Japanese planetariums and art museums tap VR craze to offer immersive experiences

Kyodo

With virtual reality technology becoming all the rage, planetariums and museums are cashing in on the trend to give visitors a closer view of the stars and artworks.

Precision equipment maker Konica Minolta Inc. is offering VirtuaLink, a VR facility in Tokyo’s Koto Ward, as a new, immersive way to enjoy stargazing. It is especially targeting female visitors.

Sitting in a chair that looks like it belongs in a space ship, a visitor can get a 360-degree panoramic view of the stars and space through special goggles.

A Tokyo housewife in her 40s who visited in mid-November was among those smitten by the experience.

“The stars looked so real and beautiful I wanted to gaze at them forever,” she said.

Konica Minolta Planetarium Co., which runs VirtuaLink, operates planetariums in the capital and uses images based on actual star data. Its new VR facility is open to those 12 and older for a fee of ¥1,500, and includes an immersive 15-minute game in which participants team up to protect Earth from a meteor. It’s unlike the ubiquitous shooting games where players must maneuver or navigate.

A public relations official said they “repackaged” the VR experience to allow women who are not that skillful in maneuvering through games to enjoy it as well.

The VR space in Koto Ward opened in July. Combined with a similar VR facility in Sumida Ward, visitors had topped 50,000 by the end of October.

JTB System Solution Inc., a Tokyo-based subsidiary of travel agency JTB Corp., has begun introducing VR technology to art galleries and museums.

Its first project gives visitors a taste of VR while viewing French painter Claude Monet’s 1899 work “Water Lily Pond” at the Pola Museum of Art in Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture. The VR collaboration — held on weekends — runs until Sunday.

The JTB group, in collaboration with art galleries and museums in over 100 locations, is preparing similar exhibits in several places.

Isao Sugimoto, executive officer of JTB System Solution, is keen to expand this service, expressing hope that the VR approach lures more visitors and contributes to revitalizing the local economy.

“The aim is to (nudge people) to view the paintings from a different viewpoint,” Takashi Matsui, assistant director of the Pola Museum at the popular hot springs resort said in a briefing in Tokyo in November.

Matsui said he hopes visitors “also take a good look” at the painting itself.