Ibaraki Prefecture often gets forgotten about for day trips from Tokyo but thanks to the Tsukuba Express Line train it’s really easy and quick to get to Tsukuba. It’s not the cheapest of lines but it’s worth it for getting to this eastern outpost of the Kanto region. 42 minutes from Kita Senju is all it takes.
Mount Tsukuba is probably the biggest draw of the area but there’s plenty of other things to see and do in Japan’s science city. It’s home to a number of national research institutes but there’s only so much discovery and information that my brain can take, particularly when it comes to science which was always my weakest subject at school. I opted to go to Tsukuba Expo Center on this visit but a short distance north of there was something else I wanted to check out quickly. Matsumi Park has an observation tower jutting out of it’s lake which costs just ¥100 to go up.
I had already seen the twin peaks of Mount Tsukuba earlier that morning but it looked even more splendid from this look-out point. The Expo Center lies just 500 metres away and it’s Planetarium Theatre dome shaped roof is easy to make out in the distance just beyond the artificial sports field.
Tsukuba hosted the Expo 1985 world’s fair which was apparently attended by over 20 million people with 48 participating countries and around 20 companies present. I’ve heard the word Expo bandied about over the years, most notably back in 2005 when it was in Aichi Prefecture, but never really understood what it was all about. Having visited this place I now have a slightly better idea and I do stress the word “slightly”!
It costs ¥1000 if you want a Planetarium ticket on top of the regular entrance price so it’s not exactly astro-nomical!. I was going to do both but their programming didn’t fit in with my schedule so I just opted for the ¥500 entrance ticket. This spacious museum consists of two floors and I started off by looking at the Tsukuba Expo ’85 Memorial exhibition which included staff outfits, merchandise and electrical products (walkmans, camcorders, games consoles, cameras, home computers etc) which were deemed to be cutting-edge technology at that time!
People outside of Japan always think of it as a technologically advanced country but it really is behind the western world with it’s old-school: low-tech, manual, paper-based environment. However, it does have it’s moments of innovation (especially robots and toilets!) and it was hoped at the time that this exposition would show Japan in that way. It was also hoped that the Expo would shine a light on Tsukuba as a scientific centre and give it some much needed exposure.
There’s unfortunately not so much information in English beyond the occasional name of an exhibit but there are plenty of things to play on and touch. A wind machine, a 3D theatre, a capsule theatre and a super electric vehicle are among the hands-on experiences. Staff members are supposed to be on hand to assist with such things but I only saw one for a brief moment during my time there.
The second floor has exhibitions which are split into half a dozen zones relating to life sciences, outer space, nanoworld and saving the global environment to name a few.
Of the outdoor exhibitions, the one that stands out (quite literally) above the rest is the H-2 Rocket which is a 50 metre tall, full-scale model which can be seen from far away.
The area is full of science-related places and Tsukuba Expo Center is just one of them. Should you be into astronomy and that kind of thing then multiple places can be done on a day trip from Tokyo but you’ll certainly need to plan-et!
- Tsukuba Expo Center is located at 2-9 Azuma, Tsukuba-Shi. It’s open from 9:50 till 5pm from Tuesdays to Saturdays.
Before all that I actually got off at Bampakukinenkoen Station (which incidentally is the same name as the closest station to the Gamba Osaka stadium) and took a short bus ride (200 yen) to Takasuka Kita stop where this religious cult building (5752-1 Kamigo, Tsukuba) is located a ten minute walk away. Sadly, it’s long closed down and is fenced off but it’s a pretty impressive piece of architecture.
Click here to read ‘Tsukuba 2015 Pt I: Wan Wan Land’
Click here to read ‘Tsukuba 2015 Pt II: Mt Tsukuba’
Click here to read ‘Japan’s Largest Lion-Dog Watches Over This Park’
Click here to read ‘Tokyo Daytripper: The Minimalist-Face Tower In Ibaraki’