Having lived in Tsukuba since 1986, I've seen a lot of change as the city has developed. Even from before I arrived, there had been talk about connecting Tsukuba to Tokyo directly with a new train line. It was to be called the "Joban Shinsen" (the New Joban Line), but for many years, it appeared like construction would never begin. I began referring to it as the "Jodan Shinsen" (the New Joke Line). But the joke has been on us naysayers (hopefully), as work has been going ahead full speed in recent years. Everything is on schedule for things being up and running by the autumn of 2005. The Urban Development Corporation (Toshi Kodan) is a key player in the overall development plan, and I was asked to serve on an advisory committee of 11 business and community leaders to meet periodically over the next 2 years to give input on how we would like to see things further develop. I was listed as "Head of Tsukuba International School" and "Editor of the Alien Times". On Nov. 7, we met with several UDC and city officials and were given a walking tour of the underground Tsukuba Station under construction and a bus tour of the other stations and surrounding development. As the Tsukuba Express will have a major impact on those of us planning on being here two years from now, I want to give the Alien Times readers a brief report (with apologies to you short-term residents who will have to simply put up with the construction mess without any of the benefits.)
The first stop on our tour was Tsukuba Station, where we proceeded down a rickety temporary staircase into the manmade, double-decker caverns taking shape under central Tsukuba. The upper level will be office space, concourse to the exits, etc. while the lower level holds the actual tracks and platform. The tracks have already been laid and all the primary structures have been completed. From the appearances, it looks like trains could be up and running in just a few months, but having trains running without everything else being ready is not an option, as much remains to be done on related infrastructure.
As we looked at the diagrams explaining the layout of the station, one point of concern that several of us noted is that there is only one set of wickets to go through that leads to just 4 exits on the corners of the intersection next to the bus center. Passengers at the back of the train will be getting off practically under Nishi Odori, but everyone will have to exit the station through the concourse (upper level) above the front end of the train. Thus, while you may be only 20 meters below Nishi Odori at the back of the train, you will have to in effect walk to the bus center and back just to go those 20 meters. There will, however, be an emergency exit in the middle on the north side of the station, but this is for emergency personnel to enter the station rather than for people to exit (though, obviously, in an emergency it could be used for that.)
The reasons for this seemingly strange design are mainly economic, as this will significantly reduce the cost. Presumably, most people would want to exit that direction anyway, but concern was expressed that things be designed to make it easier to add an exit at the Nishi Odori end of the station in the future.
Tsukuba Creo Square Q't
Numerous pamphlets were handed out to the group, including one describing a 3-story shopping center to be built where the parking lot between "MOG" and the Bus Center. At the top of the pamphlet written in large letters in English, it says, "STARTING THE BRAND-NEW DAYS. TSUKUBA CREO SQUARE Q't 2005.4 GRAND OPEN". In the Japanese text, it says "Q't" is to be pronounced (katakana style) as "Kyuuto" (Isn't that "cute"!), and comes from "Quality Life of Tsukuba". Each floor will contain a number of small shops, with the ground floor (called "Daily Showcase") focussing on "daily needs" (a food court, coffee shops (Wouldn't it be a great place for a Starbucks!) and a variety of specialty shops). The second floor is to go by the name "Fashion Kaleidoscope", and as the name suggests, will focus on trendy fashions. The name given to the third floor is a bit enigmatic, as it is to be called "Life Style Museum". It won't be full of antique stores, however, as it is to have various music, sports and other specialty shops, along with "life style shops", whatever that is.
Other Stations in Tsukuba
Our bus tour took us to the areas of development surrounding the three other stations being built within the Tsukuba city limits. The first station after leaving downtown Tsukuba will be in the Katsuragi district, where "JARI", the Japan Automobile Research Institute has had its testing grounds. That is being moved to a new location and its spacious grounds and surrounding areas are being developed into new housing and commercial areas. Kita Odori is being extended to cut right through the region, with several other roads likewise being built to handle the additional traffic. The station being built in Katsuragi has been given the name "Kenkyu Gakuen" (literally "Research Campus"), the other part of "Tsukuba Science City's" Japanese name.
One item that I was very encouraged to hear several other participants in the panel bring up was their desire to see a full-scale international school be built at this location. I wasn't even the one to bring it up, though I of course added my "two cents" to the discussion. Plenty of land is available to attract various commercial interests, and having a fully functioning international school would be a major factor in attracting international businesses. Likewise, being near a station would make the school accessible for students from northeastern Tokyo and points in between. From most of those areas, it would be quicker to come to Tsukuba that to commute to any of the already existing schools in Tokyo, all of which are to the west and south of central Tokyo.
The next station is in the Shimana district and has been given the name "Banpaku Kinen Kouen" ("Expo Commemorative Park"), even though it is over a kilometer from the park, which was part of the grounds for the '85 Expo World's Fair. How the connection between the park and the station will be made was not clearly defined, and so the group suggested that if this name is to be maintained, there should be park-like pathway to the park or some other way to directly connect the two.
The last station within Tsukuba is in the Kayamaru district to the west of Yatabe Interchange on the Joban Expressway. As "greenery" will be emphasized in this region, the name "Midorino" has been given to the station. All three of these stations, plus several other undeveloped areas a bit further away from the line, will contain large tracts of new housing developments, bringing many thousands of new residents to Tsukuba, along with the accompanying problems and benefits. Many new roads will help handle the increased traffic flow, as well as making connections between various parts of the city easier. On the up side, the traditional isolation of Tsukuba will be ended and things will be "more like Tokyo." On the down side, however, it will also be "more like Tokyo", and so it is with mixed feelings that those of us who call Tsukuba home look at all of this. Still, I can't wait to hop on a train at Tsukuba Station and be in downtown Tokyo in 45 minutes! "All aboard!"
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