One day while spending time in Tallinn, I decided I wanted to go to Tartu, Estonia’s second largest city.


Tartu is the home of the prestigious University of Tartu. It is located about 190 km south-east of the capital, Tallinn, by car.

Why I wanted to go to Tartu.

The biggest reason I decided to go to Tartu was seeing a speech given by Takayuki Ohira at TEDx Tokyo 2013.

Mr. Ohira is an engineer who has made great strides in the development of planetarium projectors, and has succeeded in projecting stars that were invisible in previous planetariums. He said that previous planetariums were able to project between 6,000 and 9,000 stars, but the number of stars projected by Mr. Ohira’s Megastar planetarium was a whopping 22 million! That’s what it looks like. Even if you do a rough calculation, it’s several thousand times more than that. This is amazing.


The story that led to the development of ↑ is quite interesting presentation. Please take a look at it.

When I saw this presentation for the first time, I was impressed with his spirit and enthusiasm, thinking that there are amazing people out there.

Then, while I was searching for information on the Internet about Mr. Ohira’s planetarium projector, the Megastar, I was surprised to learn that the Megastar planetarium was located at the AHHAA, a science museum in Tartu.

I must go there then.


Get on the train to Tartu.

For directions to Tartu from Tallinn, please see the article below.



My first trip to Tartu was by train. When I got on the train I was seated in a box seat for six people, as per the seating chart.



There were four of us sitting in the box, including me. There were three of us: a young Estonian man who looked like a businessman who smiled at me when I asked him to let me through, and a father and his son. The little boy looked at me with great interest and when I smiled at him, he smiled back.

On the other hand, the mother, who was in her 40s or so, didn’t even look at me. This is so common in Estonia that I’m used to foreigners living in Estonia, especially in Tallinn. I think this Estonians’ “not interacting with foreigners” personality is especially noticeable the older they get.

This seemingly unfriendly behavior is partly due to the Estonians’ ethnicity, which comes from their tragic history. It is especially common among Estonians who have experienced the Soviet era, and I think this is due to their history of subordination to other countries over the past hundreds of years until independence. From the Crusades to World War II to the Soviet era, and sadly, most of that history has been badly treated by the great powers. (There was a time right after the Russian Revolution when we were an independent country, but we were quickly incorporated into the Soviet Union.)

But of course, I strongly believe that it’s not just past history that helps, but also the Estonians’ unique overly calm nature.

For more information on the Estonians’ “quiet and gentle nature”, please read this article I posted on


Estonians’ “cute” personalities that I found out from meeting Estonians / I discovered the “Moomin gene”.


Anyway, a little over two hours into the train ride, I got on the train and arrived in Tartu.


Arrival in Tartu.

The Emayugi River, which flows through Tartu

My first impression when I arrived in Tartu was that it was an even more relaxed city than Tallinn.



The city of Tartu and the Emayogi River that flows between them

It was a very quiet river, typical of Estonia.



As we walked along the river, we saw a Soviet-style retro-futuristic building. I like it.



Oh, wow, it reminds me of Japan’s post-war Expo or Olympic papillion buildings when viewed from the front.

A quick shot from the other side. It looks like this is a restaurant. They say it becomes a club at night.


A truly calm river, typical of Estonia.


Instagramming spot in Laekoya Square (City Hall Square)

It’s “Laekoya Square”, which means “City Hall” as it was in Tallinn. The City Hall Square is the center of the city, isn’t it?


Laekoya Square in Tartu, with that yellow National Geographic frame. Apparently there are a total of 21 such yellow National Geographic frames in southern Estonia, and they are trying to make it an “Instagrammable” place for tourists.


I came in close and took some shots. Looks pretty good?


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I actually took this picture on Instagram. There’s not city hall in the frame, but still this frame alone is Insta-worthy!

By the way, the photos of Estonia that I’ll be posting on this blog are mostly unprocessed. The dark places are still dark. I want you to feel the real Estonia, so I’ve left them as they are.


AHHAA (Science Museum AHA)

This is where the planetarium I mentioned at the beginning of this article is located. AHHAA is the largest science museum in Estonia and the largest in the Baltic States, and it’s a pretty big building, and I wondered if AHHAA was an acronym for something, but when I looked at the official website, it seemed to be just as it sounds: “Aha! This is the meaning of the word “aha”. It’s a facility that aims to give people an “aha” experience through scientific knowledge.

