One complaint foreigners (and Japanese) often share upon arrival in Tsukuba is the lack of public transportation. The sporadic buses (with destinations written only in Japanese and no route numbers) are the only option for those without cars or other forms of transportation. Bicycles are fine for nice weather and short distances, but having to go 5 or 10 km to your destination within Tsukuba is not uncommon. That may be great aerobic exercise, but it's certainly a burden for those without the time or energy for that.
Many people -- particularly those with families -- find a car practically an absolute necessity, but they are expensive to own and operate. If, however, you don't need room for extra passengers in a car and don't want to spend a lot of money on a car, another option you have is to get a motor scooter or motor bike. This won't solve your problem on a rainy day, but compared to a bicycle, it will get you across town a lot faster and without getting pooped out in the mean time.
There are basically two kinds of licences for motor bikes, which are divided into two classes -- 50 cc (the motor scooter type) and larger bikes over 50 cc. If you already have a valid licence for driving an automobile, you do not need to get any other licence for a 50 cc motor scooter. You can simply purchase a used or new scooter and drive off. For larger bikes, however, you do need to get certified.
If you do not have a valid driver's license, it is still possible to get a special license for a 50 cc motor scooter. These can be gotten locally, but the catch is that you have to be able to take the test in Japanese. No provisions are made for allowing translators (who might give the applicant the answers to the test questions). One certainly doesn't have to be a native speaker, however, and the basic written test has "furigana" on all the kanji so that persons who understand Japanese fairly well and who can at least read hiragana can still take the test.
Thus, for a person with neither a valid foreign license nor sufficient Japanese language ability will just have to use the bus or ride a bicycle. But for those with a valid foreign driver's license but no money for a car, a 50 cc "putt-putt" may just be the thing.
The process for getting a motor scooter or motorcycle license is basically the same as that for a regular automobile license. It's a bit of a hassle, as you have to go to the Prefectural Driver's License Testing Facility on the south side of Mito. What's more, you have to arrive before 9 am on a regular work day in order to be able to do everything. As with the car license, you will need your passport, certificate of alien registration, your foreign license and its Japanese translation, a 3 x 2.4 cm photograph, and a bit of cash for the inevitable fees.
The English versions of the necessary forms can be obtained from the local police headquarters (across from NTT). Filling these out ahead of time will make things go smoother.
The number of the Prefectural Driver's License Testing Facility is 029-293-8811.
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