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New License Plates And City Mergers

Author:Tim Boyle, Issue: April 2006, Topic: Cars

As more and more cars clog our streets, the need has arisen to begin further subdividing Ibaraki’s automobile license plates. Up until about 25 years ago, all of Ibaraki had just one regional license plate, with the single character “Ibara” (茨) to designate it. At that point, Ibaraki was divided into north and south, with cars registered in the northern half being given “Mito” (水戸) numbers, while southern Ibaraki, including Tsukuba, changed to “Tsuchiura” (土浦) plates.

As recent population growth has been considerably more in the south than in the north of Ibaraki, the decision was made to subdivide the Tsuchiura area into east and west, with the western half being given “Tsukuba” (つくば) numbers. You’ll notice that it is in Hiragana, which is a recent trend in place names.

Originally scheduled to begin this year, the actual implementation is now scheduled to begin next February, as it will take the bureaucracy a bit more time to gear up to the change. At that time, all new registrations in the region covered will be given Tsukuba numbers, and anyone in the area who has a vehicle currently registered with Tsuchiura plates can request a change to Tsukuba plates. It won’t be free, however, as you will be charged a small fee (¥1500) to get this new status symbol for your already registered car. But it’s nice to know that you can if you want to. Most won’t bother, of course, and unlike the gradual disappearance of “Ibara” (茨) plates (It’s been probably 10 or 12 years since I’ve seen one), Tsuchiura plates will remain for everything to the east of Tsukuba.

The cities to be included in addition to the obvious one of Tsukuba itself are: Koga, Yuki, Shimotsuma, Joso, Moriya, Chikusei, Sakato, Shimotsuma, Joso, Moriya, Chikusei, Sakato, Sakuragawa, Tsukuba Mirai, Yachiyo, Goka, and Sakai. Those of you who have been here awhile will perhaps notice some new place names you haven’t seen before, as several cities and towns have recently merged to form new cities. In fact, almost all of the townships adjacent to Tsukuba have been involved in recent mergers. How about “Tsukuba Mirai” for a city name (literally “Tsukuba Future”)! That used to be Ina machi and Yawara mura, but they figured their future was in “Tsukuba Future.” Likewise, the former towns of Mitsukaido and Ishige have merged to form Joso (常総) city, while the townships immediately to the north (Akeno, Shimodate, Sekijo, and Kyowa) have merged to form the city of Chikusei (筑西), which is formed from the first character used in the Kanji form of Tsukuba (筑波) together with “west”, indicating that it is west of Mt. Tsukuba. (Don’t you just love when the character also changes pronunciation?)

And while we’re mentioning nearby mergers, Niihari mura, that area just northeast of Tsukuba between the Sakura River and the mountain ridge running down towards Tsuchiura, is being absorbed into Tsuchiura. As it was so much smaller than Tsuchiura, no new name is to accompany this merger. About the only original adjacent “machi” (town) left that hasn’t merged is Ami, and it’s perhaps only a matter of time before it merges with either Tsuchiura or Ushiku.

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