This was about the only thing my friends had had time to read in the guidebook after hastily deciding to accompany me to Japan when I returned after a short holiday in Sweden. I knew from my previous experience that there was something to that statement, as it seemed to me that not even the Japanese understand how the fares are calculated or how to read the schedules! But my guests wanted to see my work place, and since I have no car, we had no option but taking the bus.
When we arrived at the bus center, I asked which bus to take at the information booth. After getting on and going some kilometers, I found out that we weren't on the correct bus after all. We stepped off and took a different one hoping it was the right one, but alas, it proved to be the wrong bus as well. After a walk of a few kilometers, we finally arrived at a bus stop that was supposed to be for the agricultural institutes. A bus approached at the indicated time but passed on without stopping. So we started to walk again, not just a little bit frustrated. Nearly ten minutes after the scheduled time, another bus, which was apparently the bus we wanted, came, but by then, we were between bus stops and couldn't get it to stop.
I am sure this situation is a familiar one for most foreigners trying to utilize the bus service in Tsukuba. It would be a great help to those who can't read Japanese if the route number (in Arabic numbers, of course) were simply indicated on each bus. There seems to be some sort of name given to each bus route, but the only indication of such is the destination of the bus written in Japanese only on the bus and at the bus stop ?? not any help at all to those of us that can't read it!
The problem of nearly empty buses could also be easily solved. Up until now, it seems that the authorities have tried to fill buses by reducing their frequency, but this just makes the problem worse as people give up trying to use the bus system. It would be wiser to exchange the big buses for minibuses. They would soon fill up and require increased frequency. They would also be much cheaper to buy and operate. There would, of course, be no space for bus crews of two or three persons, as is found on some buses now. But no one need lose their job as they could drive the minibuses needed for additional routes.
Back to my friends. Fortunately, a colleague drove us back home, and the next day, I arranged to borrow two bicycles for their use. I also explained the basic traffic rules for bicycles ?? especially how to park your bike without getting fined, as I had already learned the hard way. The following afternoon, however, I had two very upset guests! They had chosen their parking places very carefully, or so they thought, but they still got fined 1000 yen per bike. "Why don't they use international traffic signs for bicycle parking instead of just kanji characters?!" asked the father. "They should introduce a second official language, such as Swedish!" suggested the nine-year-old son. And the following day, they became even more totally convinced of the need of a second language when they tried to buy a child's fare ticket for the boy in a Tokyo subway station. They mistakenly pressed the alarm button and the bells went off! Another gas attack?
Except for such experiences, my friends were quite pleased with their trip to Japan. So I hesitate to tell them that they got a second penalty for an illegally parked bike. Upon leaving Tsukuba, they parked one of the borrowed bikes in what appeared to be an area with a bicycle sign and bordered with chains. I had promised to fetch the bike a few days later, but when I got there, I couldn't find it. I phoned my friends in Sweden to confirm the exact place, but the bike was gone. When I returned the following day, I noticed a paper notice on the wall (in Japanese only, of course!), and after questioning around in the nearby restaurant and hotel, a receptionist kindly helped me translate the notice. It said that you were only supposed to park there between 7 am and 11 pm. The bike had been removed to the rubbish room of the hotel and was to be delivered to the garbage truck the following week.
Apparently, the only place you are allowed to park your bike close to the bus station is in the parking facility under the new walkway for 100 yen per day. In fact, I am quite amazed that there would be such a thing as a parking garage for bicycles! That might be one way to avoid the scrapyards of bicycles found at most Japanese stations. The fines likewise, and so I am not protesting them per se ?? only the way that they are issued. The signs ought to be clear and easily understood. Nevertheless, outside supermarkets, stores, offices, etc., there should be areas to park your bicycle.
To sum things up, it seems to me that it is in the interest of everyone, including the authorities, to improve communication to and transportation for persons in Tsukuba without private cars. They are often foreigners, unable to read Japanese. To expect them to rely on taxis or rent their own cars is environmentally unreasonable. A city with four different institutes of environmental sciences should be able to do better than that. Let's improve the communication and reduce the air pollution in Tsukuba. It would be great if people with private cars could be encouraged to use public transportation sometimes, but there is not much chance of that under the present circumstances.
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