.” The story line itself is compelling enough, doing away with the traditional view that the first contact by Western traders was, in Needham’s words, made “by a couple of Portuguese sailors who stum bled off a boat and discovered Japan in all its glory.” Needham refers to this as a “highly myopic, Eurocentric view,” that Akira Sakata, former president of the show’s codeveloper, the Osaka Port and Harbor Bureau, was keen to dispel when the original script was put forward. The resulting story is controversial in as much as it was researched using what Needham calls “realistic speculation.” “We take a more global, 21st century viewpoint that it’s very likely Japanese and European merchants were meeting either in Chinese or Indian ports well before any Jesuits arrived,” Needham said, adding that a number of Japanese scholars and maritime experts support this approach. Speculation was also required for the design of the trading ships that appear in the animation. Needham said that two “rather sketchy” references to 16th-century Japanese ships, one appearing on a “byobu” screen from the period and another on the back of a plate, had caused a problem for SimEx animators, who insisted they needed something with three dimensions to give them a more accurate guide of how a ship of the period actually looked. Needham was given a break when he was introduced to an elderly model maker in Kobe who specialized in making ships and had constructed a replica of the required ship. Needham immediately arranged for a photo shoot. They took shots from “every possible angle,” and at the end of the shoot, the craftsman presented Needham with the model. “We try to speculate on our history in a very scientific way. But we don’t breach any scientific rules or real history. We may be speculating about what could have happened, but it could have happened,” he said. “Well Met in Osaka” will open in July alongside the Osaka Maritime Museum, which also features a full-scale replica of an Edo Period “higaki-kaisen” trading ship.
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