Travel | G20 host cities special

Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture

Iconic mountain atop scientific attractions

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The city of Tsukuba in Ibaraki Prefecture offers a unique combination of experiences for inbound travelers, capitalizing on its lush nature highlighted by famed Mount Tsukuba and an array of science facilities.

Accessible via a roughly 45-minute train ride from central Tokyo, the city will be the host of the Ministerial Meeting on Trade and Digital Economy on June 8 and 9.

One of the “100 Mountains of Japan,” 877-meter Mount Tsukuba in the northern area of the city is referenced in the saying, “Mount Fuji in the west, Mount Tsukuba in the east,” as it is sometimes regarded as an equivalent to the country’s tallest mountain.

Tsukuba resident Ludovic de Pinho from France said he agrees with both distinctions, adding that the scenery from its twin peaks is among the charms of the popular hiking destination.

“Mount Tsukuba and its surroundings offer many different trails for all levels,” the office worker noted. “As it is located in the middle of the Kanto Plain, the view from each of the two distinctive peaks is simply stunning, with a panoramic view spanning from the mountains of Nikko to the Tokyo skyline, and even Mount Fuji if you’re lucky.”

De Pinho, who has lived in the city for about six months, also praises the nightscape from the mountain. Indeed, the Japan Night-view Heritage Office designated it as a Japan Night-view Heritage last year.

Located on the southern mountainside at about 270 meters is the front shrine of Mount Tsukuba Shrine, with the object of worship being the mountain. People can enjoy spiritual moments at the shrine, which is believed to date back around 3,000 years.

Seasonal flowers, including dogtooth violets, azaleas and hydrangeas, are other notable elements that tourists cannot miss at the mountain.

In early spring, the renowned Mount Tsukuba Ume (plum) Festival takes place. This year’s festival runs through March 21, and visitors will be able to view red and white plum blossoms on about 1,000 trees planted in the 4.5-hectare plum garden there. On weekends in March during the festival, limited bento lunch boxes are available on top of locally produced umeshu (plum wine).

Additionally, Tsukuba and other municipalities in central and southern Ibaraki Prefecture — collectively known as the Mount Tsukuba Region — have unique geographical, biological and ecological features, represented by massifs and Lake Kasumigaura (the second-largest lake in Japan).

The region is now home to the Mount Tsukuba Area Geopark, recognized in September 2016 by the Japan Geopark Committee. Local municipalities and various organizations have committed to the preservation and use of its geological heritage and worked toward the sustainable development of the region.

Besides nature, visitors to Tsukuba can get hands-on experiences in scientific and technological fields through a wide range of exhibitions and tours as the 1985 International Exposition host boasts relevant institutions and museums that are open to the public.

With a life-size H-II rocket model as its landmark, Tsukuba Expo Center in the city’s downtown area is a science facility where children and adults can get in touch with both the latest and familiar technology. It also houses a popular planetarium.

For those who want to learn more about the latest in space development, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) Tsukuba Space Center is a must. The facility serving Japan’s space projects features the exhibition hall Space Dome, enabling visitors to see real rocket engines and a full-scale model of Kibo, the Japanese experiment module for the International Space Station, among a variety of other exhibits.

Earth science displays are showcased at the Geological Museum, featuring over 150,000 registered specimens, including rocks, minerals and fossils, while the Tsukuba Botanical Garden is home to about 3,000 examples of domestic and exotic plants.

To get around the facilities in the city, the Tsukuba Science Tour Bus is recommended. It operates on weekends and national holidays, departing from the bus terminal near Tsukuba Station.

In terms of gastronomy, Tsukuba’s rich environment has produced high-quality agricultural products, including famed Hojo-mai rice, blueberries and Fukure Mikan brand oranges.

Last but not least, one of the possibly lesser-known facts of Tsukuba is that it is a hub for ramen, boasting about 90 ramen shops. Furthermore, the city has recently attracted attention for being “the city of bread.”

“We have a lot of bakeries, including French and German ones. There’s almost one on every corner and they offer many kinds of bread and pastries,” de Pinho said.

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