National / Science & Health

Portable planetarium giving a boost to children in Japanese hospitals

JIJI

A nonprofit organization in Hokuto, Yamanashi Prefecture, has been cheering up children with diseases by showing them starry skies projected by a portable planetarium.

In a hospital lecture room in the city of Niigata in September, the children and their parents laid on their backs in a portable planetarium dome pumped up with air.

“What if the lights across Japan were turned off?” Noriko Yamato, a 47-year-old volunteer who lost her young daughter two years ago to cancer, said at the start of the show. When the projector covered the dome’s interior with stars, the children shouted in delight.

Hoshi Tsumugi no Mura was launched in 2016 by Mariko Takahashi, who was then in charge of space science at the Yamanashi Prefectural Science Center. Under the theme of “connecting people through stars,” the NPO visits anywhere from several to a dozen hospitals across the country every month.

For each show, the organization transports the projector and dome, which weigh somewhere between 20 and 40 kg, from Yamanashi to the next destination by car or delivery service.

The audiences include children who cannot go outside due to risk of infection.

“Everyone enjoys our shows. I think this is my life’s calling,” Takahashi said.

For patients at home, the organization rents out a projector and provides commentary via the internet.

“I want to send out the message that we’re here now many years after (the creation of the universe),” Takahashi said.

The organization has held 230 shows at about 160 locations across the country, entertaining over 12,000 hospitalized children.

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