I only saw the planetarium this time, but the inside of the building looks like a science museum, which you can find in Japan. There were a lot of activities, especially those that involve moving your body to move the equipment.

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The planetarium was a surprisingly small room, but it seemed to be the centerpiece of the facility. The planetarium itself was very interesting and high definition.

However, with this effort to look at the world and find technicians from Japan all the way from Japan to create the planetarium, you can feel the desire Estonia has to bet on education.


Still exploring Tartu.


We will still be exploring Tartu. This is a view of Laekoya Square from the other side. It’s quite large and long. Laekoya Square in Tallinn is more square, but this one is very long and rectangular. By the way, there was a good chocolate shop in the building on the left and right.

One shot of Laekoya Square. An old lady in front of the statues of a man and a woman embracing each other against the pretty pink wall behind them.




The tablet on the ground reads “Town Hall”.


Another statue of a couple hugging each other enthusiastically that has come up again. Estonia is Europe, so couples are usually extremely lovey-dovey, even in public.


There was water coming out of the top…like “love trumps bad weather” .


While I think it’s a rearrangement, I still think this statue is the most memorable in Tartu. It’s fine that you guys are the winners now. Yes, you’re the winner.


There are murals like this one.


Signs pointing to the main locations in Tartu


The prestigious University of Tartu.


Speaking of Tartu, here is the University of Tartu. It’s a more traditional university than the University of Tallinn. It’s like Kyoto University in Japan, to put it another way.


And we were given a tour of the inside.


The disciplinary cell on the top floor. It is said that students who broke the rules were put in here. Graffiti on the wall is very old and has been around since the 17th century.



There’s a back door in the brickwork wall.


A brick church


The age of the building

An aged bicycle

Memories of a Tragedy KGB Camp Museum

Speaking of Estonia, we cannot forget about the repression during the Soviet era. I wrote that the Estonian people have been historically oppressed, and the most recent example is the Soviet era.


Through a corridor of moaning and groaning… (it’s playing on the speakers)


A KGB guard greets you at the end of the hallway.


Solitary confinement (possibly a punishment cell)


The overall floor plan


I think it’s a torture chair.


It’s about the miserable lives of the captives.


The actual torture device used.


It is terrible. In Japan, the history of tragedy ended in 1945 and a period of peace followed, but in Estonia and other former Soviet satellites this continued until around 1990. It is frightening to think that this was happening at a time when Japan was in a bubble economy. Because of this history until recently, independence is very important for Estonia, and it is directly related to the way of thinking of the Estonians today. This kind of thing makes me think a lot about the fact that each country and ethnic group has its own difficulties.


More walking before the bus ride home.


There was a pig.


What is it about this pig that sits here?


It says something, but I can’t read it. Apparently it says something like “Be more grateful for the creatures you can eat”.

It seems to have the parts of the meat written on it.


Maybe they made this in a prominent place to remember to thank or apologize for living things.

It could be said to be like the animal-loving Estonians. By the way, Tartu is also a famous agricultural area in Estonia.


Look at the beautiful trees in the city.


I bought some coffee-flavored drinking kefir from the supermarket, which is a familiar drink in this area (it comes in a variety of flavors. It’s thick, but about 1 dollar per bottle).


We have arrived at the bus terminal. We said goodbye to Tartu.

A local man showed me a bottle of vodka in the bathroom here. By the way, a guy I met here said “Tartu people are friendlier than Tallinnese”. In fact, I rarely saw eye to eye in Tallinn, but in Tartu I did see people walking around a few times. Later on, when I visited many countries in Europe, I noticed that people in the second city of the country were more likely to talk to me as a foreigner than the people in the capital city. It seems that no matter where you go in the world, capital cities have the power to make people dry (except for Berlin). (Except for Berlin.)

We left Tartu by bus with these thoughts in mind.

I’ll be going to Tartu later by couchsurfing (a web service that lets you stay at home for free), but I’ll talk about that another time.



Click on the image below to read my blog series on my stay in Estonia