Sightseeing: Things to see and do
Tsukuba in Ibaraki Prefecture has enough to keep you occupied for a short visit from Tokyo and Tsukuba has become a new home for many people moving out of the metropolis.
Planned in the 1960's as an overspill town for Tokyo, Tsukuba attracted a number of research institutes, including Tsukuba University, Tsukuba Gakuin University and Tsukuba International University. International Schools for the children of the many foreign researchers in Tsukuba include Tsukuba International School and Liberty International School.
The 1985 Expo confirmed Tsukuba's status as Japan's leading hi-tech research and development center. Now Tsukuba is a planned, modern environment just 40 km north from Tokyo.
Now around 19,000 researchers (40% of Japan's total) live in the city. The numerous public and private research institutes located in Tsukuba include the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the Geographical Survey Institute (GSI), which standardizes maps for the whole country, the National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Prevention (NIED) and the Meteorological Research Institute.
Many of these research institutes have attached public museums which can be visited on a bus or bicycle tour of the town.
Bicycles can be rented from the Tourist Information Office (inside the Bus Ticket Office at Tsukuba Station) for 500 yen a day (029 883 1111) and are an excellent way to explore the town, which has a network of cycle paths. Tsukuba is spread out, however, and if you are planning to stay longer a rental car might be the best option to get around.
Bus tours are also booked from the Tourist Information Office (Tel: 029 855 8155), which is in the Bus Ticket Office adjacent to Tsukuba Railway Station.
The Tsukuba Science Tour (029 863 6868) enables visitors to get on and off the shuttle buses which circle the main sites about every hour. The tours cost 500 yen for adults and 250 yen for pre-junior high school children.
Most visitors tend to take in the robots at Science Square Tsukuba, the rockets and satellites at the Japan Space Center (JAXA), Tsukuba Expo Center in Chuo Koen (Central Park) with its planetarium, Time Capsule and H-II rocket and the impressive glass-houses at Tsukuba Botanical Gardens, which contains both tropical and desert environments. The 24m-tall Tropical Rain Forest House at Tsukuba Botanical Gardens is a good place to warm up on a cold day and contains both lowland and mountain tropical plants. The Savanna House has plants from the Americas, Africa and Australia.
Chuo Koen (Central Park) contains the excellent Tsukuba Museum of Art (Ibaraki-ken Tsukuba Bijitsukan Tel: 029 856 3711) within the Tsukuba Cultural Center ARS, which also holds the city library building.
The National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) site contains both a Geological Museum and the interesting Science Square Tsukuba with displays of the latest Japanese robots including the therapeutic seal robot, Paro, the Choromet mini-humanoid robots and a number of full-size humanoid robots in the HRP series.
Doho Park and Matsumi Park are also worth a visit and both have excellent sports facilities. Doho Park is laid out around a large lake with a soccer ground, baseball field, tennis courts and a swimming pool as well as a cafeteria within the park. On the north side of the park is the delicious German-style Morgen bakery and next door the Sieger cake and dessert specialists. Sieger also has a konditorei or cafe on its premises.
Matsumi Park has a lovely Japanese strolling garden with carp-filled lake and a 45m-tall viewing tower.
Kenkyugakuen Eki-mae Koen just south of Kenkyugakuen Station is a lovely space ideal for family picnics. There is a wetland area with tall reeds and wooden zig-zag bridges, lawns, a Tsukuba-style farm house and a variety of plants and trees. Further south still and reachable by shuttle bus from Kenkyugakuen Station or a 1.6km walk from Banpaku Kinen Koen Station is the Kagaku Banpaku Kinen Koen (Expo '85 Memorial Park) which was laid out for the 1985 Science Expo. There is a lake, spacious lawns, tennis courts and the 10m-tall Kagaku-no-mon (Science Gate). Adjacent to the Iias shopping mall is the new, English-style Gakuen no mori Park with lawns and large deciduous trees.
Tsukuba Wellness Park is a health and leisure center with swimming pool, onsen, soccer fields and a running/jogging track powered by the adjacent incinerator north of the center.
There are buses from Tsukuba station to the Tsukubasan Shrine at the foot of the mountain and then a cable car (570 yen; 1020 yen return; 8 minutes one-way) to the summit of Nantai (Male mountain) or a ropeway (600 yen; 1070 yen return; 6 minutes one-way) to the top of Nyotai (Female mountain). There are small shrines on the summits of both Mt. Nantai-san and Mt. Nyotai-san.
The mountain offers onsen, restaurants, hiking trails and an observatory. If you are driving from the center of town follow national highway 42. To ascend either of the twin peaks from the ropeway or cable car stations allow about 1 hour to 90 minutes or less at a leisurely pace. The Miyukigahara course goes from Tsukubasan Shrine upto Nantai following the Swiss-built cable car. The Otatsuishi course leads from the Tsutsujigaoka ropeway station to Nyotai, while the Shirokumobashi course goes up the mountain between the two routes and links both peaks after joining the Otatsuishi path.
Tsukubasan Shrine holds festivals on the first day of April and November when mikoshi (portable shrines) are carried up the mountain. The mountain is known for its autumn leaves as well as plum blossoms in early spring close to the small Omido Temple before Tsukubasan Jinja.
