Useful resources and personal advice from one foreigner to another
This article was written by one foreigner, with a little help from her friends. I wanted to help newcomers get acquainted with the excellent information resources in the city as quickly as possible, so this guide is mostly about where to get information. It is specific to the Tsukuba area, and it pretty much ignores the enormous number of resources in Tokyo and/or nationally; however, you shouldn't!
There isn't much here about automobiles or children, because I was car-less and child-less in Tsukuba. Maybe somebody will add this. Please send any corrections or additions by email.
Key to this page: Holidays: Everything in Japan tends to close in the period 12/28 to 1/4, so those are not noted here, but other holidays are. Always call ahead during that Year-End/Year-Beginning time.
Language codes: [E]nglish, [J]apanese, [B]engali, [C]hinese, [F]rench, [G]erman, [I]talian, [K]orean, [Pe]rsian, [P]ortuguese, [R]ussian, [S]panish, [T]agalog, [Th]ai. [E/J] (with a slash mark) means two versions, one in English and one in Japanese, while [EJ] (no slash) means bilingual (same source handles both).
BEST INFORMATION SOURCES
When you apply for your alien registration card at the Sakura City Hall, go to the International Affairs Section (on the main floor, to your right as you enter) and pick up some local newsletters, a garbage calendar [J] and explanation [ECK], and a map. If you are a short-term visitor (less than three months) and therefore don't need to register, visit the Sakura City Hall or the TsIC (see below) to pick up these items.
All City Halls are open 8:30-5:15. Tel: 029-836-1111
Tsukuba Information Center (TsIC)
TsIC is not a tourist center, but is there to help new residents, both foreign and Japanese. The staff there includes two English speakers. They have a lot of information about resources in Tsukuba, but you will have to be assertive and ask questions. On the plaza above the central bus terminal, next to Nova Hall. Open 10-5, seven days a week. Tel: 029-852-6789 [JEI], www[at]info-tsukuba.org http://www.info-tsukuba.org/english
Short videos (3-5 minutes) about life in Tsukuba [E/K/C/S/F]
Classes in Japanese language and traditional arts, and a number of social activities; ask for the current schedule [EJ]
Bulletin board for language lessons, goods for sale, etc.
Daily newspapers and a couch to sit on while you read them (Japan Times, Herald Tribune)
Lending library of books [EJ]
Help with language problems, such as reading the Japanese yellow pages, making phone calls in Japanese to get information, etc.
TAIRA is an email list for the foreign community in Tsukuba to exchange information about life in Japan. Even before you arrive, subscribe to it (email to majordomo[at]eve.bk.tsukuba.ac.jp with 'subscribe TAIRA' in the message body). You'll receive 5-10 messages a day on a variety of subjects, at least some of which are likely to be useful and interesting to you. It is the best place to ask for whatever specific information you need: Where to buy large-size ski boots? How can I see Japanese in my computer? Where can I find a piano teacher who speaks English? Often has announcements of local events, and cars and household furnishings for sale ("sayonara sales"), sometimes very cheaply. Most messages are in English, but members are from all over the world; if you send a message in your own language, probably people will respond (have to use the Roman alphabet, however).
TAIRA archives: All of the messages on TAIRA are stored for future reference (thanks to Tadashi Takemori!). So, before asking a question of the whole list, try a fast keyword search of the archives at http://eve.bk.tsukuba.ac.jp
There are other mailing lists for more specialized communities. See the TAIRA Community Page at http://takechan.kiso.tsukuba.ac.jp or the list on the Alien Times Tsukuba Topics page. These groups and their contact points change, as people come and go, so ask in your workplace, post a query on TAIRA list, or start one yourself!
