Exploring the Tsukuba Science City of Japan

Tsukuba Japan Guide

Tsukuba Japan Map

Tsukuba is a special city located in the Ibaraki prefecture of Japan. It is a part of the Kanto region and is located on the eastern side of the main islands. This is quite a large city with a total area of 280 square kilometers. This place is located in the southern portion of the Ibaraki prefecture and is surrounded by neighboring cities of Joso, Chikusei, Ishioka, Sakuragawa, and more.

By Polimerek (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The city of Tsukuba is most iconic for Mount Tsukuba, which has been a popular pilgrimage site since the late Heian period. Other than that Tsukuba is considered as a Science city of Japan because of their extensive involvement with national research on technology and space exploration.

Tsukuba Japan Weather

This place is located in the central portion of the main islands particularly the Honshu Island of Japan, to the east near the Pacific Ocean. However, it is quite a distance away from the equator which means that the general climate of the area is cool. Because of this, the prefecture usually experiences low temperatures from the autumn to the fall season. They also still experience cool temperatures during the summer and spring season.

The city of Tsukuba is also located near the mountains which means that the place is enjoyable during the spring because of the massive display of Sakura blossoms. It is also a romantic getaway destination during the fall season because of the changing colors of the autumn leaves, especially that of Cherry and Maple.

History of Tsukuba Japan

Tsukuba Japan Earthquake

The 2011 Great Tohoku earthquake was one of the most devastating natural disasters that happened to the world during the modern times. Not only did the country experience a 9.0 Magnitude earthquake, the country also suffered great devastation in low-lying coastal areas due to the tsunami caused by the earthquake. Japan had faced hundreds of thousands of casualties not only due to the earthquake but due to the tsunami. Although Tsukuba was not a part of the Tohoku region, it was still widely affected by the earthquake. In fact, its effects to Tsukuba was quite a critical one.

Tsukuba city in Ibaraki is where the International Space Station (or ISS) control of JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) was located. It was through this “Center” that JAXA gains access to information on researches and missions being done by the country outside of the earth. On top of that, there are also Japanese astronauts who have been devoting their time n the ISS. This “Center” is also responsible for gaining access to the Kibo Laboratory of the ISS.

During the 2011 earthquake, the entire Tsukuba Space Center was evacuated and shut down due to possible damages from the earthquake and tsunami. Because of this shutdown, damages have been reported and it was only more than a week later on the 21st of March that the Tsukuba Space Center was able to gain full control and access again.

Tsukuba Japan Tourism

Tourism in Tsukuba largely relies on Nature and Science, it is highly visited by people who love adventure on the great outdoors and the “outdoors” can mean outer space as well. Since Tsukuba is the home of Mount Tsukuba, a number of people travel to this place to enjoy trekking and hiking up the mountains. Some also enjoy onsens and ryokans in the area. People also enjoy visiting zoos, safaris and wildlife preserves in the city.

However, the main selling point of Tsukuba is the fact that it is known to be the Science City of Japan. It is a good place t visit with family because the facilities are sure to be both fun and educational. They have Geological museums, space domes, Science museums, and of course the Tsukuba Space Center of JAXA.

The economy of Tsukuba also relies on multinational companies which are headquartered in the city. These include Intel Japan, Cyberdyne Inc., and SoftEther Corporation. These are great money makers who have invaded the IT industry all over the world.

Getting Around Tsukuba Japan

Tsukuba Japan Airport

The airport nearest Tsukuba City would be the Ibaraki Airport which is about 35 km (21 miles) from the city center. This particular airport also has international and domestic flights for certain airlines. The city can be accessed via bus, train, or taxi from the airport. For other flights, the city center of Tsukuba has located about 55 km (34 miles) from the Narita International Airport. There are special bus lines that travel from Narita International Airport to Ibaraki Prefecture before taking a local train or bus going to the Science city.

Tsukuba Japan Trains

For those accessing Tsukuba from city centers like Tokyo, there is access to the Tsukuba Express in Akihabara, Tokyo. It takes more than an hour and a few minutes to go to Tsukuba from Tokyo.

There is no JR line passing through Tsukuba but there are local railways that are available. Tsukuba can be reached via the Metropolitan Intercity Railway Company in a railway line known as the Tsukuba Express. People can travel up to the Tsukuba station to access the Science city.

For those who wish to travel to Mount Tsukuba, there are cable cars and ropeways available to explore the mountain up to the summit. This ride is best for children and adults who find hiking up and down the slopes difficult. Make sure to find stations for the Mount Tsukuba Cable Car and Mount Tsukuba Ropeway.

Tsukuba Japan Hotels

Since the population of travelers in Tsukuba is quite high because of the many activities which could be enjoyed in the city, finding a good hotel can be a difficult task. However, there are cheap alternatives to luxury hotels that still give the most relaxing experience. Among these hotels would be the Okura Frontier Hotel, Tsukuba Best Land, and Tsukuba Grand Hotel. All of these are affordable but still, gives a luxurious style of comfort.

