Why they called this area Sakura Technopark is easy to surmise. Tsukuba being an artificial city, it's easy to guess that some bland bureaucrat decades ago probably conjured the idea of planting sakura trees along the inner streets and then calling the area as such. But why “technopark”? From what it looks now, it is anything but a technology park.
But who cares, really? What used to be vast rice paddies and vegetable fields is now the veritable playground of bargain hunters, gourmets and gourmands, film and music buffs, and even the downright bored and homesick gaikokujin.
For those who work or study at the University of Tsukuba (http://www.tsukuba.ac.jp/), Sakura Technopark is the ideal residence, especially for those who do not have cars like me. There's a bus service that takes you to Tsukuba Center once or twice per hour, even on weekends. And when it comes to finding basic necessities and cheap stuff, you're definitely in the right...location, location, location...
For bargain hunters, it is paradise! First stop is the newly opened BookOff. (Why it's called “BookOff” is beyond my imagination.) Here you can find English books for 105 yen and movie soundtracks for 250 yen. I was there two days ago and found a Gameboy Color for 500 yen. (I didn't buy it because I already have one, so it's probably still there. Hurry!) My wife also often buys 105-yen cookbooks and uses them to make magic in our kitchen. Last month, I bought a 2-inch-thick dictionary for just 300 yen. If you happen to go there in the evenings at around 7:30 p.m. and find someone chasing an 18-month-old toddler running between the shelves, that's probably me.
Then there's Kawachi, the big dry goods store a few meters away. If you want to buy drinks at wholesale prices, Kawachi's definitely the right place. See those 150-yen beverages in vending machines? They're just 98 yen at Kawachi. And those “expensive” wines at Yamaya? They're probably half the price in Kawachi. And if you're a beer guzzler, try to compare prices between Kawachi and Terashima, which is just a few meters across the street from Kawachi. My favorite Yebisu All Malt, which is a whopping 257 yen in convenience stores, is just 200 yen in Terashima. (Nope, it's not secondhand.)
Terashima also has a 100-yen section, which is probably one of the least known secrets in Sakura Technopark. I say “least known” because each time I go there, there are just too few people milling around. But if you need good quality yet inexpensive school supplies and party paraphernalia and you don't want to bother going to Dayz Town's Daiso, then Terashima is the right place. Fond of those night sticks that you see in war movies or in Disneyland? They're at Terashima for a mind-boggling price of 100 yen.
Speaking about 100 yen, Seria is the 100-yen store of Sakura Technopark. Looking at their merchandise, you wouldn't believe that they're that cheap: large porcelain plates, stainless steel bowls, coated skillets and casseroles, and even well-made calculators and gadgets. Certainly, Daiso is bigger and has a wider array of choices, but if you live nearby and need only a few stuff, then why go far?
If you're looking for household goods such as futons, beds, shelves, tables, chairs and the like, Sakura Technopark has Athena with prices comparable to those of Joyful Honda. But here's one secret that you should know: Athena has a perfume section and the prices are....need I say more?
For gourmets and gourmands, the restaurant lineup of Sakura Technopark is tops. There are Chinese, Italian, French, and Japanese restaurants as well as a few fastfood outlets. Probably the most expensive yet also very delicious resto in Sakura is Lyon de Lyon, which is a French restaurant. I've tried their lunch and dinner courses and have proven that the French (or those who cook French cuisine) really take their work very seriously.
Saizeriya (Italian) and Bamiyan (Chinese) are the favorite hangouts of students and gaikokujins because of their affordable prices. The food is also good although I prefer Bamiyan more than Saizeriya. And of course, there's the drink bar where the adventurous can experiment on mixing drinks and seeing how far their stomachs can hold out. A classier Chinese resto in Sakura is Oolong and their food is really, really good! (I'm drooling just thinking about it...) Too bad few people know this because when we go there, there aren't too many customers.
Lovers of Japanese food have choices aplenty at Sakura Technopark. There are noodle and sushi restaurants, and there's Samurai. Samurai used to be very good but when we went there in May this year to celebrate my sister's birthday, the waiter said that they are under new management and have thus changed the menu. We had a tonkatsu lunch for 1000 yen, which was really expensive considering that a similar tonkatsu is just 380 yen at the university.
Sakura has two major supermarkets, Kasumi and Marumo, which offer really affordable food and lots of choices. Kasumi is open 24 hours! (Amazing, isn't it?) Here's another secret that you should know. The best time to come to Kasumi is at around 8 – 8:30 p.m. That's when they halve the prices of sushi, sashimi, and bento boxes. (That's also when you would sometimes see my toddler running around the place (again!), much to his mother's chagrin.)