Tsukuba Central Public Library
In the "Ars" (a-ru-su) building, just north of Tsukuba Center, accessible from the upper or the street level. Stop at the circulation desk and ask for the Guide pamphlet [J/E/C/K], then head for the foreign books section (to the back and right). A good selection [E/C/F/G/I?/K/P/R/S] of general fiction and nonfiction, including many books on Japanese life, culture, travel, etc., and travel guides for foreign countries, and some maps of Japan and Tsukuba in English. Residents can get a borrower's card quickly. Open: Tu-Fr 9:30-7:00; Sa-Su 9:30-5:00; closed Mo and various other days, get a current calendar when you visit. It may be buried in a Japanese flyer, so ask (karendaa). Tel: 029-856-4311 [J]http://www.city.tsukuba.ibaraki.jp/hp/e_hp/guide/library.html
Children's books in various languages
An assortment of back issues of Alien Times (soon to be all)
Magazines [E/C/F/G/K/S] and newspapers (Daily Yomiuri, Japan Times, New York Times, Herald Tribune, Student Times)
Three local branches, where material can be requested and returned, and bookmobiles.
There is sometimes an English-speaking volunteer on duty on the weekends, and volunteers speaking other languages are available by prearrangement.
In the same building is a small art museum, with changing exhibits, and pamphlets about galleries and museums in the wider Ibaraki area. Meeting rooms upstairs can be rented.
English newsletter (Inforay) includes monthly schedules and other information about the library.
Handbooks, directories, etc.
You may have to take a walk around town to get these, as they are not all available in one place. Have a look at the pamphlets section of the Alien Times site.
My Town Tsukuba [E/J]. Absolutely indispensable city street map on one side, which shows the many bike/walking paths as well as the streets and highways, and then descriptive info on the other side. The name of this publication may change from time to time, so ask for "city map." [A4-size foldout, 2000]
Tsukuba City Handbook [E]. History, etc. [A4-size pamphlet, 1999]
Living in Tsukuba [EJ], International Div, Tsukuba City Office. Daily life (phones, schools, garbage, etc.). [A5 size, approx. 100 pp, 2001]
Guidebook for Foreign Residents of Ibaraki [J+E/C/F/ P/T/Th], Ibaraki Prefecture International Affairs Division. Duplicates Living in Tsukuba to some extent, but has other useful information, too. [A5 size, 141 pp, 1999]
Tsuchiura/Tsukuba [JE] A good sightseeing guide for the local area, from the Tsuchiura-Tsukuba Convention Bureau. Descriptions are keyed to maps in the back. Prices and hours are only in Japanese, but you can perhaps decipher the numbers - look for the paragraphs printed in red. [A4 size, 23 pages]
Tsukuba Convention City, Facilities Guide [E/J]. Mostly business-oriented, but has a good section on things to see and do, and a listing of shops. Several copies in Central Library English section (291.3). [A5 size, 287 pp, 2000]
On the AT website, look under "Tsukuba Web Guides" on the Tsukuba Topics page.
Alien Times [E]: By and for foreigners in Tsukuba. Necessary. Back issues online at http://www.alientimes.org and some at the Library. Tel: 029-855-1907 [EJ]
Tsukuba Newsletter [E]: Events and service announcements, concert hall schedules etc. From Tsukuba City International Affairs Office. Tel: 029-857-3132 [EJC]. Back issues at http://www.city.tsukuba.ibaraki.jp/hp/e_hp/
Ibaraki Report [ECPJ]: From Mito (Ibaraki Intl Assoc + Ibaraki Ken), so less relevant to life in Tsukuba, but has some general information and features. Tel: 029-301-2857 [JE].
Joyo Living [J]: A weekly newspaper for the Tsukuba/Tsuchiura area, with a lot of information about local activities, etc., but all in Japanese. Available at the Library and TsIC. Just thought you should know it exists.
Activities and Groups
For relaxation, meeting people, improving yourself, or just killing time...
Groups aimed at foreigners and/or in English
Ibaraki Hash House Harriers: the drinking club with a running problem (ibarakih3.infoseek.ne.jp)
Lessons: ikebana, kimono, tea ceremony, shamisen, etc.
Sports: see Alien Times 4/94; check "pool" and "gym" in the TAIRA Archives. The various universities may have facilities that are open to outsiders, but information is mostly in Japanese; you will need to be resourceful.