By Polimerek (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

For those who wish to go to Tsukuba to enjoy the hot springs, there are a number of ryokans available in the area. However, a good place to stay would be the Tsukuba Onsen Hotel which offers up room accommodations with spa packages.

Tsukuba Japan Things to do

Tsukuba Space Center

This place is the main operations facility and headquarters of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). This space center was established in the early 1970s and is the main location for most of Japan’s space operations.

What makes this Tsukuba Space Center special is the fact that it is home to “The Center”. This is the department which is closely involved with missions and operations on the International Space Station (or ISS). The Center is also responsible for training Japanese astronauts before they receive their full training in Lyndon Johnson Space Center in Houston.

One of the most important missions that the Tsukuba Space Center is most responsible for would be the Kibo Laboratory and the H-II Transfer Vehicle. The Kibo Laboratory is responsible for creating a full mock-up of the Kibo Module, a Japanese Science Module for the International Space Station. This is important for providing storage space for experiment samples and spare items. This can be accessed remotely from the Tsukuba Space Center.

The H-II Transfer Vehicle is a cargo spacecraft which is fully automated which helps in resupplying Kibo in the International Space Station. It is also known as the White Stork because it will be carrying important materials to the ISS.

Most of the complex is closed off to visitors but there are certain areas and offices which accept tourists. This is especially true for school trips which will teach young children in full depth of the different space programs that JAXA is currently developing.

Tsukuba EXPO Center

Located in the complex of the Tsukuba Space Center would be the Tsukuba Expo Center which is considered as one of the world’s largest planetariums. This is an impressive facility sells on the theme of interactivity where visitors can enjoy learning through seeing and touching reality.

There are exhibits within the expo center which are experience-based and rely on simulations of real-life events and scenarios. An example of this would be the Air Bazooka which allows the user to shoot air like bullets. There is also the Sun Cruiser which is a simulated travel experience to the sun – complete with images and sound.

This place is usually accessible every 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Tickets cost about 820 yen for adults, 410 yen for students, and free for children younger than three years. The tickets for the planetarium is different from the admission ticket for the exhibit area.

Mount Tsukuba

One favorite activity of travelers going to Tsukuba city would be mountaineering up Mount Tsukuba. Although quite small at 877 meters above sea level, this place still gives a spectacular view of nature – being made from granite and gabbro instead of lava giving off a purple color. It is best known for its double peaks. In between the two peaks is a place known as Miyukigahara which gives an impressive view of the Kanto Plains.

A lot of people call Mount Tsukuba an easy hike because most of the trails are short. The hiking trail has a 36-degree slope and going up the peak can take roughly half a day. Some people can do the trail for as fast as two hours. For those who are planning a visit, there are car parks at the base of the mountain for only 500 yen a day (a good deal). For those who don’t want to pay, there are free parking spaces a short walk from the base.

The most popular trail up the mountain would be the Tsutsujigaoka which is located at the eastern foot of the mountain. It is made famous by interesting rock and stone formations.

Tsukubasan Shrine

The Tsukuba-san shrine is one of the oldest and most visited shrines in the country. Just like in Mount Fuji, the shrine at the beginning of the trails make the entire hike up the mountains a pilgrimage. Mount Tsukuba is an object of worship and is known to house the god of matchmaking and harmony in marriage.

Worship in this mountains date back to more than three thousand years and it is believed that the two peaks of Mount Tsukuba each represent Izanagi and Izanami. The shrine is believed to protect people who go on pilgrimages up the mountains. On its courtyard lies hundred-year-old trees which show the age and beauty of the shrine.

Doho Park

The Doho park f Tsukuba is most famous for the dark Doho lake. People enjoy hiking around the lake and enjoying tea and coffee in the cafes around the park. There are lecture halls and pagodas in the area which makes the park a great place for meetings and company outings. This place is great for families and children as the playgrounds are large and enjoyable.

Toshihiro Matsui [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Those who wish to enjoy a relaxing afternoon to walk or jog, this might be a great place to go to. They have a swimming pool which can be used for only 340 yen. There are wild animals like rabbits and tortoises roaming around the park. There are bicycle pathways and even hiking trails around the park. Entry to the park is free but the usage of the amenities vary depending on the length of use.

Tsukuba Japan University

The University of Tsukuba is one of the oldest universities in Japan as it was founded in 1872. The university takes pride in their extensive research on many industries including their partnership with the Tsukuba Space Center. There are 28 colleges in the entire university which offer bachelor and master degrees in different fields and industries.

The school was only established as a university in 1973 but it was founded in 1872 as the  Tokyo University of Education. Today, due to their comprehensive involvement in research and study, the University of Tsukuba is one of the leading schools in Japan. It is considered as the 10th best research institution in all of Japan.