There are a number of first-rate museums and exhibitions in the Tsukuba area that are worth visiting. The following is a partial listing of what there is to see.
If you haven't been to the Expo Center yet, this should be a top priority. As is suggested by the name, the Expo Center is a remnant of the Expo '85 World's Science Fair ­p;­p; the event that put Tsukuba "on the map". Most of the facilities for that event were located about 5 km west of the center of town (which has since been converted into a large industrial park, with only a few sculptures etc. left from the original), but the Expo Center itself was built in the center of town to serve both as an orientation center during the Expo and to remain as a permanent facility into the future.
The whopping 20,334,727 visitors to the 6-month long Expo guaranteed its financial success, so much so that ¥15 billion was left over with which the "Tsukuba Expo '85 Memorial Fund" was established. Part of this was used to buy the land and the rest has been used for the funding of a variety of projects (including a very small chunk of that to pay for the printing costs of THE ALIEN TIMES!).
The Expo Center is open daily except Mondays and Tuesdays from 10 am to 5 pm. Admission is ¥300 for adults and ¥150 for children, with an extra ¥600 (¥450 children) added on if you want to take in a show at the Cosmic Hall, one of the world's largest planetariums. The shows are, of course, narrated in Japanese, but simply looking up at the "starry sky" some 20 m or so above you is very relaxing ­p;­p; even if you don't understand the explanation.
There are numerous hands-on exhibitions of various technological and scientific wizardry, with some having a choice of languages to choose from. It's a great place to have fun while learning at the same time.
If you still have time to spare, it is just a short stroll down the path to the Arusu Library and Art Museum.
A "freebie" conveniently located in the center of Tsukuba, this is a museum well worth the time to visit. A variety of displays, including moving, cutaway diagrams of Mt. Fuji and other geological formations found in Japan, beautiful rock and fossil displays and much more.
The museum is located in the center of the AIST related institutes across Higashi Odori from the Namiki housing area. It is closed on Sat., Sun. and holidays, but is open on week days from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm. If you have a bit more time, there is another small museum of technology located across the small street on the first floor of the AIST center building.
There are a number of interesting museums focusing on ancient Japanese cultural artifacts in the Tsukuba area. Right in the heart of Tsukuba, within the grounds of Expo Park, is a reproduction of an ancient farm house where you can get a glimpse of Japanese life in the past and sample tea brewed over an open fire pit.
There is also a small museum of artifacts from olden days on the third floor of the Yatabe Kominkan across the street from the Yatabe Branch City Hall. It is open daily from 10 to 4 except Mondays, and is free.
Probably the most interesting museum of this sort, however, is the one in Dejima, to the east of Tsuchiura on the north side of Lake Kasumigaura. The building is a reproduction of a traditional Japanese castle and is located in an interesting park on the shores of the lake about 2 km south of route 354 and the bridge across the lake to Tamatsukuri. Like most other places, it's closed on Mondays. Hours are from 9 am to 4:30 pm, with a general admission fee of ¥200.
A recent addition to Ibaraki museums is the Ibaraki Nature Museum, reported on in the Nov. 94 issue of THE ALIEN TIMES. It is one of the premier nature museums in all of Japan, with a huge outdoor park with various nature trails, and quite impressive displays of a wide variety of extinct and living life forms (including a 26 m long dinosaur skeleton towering over a large lobby area). The admission fee of ¥500 for adults, ¥300 for students and ¥100 for children is well worth it. It's best to get there early, especially on weekends or holidays, as it can get quite crowded. There is lots of parking, but on one of the holidays during Golden Week, for instance, the traffic was backed up over 4 km on the road outside the park and the parking lots were already full! The museum is open daily 9:30 am to 5 pm except Mondays.
It is about a 45-minute drive from downtown Tsukuba on Route 354 (Tsuchiura-Noda Sen), west of Mitsukaido. There are signs along the way, many with English on them as well. Turn left onto Iwai-Noda Sen (about 9 km from the route 294 junction). The museum complex is on the left about 4 km down that road.
Art lovers will want to check out the modern art museum in Mito. The unique observation tower is a work of art in itself, and it certainly gives a distinct flavor to the Mito skyline. It is open daily (except Mondays) from 9:30 am to 6 pm, and admission is free. There are also free pipe organ concerts on the weekends. It is located about 1.5 km west of Mito Station a block north of route 50. About the same distance southwest of Mito Station is another art museum worth visiting if you have the time. The Ibaraki Museum of Art is located near the east side of Lake Senba opposite from Kairakuen, one of the most famous gardens in Japan (especially beautiful in the early spring, when the plum blossoms are full). It is open 9:30 am to 7 pm daily except Mondays, and costs ¥270 for general admission.
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