Ushiku Daibutsu, the world's largest Buddhist statue at 120m tall is only 30 minutes from Tsukuba and well worth a visit, not only for the impressive bronze statue but also the beautiful flower gardens.
The Yokaren Peace Memorial Museum close to nearby Tsuchiura stands on the shores of Lake Kasumigaura is a modern museum dedicated to the teenage boys in the Showa Period who volunteered for the Yokaren flight training school to serve as pilots or ground crew.
Hitachi Fudoki no Oka about a 40 minute drive from Tsukuba in Ishioka city is an open-air museum exhibiting historical dwellings from the Jomon to Edo periods of Japanese history set in a popular park which draws crowds in the cherry blossom season.
Getting There - Tsukuba Access
The 58 km route passes through Saitama and Chiba Prefectures and takes 45 minutes compared to 85 minutes previously on the JR Joban Line or the 65 minutes by bus. Many people now commute to work in offices in Tokyo from Tsukuba.
The new line has 20 stations equipped with automated gates with stops in downtown Tokyo at Shin-Okachimachi, Asakusa, Minami-Senju and Kita-Senju. Fares are presently 1,150 yen for the whole journey or 1,100 yen to Kenkyugakuen Station.
Tsukuba's main bus station for buses to Mt. Tsukuba is next to the railway station. Local buses are run by Kanto Tetsudo. Tsuku Bus is a network of six shuttle buses running from the Tsukuba Center and Kenkyugakuen Station to Tsukuba Sanguchi, Tsukuba Madoguchi Center, Teragu, Yoshinuma, Kukizaki Madoguchi Center and Fujimidai.
There are also long-distance highway buses to Tokyo (via Ueno Station to Tokyo Station 90 minutes), Narita and Haneda airports (both airports about 1 hour 40 minutes) and Mito. Buses to Tokyo DisneySea and Tokyo Disneyland begin at Tsuchiura Station and call at Tsukuba Center on the way. There are 3 buses daily from Tsukuba at 6.30am, 7.50am and 3.20pm (95 minutes; 1,540 yen).
There are overnight buses to Osaka (Dream Go; 9,900 yen), Kyoto (Yokappe Go; 9,100 yen) and Nagoya. Kantetsu buses to Kyoto and Osaka start at Mito Station South Exit, call at Tsuchiura Station, Kyoto Station Hachijoguchi Exit, Osaka Station, Namba Station West Exit (OCAT) and Abeno Harukas. The bus departs at 10.53pm from Tsukuba Center arriving at Kyoto Station at 6.17am and Osaka Station at 7.13am.
The last bus to Tokyo from Tsukuba Station is at 12.30am daily.
The buses to Narita Airport begin at Tsuchiura Station and then stop at Tsukuba Center. The first bus leaves Tsukuba Center at 5.20am with the last bus at 6.50pm. The fare is presently 2,200 yen.
The modern bus center at Tsukuba Station (Tsukuba Center) includes the Tourist Information Office and has free Wifi, timetables, rental bicycles and a small convenience store.
Hotels in Tsukuba
Tsukuba has a number of good hotels including the centrally-located Hotel Grand Shinonome (Tel: 029 856 2211), the Daiwa Roynet Hotel (Tel: 029 863 7955), the Tsukuba Grand Hotel (Tel: 029 866 0152), the Okura Frontier Hotel, the Tsukuba Onsen Hotel (Tel: 029 866 0521), the Tsukuba Sky Hotel and for something a little different the Green House (Tel: 029 856 8881) nearer to Kenkyugakuen Station, which has large, pleasant rooms to let by the day or longer in a pleasant, rural setting complete with well-water showers, tatami and wood floors and a pleasant garden and noted wine bar.
Near to the Green House is the Tsukuba Ham Restaurant (Tel: 029 856 1953) set in pleasant grounds with a pond and the Tsukuba Ham delicatessen offering locally produced hams and cheeses as well as courses in how to produce and dress ham and bacon.
Also near Kenkyugakuen Station are the Toyoko Inn Kenkyugakuen and the Mark-1 Hotel, both affordable, business-style hotels, the latter with a pleasant onsen-style bath open to guests. The nearby Heartland has a fine Italian restaurant on its ground floor.
Shopping & Entertainment in Tsukuba
Tsukuba's main shopping malls are the giant Iias mall on Gakuen Kita Odori near Kenkyugakuen Station and Creo near Tsukuba Station which has a branch of the Seibu department store and the Aeon supermarket. Iias has a branch of the popular Uniqlo clothing store, a food court, a games center Namco Land and a multiplex cinema (Movix).
Tsukuba Capio, south of the station, is a concert hall and arena. Epochal Tsukuba is an international congress and exhibition center further to the south of Capio.
Lala Garden on National Highway 408 is another large shopping mall with a Uniqlo store and many other retail outlets. Lala Garden has a branch of Hinano for health food and vegetarian dishes.
Tsukuba Express (TX) Video
Map of Tsukuba
View Tsukuba Map in a larger map