One perennial complaint among foreigners living and/or working in Tsukuba has been the poor quality of the public transportation system. Kanto Tetsudo, the private company that runs the buses in Tsukuba (as well as throughout Ibaraki) has come under fire numerous times in the past for ignoring requests to at least put numbers on the buses. The Feb. 1998 Alien Times featured a petition drive to get signatures to present to the bus company requesting they take this seemingly simple step. Several hundred signatures were presented to the head office in Tsuchiura a few weeks later, and local Japanese newspapers featured articles about the problem.
Promises to consider the issue and see what could be done were made (in the typical bureaucratic vagueness), but in the intervening year, very little progress has been accomplished. The perception of it being of vital interest to the company has been lacking, and thus there has been little motivation to move this item up the priority list. Without a sense of the non-Japanese-reading foreigners as a significant percentage of their customers, simply having the city or some other entity make a request to a private company that it spend its own funds to solve a problem it doesn't see as its hasn't gotten very far. Tsukuba, the International City is of little significance to a private, prefecture-wide company struggling to make a profit.
It has become clear that both the carrot and the stick are necessary to get things moving. Actually, it is more accurate to say mostly carrot; the only stick so far has been a petition and a few phone calls, and any talk of boycott or other such action isn't very realistic. Any company will respond to a request when they see it as in their own self-interest to do so. This is especially so if help is offered to accomplish the goal.
This is the approach being taken by Tokio Kenneth Ohska of the High Energy Accelerator Research Organization (KEK), who heads up a consortium of Japanese representatives from various government and private research institutes who deal with foreign researchers and their needs. One April 26, Mr. Ohska and several other representatives (including Alien Times representative, Tim Boyle) went to the company headquarters in Tsuchiura to discuss the needs of the foreign community. Mr. Ohska made a detailed presentation of the make-up of the foreign community stressing that many are relatively short-term residents who cannot purchase a car and have to rely on the buses (or a bicycle). If the bus system was easier for them to use, there would be a significant increase in ridership (and therefore income) for the bus company. He even offered the services of the consortium to help the bus company to prepare the signs as well as to publicize the effort and encourage foreigners to make use of the buses.
One interesting point that he brought up was that the work schedules for many researchers are quite different from that of the normal 9 to 5 type job, and the fact that there are few, if any, buses running later in the evening on some routes forces Japanese researchers to buy a car even if they would prefer not to. In his own case, he has had to buy a second car in order to get home in the evening. The last bus leaving for points north, including KEK, is 6:40 pm. Thus, not only does this tend to isolate the large number of foreign researchers living at KEK, but with no way to get back home in the evening, he and other Japanese researchers have to buy a second car (assuming the sibling likewise needs a car for work, etc., which is often the case). Likewise, the government's reimbursement system for transportation is set up so that a researcher gets a salary supplement for public transportation to and from work, but a totally insignificant amount for the use of personal autos. But without a bus available at a reasonable time, there really isn't even an option. Even just one bus in the 9 pm range would ease this problem.
This approach seems to have moved Kanto Tetsudo into action, though the specifics are yet to follow. Hopefully, this time, things will move along quickly to a positive resolution and buses and bus routes will have easily distinguished numbers.
One other helpful suggestion coming out of the discussion is to begin having regular meetings of representatives of all agencies that provide for the needs of foreign residents so that each is aware of the needs and so that positive responses can be more easily coordinated. In light of this, foreigners are encouraged to make specific suggestions of what could be done to make their lives in Tsukuba easier and more enjoyable. Obviously, such suggestions must be reasonable and feasible. Nevertheless, the persons best able to communicate the needs of the foreign community are foreigners themselves. So do let your needs and suggestions be made known. You can reach the consortium of Japanese representatives who deal with foreign researchers and their needs (TIN: Tsukuba Internataional Network) at:
Tokio Kenneth OHSKA
International Collaboration Office
High Energy Accelerator Research Organization
1-1 Oho, Tsukuba, Ibaraki 305-0801, Japan
phone 0298-64-5123, fax 0298-64-5195, e-mail tokio.ohska[at]kek.jp
Yasuhiko Komatsu / Fumie Ichimura
Tsukuba Research Administrative Office
Agency of Industrical Science and Technology, MITI
phone:0298-55-1250, fax 0298-55-3833, e-mail koma[at]tra0.aist.go.jp
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