Concerts and performances at Nova Hall and Capio Hall. Pick up flyers in their lobbies [J]. English listings for the current month in Tsukuba Newsletter.
Bars and restaurants with English language and/or foreign clientele: See ads in Alien Times (plus a feature in Summer '00 issue) and notices on TAIRA List.
If you have a good bicycle, register it. (My registered bike was stolen, and recovered by the police six months later.) Bikes are sometimes stolen even from apartment bike-shelters.
For safety, use the 100-yen-a-day bike garage near the bus terminal. If you tell them you'll be late, you can pick it up even after closing time. This late-pickup arrangement is not absolutely secure, but thefts are rare.
Books to Borrow or Buy
Tsukuba Public Library, see above.
Three local universities have libraries that are more or less accessible to the public: U. of Tsukuba, Tsukuba Women's U., and U. of Library and Information Science. They all have online catalogs accessible via the Internet.
The Tsukuba Christian Center has a large collection of books that you can borrow freely, or donate yours; also family-type videos. Call Tim at 029-855-1907 [EJ]. Also, informal lending libraries with English books at TsIC and the bar/restaurant Chicago.
Bookstores with English books
Most new and used booksellers in Tsukuba have at least a shelf or two of foreign-language books. For a bit more, try:
Maruzen Bookstore, above the University of Tsukuba post office, sells at about a 10% discount and will special-order almost any book for you at no extra charge. Tel: 029-858-0409 [J].
Seibu Department Store (5th floor)
Book Land (south of Jusco/Seibu/Creo)
Internet booksellers will ship to Japan, either fast/expensive or slow/cheap, and may be cheaper than buying imported books locally. Also try http://www.amazon.co.jp.
Buses and Trains
Pass up the Bilingual Transportation Map, and get the free Kanto-Tetsudo Bus Route Map (EJ, 2000), and the accompanying 4-page list of bus routes, free at the Center Bus Terminal and TsIC. The bus-number system is new and not yet fully implemented, so be aware that in some buses the signs may not be visible (propped in lower part of front window), and most posted schedules and maps still have no numbers. Tsukuba Center bus terminal office is open seven days a week, 8:30-7:00 M-F, 9:00-7:00 SaSuHol. Tel: 029-852-5666 [J+ "a little" E]
There are free "welfare buses" that make a circuit of the various city office branches about 8 times a day, and anyone can use them for their own purposes. Get a map and schedule at TsIC or at any branch office of City Hall.
Highway buses from Tsukuba Center to Narita (make advance reservations, Tel: 029-852-5666) and Haneda airports, to Tokyo and Mito, and between Tokyo and Tsukuba-san. Buy strips of 5 tickets for a 16% savings.
JR trains: Friend Nathalie recommends the toku-toku ticket, which combines a round trip to Tokyo and 1-2 days free use of the Yamanote and Sobu/Chuo (between Shinjuku and Ryogoku) lines in Tokyo, all for less than the regular round-trip fare. Inquire at your local station, or the JR office in the Center Bus Terminal. Tel: 029-858-4458 [J]. M-F 10-6, Sa 10-5.
General cautions: If you plan to travel early or late, check the first/last trip times (nothing runs all night in Japan). Also, beware of bus and train schedule changes over New Year's - not just the "holiday" schedule, but a completely different one.
Get Mother and Child Health Handbook[E/P/T] from your nearest Health Center (hoken sentaa), located next door to each City Hall. Tel: 029-836-1111. They also have a booklet on free immunizations and health checkups [E/J/C]. (Note: You can only get one copy of the Mother/Child Booklet.)
See Alien Times' sections on education (3/93) and kindergartens (6/94).
Tsukuba Mommies' Network is an international group that plans informal activities for mothers and preschool kids. Ask for current contact info at TsIC.