Of course, there's a McDonalds and Mister Donut in Sakura for the cheapest burgers and the best coffee, respectively. But if you're tired of those stuff, then one fastfood joint that we really patronize is the Curry House which you can easily find near 7-Eleven. Here, curry dishes are considered an art form.
If that doesn’t catch your attention, I don’t know what would. But you better hurry because they’re slowly disappearing as you read this. Which shop? Read further.
Allow me to introduce to you some of the other hidden surprises of our small, “secret” world. First stop is Big Ben, the 24-h, 2-storey video, CD and DVD rental shop that stands between Bamiyan and Saizeriya. That’s where you’ll find those secondhand 100-yen VHS tapes I mentioned earlier. The more recent ones (less than a year old) are slightly more expensive but not more than 500 yen. If you’re a film collector willing to put up with older technology or if you still have a VHS player at home, then instead of just renting, the film that you get is yours forever, to watch as often as you like or at your own leisure.
Music buffs can also explore Big Ben’s second floor where you’ll find the recent concerts and/or MTVs of your favorite artists. Last time I checked, there were Eric Clapton, Whitney Houston, and Marlyn Manson DVDs on the shelf. The best way to determine if your favorite artist’s DVD is there is to visit Big Ben yourself. Don’t worry, there’s no entrance fee.
When is the best time to drop by? Big Ben halves rental prices every second and fourth Wednesday of the month. On these days, the usually half-empty store would be abuzz with people and lines to the rental counter would be very long. The queues begin lengthening at 4 or 4:30 p.m. and continue until evening. If there’s a film that you’re particularly interested in, come early.
Kawachi also offers VHS tapes of recent hits for a fixed price of 500 yen. Once every few months, they would actually be swamped with tapes and DVDs of classics, all for 500 yen. It just happens unexpectedly so it would help to drop by once in a while if you’re a serious film collector. Last time, I purchased a few Marilyn Monroe and John Wayne DVDs at 500 yen just to get the kick of watching (and owning!) excellent movies that were made even before I was born.
Between Kawachi and Kasumi stands Yuhodo, a large bookstore that is not only filled with books and magazines but also CDs and DVDs. The prices are not much different from those of Ishimaru or Seibu but if you think these places are too far, then why bother going there? Also, as far as magazines are concerned, I think they have one of the most complete collections. They even sell some of those Linux magazines that are published only for top-class computer geeks.
And if you need a nice hair cut, salons galore dot Sakura Technopark. Prices vary from the 1,000-yen cut near Yuhodo to high-end salons that charge 5,000 yen upwards. I strongly discourage you though from going to the “1,000-yen cut” unless you’re the masochistic type. My wife tried there once out of curiosity and went home with the left side of her hair longer than the right side. To make her hair look even, she would have to bend her head slightly to the right. Yeah, she can do it for a few seconds but definitely not all day. She went back fuming and the “hair stylist” corrected it for free. The problem with that shop is that they want to cut your hair as quickly as possible, even if it would eventually mean you’ll have to disappear from Earth for a week or two.
I always to go Summers; the friendly guy there has been cutting my hair since I returned to Tsukuba almost two years back. “Summers” is in the building right in front of the bookstore and beside the Digital Conbini, which is also my favorite photo printing shop (quality there is absolutely top class). A cut plus shampoo at “Summers” is only 2000 yen if you go there in the mornings. You have to make reservations first, however. His schedule is starting to become very tight, esp. on weekends, as word about him continues to spread. You can’t go wrong if you go to “Summers” and you can take my word for it.
There’s one restaurant, by the way, that I forgot to mention above, and that’s Chaya, the resto adjacent to Takarabune, which is at the entrance of Sakura Technopark. If you work or study at the university and have an hour to spare for a high-end lunch at low-end prices, then Chaya is the best place. The day’s specialty is only 880 yen while the more fancy courses go for 1200 to 1380 yen, inclusive of salad, soup and dessert. We had lunch there last Friday and the food was really very good.
And speaking about good food, particularly yakiniku, there’s Gyukaku further ahead. Outside this restaurant there’s a sign in Japanese that can be roughly translated as “We would like to be the number one restaurant for you.” As far as yakiniku is concerned, I think they have succeeded. In the evenings, esp. on weekends, they’re always full.
I live here, by the way, right in the heart of Sakura (my house is just a few meters away from Kasumi), so you can take my word about my world.
This article was originally published on the Tsukublog: http://tsukublog.alientimes.org
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