Accessible in just 45 minutes from Akihabara, Tsukuba is the underrated trip from Tokyo you’ll wish you knew about sooner.
The city is home to Mount Tsukuba, the majestic mountain known for its characteristic double peaks and gorgeous purple hues that can be seen at sunset. But the area is also home to a number of other natural and cultural sights.
Known as “Tsukuba Science City," the city and its neighbors offer a great many activities and sightseeing opportunities, many of which are accessible by bike. Here is just a taste of what Tsukuba has to offer.
The Ring Ring Road
The Ring Ring Road is a long cycling route that goes around Lake Kasumigaura and up past Mount Tsukuba to Sakuragawa City. The cycling route is smooth and mostly flat, with limited cars and pedestrians along the way. In spring, many parts of the route near the mountain are lined with white or pink cherry blossoms and there are a number of bike-friendly establishments to visit nearby.
Below are some of the spots you can find on the Iwase-bound route, known as the Former Tsukuba Railway Course.
For spots around Lake Kasumigaura, see our previous article: "A cycling adventure on Ibaraki's Ring Ring Road.
Particularly beautiful during hanami (cherry blossom viewing) season, Hojo Pond (Hojo Oike, spot three on this map) makes for a great picnic spot just off the Ring Ring Road. Even in peak cherry blossom season, the area is never overcrowded, meaning you can enjoy your bento (box lunch) in peace.
The pond offers beautiful views of Mount Tsukuba, and if you get the angle just right, it makes some nice reflections for photography, too. Given its proximity to the Ring Ring Road, even a short stop is worth it on a longer cycle.
Makabe Old Town
Further along the cycle route, you’ll eventually find yourself passing through Makabe Old Town (Makabe no machinami, spot six on this map). But if you’re not careful, you might fly right past it, so make sure to look out for it on your way.
There, you’ll feel as though you’ve stepped back in time to the early Edo period (1603-1868), which is when the town is said to have been completed, during the time of the Asano samurai clan.
The town is full of hidden side streets and buildings perfect for photo opportunities, and fills you with a welcoming, calm feeling as you walk through its historic streets. Stop by the old post office, built in the Showa era in a European style but with a wooden inner structure. Or you can find the gardens secreted away in the back of Kawashima Youhin Ten (Kawashima Western apparel and accessories). And don’t forget to get a shot of the Ushioda family house, which was used as temporary accommodation for the imperial family in the Meiji era.
Hoshino Resorts BEB5 Tsuchiura
At the other end of the same cycling course is Tsuchiura, Tsukuba’s eastern neighbor. The area is a popular starting point for most Ring Ring Road courses and Tsuchiura station itself even allows you to walk your bike within the facility and adjoining shopping mall.
Within that station, you’ll also find the laidback Hoshino Resorts BEB5 Tsuchiura, made especially with cyclists in mind. Roll your bike straight through the third floor doors and prop it in the hallway. You could even bring it into your room and put it on the wall.
Everything here is made for active cyclists: from the tuning station on the upper floor to the fact that you can keep a loving eye on your bike — even in the bath. And with the various cycling activities scheduled by the hotel, you can certainly make the most of your two-wheeled adventures here. The hotel itself also runs in a very relaxed way, with a 24-hour izakaya (Japanese pub)-style lobby in the front and a loose checkout time of “around noon."
Near Tsukuba station
If you’re in Tsukuba for more than a day and want to explore outside of the cycle route, there are plenty of other activities within cycling distance from the station.
Cha no Kimura-En
Well known among locals for its huge kakigori (shaved ice), Kimura-En offers seasonal icy treats alongside souvenirs and teas. Despite its size, their kakigori is light and milky, with a variety of sweet toppings.
Given that Tsukuba is known as the “Science City," it’s perhaps not surprising that JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) has a site here with world-class equipment and testing facilities that you can visit for yourself. In the entrance you’ll find a H-II rocket, complete with a selfie podium to snap some pictures, and inside you’ll find a world of information about JAXA’s ventures. At the time of writing, reservations are required to visit, but this may change with the coronavirus situation.
Other Tsukuba tourist spots
Of course, that’s not all there is to see in Tsukuba and its neighboring cities. If you choose to visit by car or public transport, you could stop for traditional green tea and nori (edible seaweed or dried laver) made on site at Maruyama Nori, or head to Mount Tsukuba for a hike or ride up the cable car. If you’re looking for something more intellectual, stop by Cyberdyne Studio for your fix of robotics or go to the Tsukuba Botanical Garden to learn about local and international plants.
These are just some of the fantastic sightseeing options available to you in Ibaraki’s Tsukuba, but if you let them be a starting point for further Ibaraki adventures, you might be surprised at what you find down the line.