Rainbow Club (niji no kai, or "the Ichinoya language class"): mostly for people affiliated with Tsukuba University, but sometimes accept others (Mrs. Ogawa, Tel: 029-874-0537 [JE])
Private teachers of various languages post notices at TsIC, as well as individuals looking for language exchange partners.
Check at your workplace to see if they sponsor in-house Japanese classes.
While you are learning, don't be afraid to try to communicate any way you can. Use pidgin language and gesture. You'd be surprised how unnecessary words can be sometimes! (And this from a linguist...)
Consult in person or by phone at the Ibaraki International Association, Mito. Tel: 029-244-3811 [E/J/P/C/Th/T/(Pe)/S], 9-4:30. "Legal, labor, residency, marriage, and general life problems. Free and confidential, with interpreter."
The best city map is available free [J/E] at TsIC and City Hall (Sakura Branch - Int'l Affairs Section. See the maps page of the Alien Times website for other possibilities.
Be sure to get the Index to Tsukuba Addresses, by this author, to make the free city map even handier. And an index of the areas in Ibaraki, too.
Street names: Be warned that most streets in Tsukuba are unnamed, a continuing inconvenience. In addition, the few named roads tend to have several names: "Noda Sen" = Route 354; "Ushiku-Gakuen Sen" = the north-south section of Route 408 just west of Tsukuba. Some road names are optionally preceded by "Gakuen" (Gakuen Higashi Odori = just plain Higashi Odori). Also, major roads in this area are called sen in Japanese, although elsewhere sen is usually reserved for train lines.
Getting lost: Because of the lack of street names, and because neither houses nor lampposts display addresses (as elsewhere in Japan), it is a necessary local custom to use commercial landmarks ("turn left at Cocos"). Unfortunately, these are not marked on the maps. The locations (banchi names) displayed at major intersections are often unclear as to which of the four corners of the intersection the name refers to. Look for the very nice local area maps on signboards at some corners, which are useful if you are not headed in a direction "off the map," so to speak. In general, plan on getting lost the first time you go anywhere! However, Tsukuba is not that large, so you will soon get to know most of it, and it is generally a beautiful place to be lost in.
Medical Handbook [J+E/C/P/Th/T] at TsIC.
Health counselling and free HIV testing at the Ibaraki Public Health Service Center, Matsushiro 4-27. First and third Mondays of the month [E], or second and fourth [Th], 1-5 p.m. Tel: 029-851-4920.
Schedule of emergency medical service (rotated among local doctors) is printed in English each month in Tsukuba Newsletter.
Household furnishings, appliances, etc.
TAIRA List announces many sayonara sales.
Department stores: Seibu and Jusco in the Center; Joyful Honda (Arakawaoki).
100-yen shops are great for lots of little stuff. A friend says, "One of the best is a Daiso store on Route 354 straight out from the south exit of the AIST institute area." Look for others in your neighborhood.
Recycle shops: There are a quite a few in Tsukuba, not sooo cheap, but better than buying new. Look under "risaikuru" in the local yellow pages, and check the TAIRA archives.
"Big garbage" (sodai-gomi): Cheapest of all is the do-it-yourself recycle. Find out your area's pickup day (twice a month) and go around the night before or early in the morning. You'll be amazed what people throw away!
Ask your neighbors where they get their groceries. If possible, check before you commit to a place to live, as some locations are rather inconvenient to any markets.
In Tsukuba, as in all of Japan, convenience stores (conbini) are open all the time and sell many different kinds of things; get acquainted with them.
For trips near Tsukuba and throughout Ibaraki, visit the Tsukuba City Tourist Center, 2nd floor of the bus terminal building. M-F 10-5, Sa 10-12; closed Su, hols. Tel: 029-855-8155 [JE], email: i-center[at]intio.or.jp. They have a sightseeing guide to Tsuchiura and Tsukuba, T-Walk Guide Map [EJ].
For annual local events, see http://www.nibh.jp/~takahashi/tradevents, Alien Times (htt://www.alientimes.org). Try looking up "festival," "onsen," "sightseeing" on the TAIRA archives, or post a query on TAIRA List.
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