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Friday, May 05, 2006

Tsukuba

つくば (筑波)

Just got back to Tokyo, from two very pleasant days in Japan's science city - Tsukuba.

The pleasant Chuo Koen in central Tsukuba

Now within easy commuting distance of Tokyo (45 minutes) since the opening of the Tsukuba Express (TX), the open-plan city in Ibaraki has enough to keep you occupied for a short visit and the glorious Golden Week weather made strolling in the city's parks a relaxing break from the metropolis.

Planned in the 1960s as an overspill town for Tokyo, the new city attracted a number of research institutes along with Tsukuba University. The 1985 Expo confirmed Tsukuba's status as Japan's leading hi-tech research and development center. Now around 19,000 researchers (40% of Japan's total) live in the city.

Tsukuba is a planned environment 40 km from Tokyo

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 for 500 yen a day (029 836 1111) and are an excellent way to explore the town, which has a network of cycle paths. The bus tours are also booked from the Tourist Information Office, which is adjacent to the main bus and 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.

A view of Tsukuba with the rocket at the Expo Center and the twin peaks of Mt. Tsukuba in the background

Most visitors tend to take in the robots at Science Square Tsukuba, the rockets and satellites at the Japan Space Center (JAXA) and the impressive glass-houses at Tsukuba Botannical Gardens. Doho and Matsumi Parks are also worth a visit and both have excellent sports facilities.

Tsukuba's other main attraction are the twin peaks of Mount Tsukuba which are about 870 m in height and offer fantastic views of the Kanto plain below. There are buses from Tsukuba station to the shrine at the foot of the mountain and then a cable car (570 yen) to the summit of Nantai (Male mountain) or a ropeway (600 yen) to the top of Nyotai (Female mountain). The mountain offers onsen, restaurants, hiking trails and an observatory.

Information here on Soy Sauce

Tsukuba guide

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