A very happy welcome to everyone joining our quaint Tsukuba community. Tsukuba is a town that seems like a place that never quite wakes up. However underneath it all, is a city full of life but waiting for those to explore it and take advantages of all it has to offer! This epic-sized piece on Tsukuba was originally written for a Tsukuba insight, a great online resource for foreigners.
TAIRA is a good group to join if you are interested in buying/selling things. Sometimes people post messages with info on events and the sort but it has been the subject of much contention. Tsukuba insight is a more Tsukuba lifestyle-oriented group, unlike Taira and it's focus as a classifieds mailing list. T. Insight is meant to improve the general well-being of all Tsukubaites. To keep updated on Tsukuba info...keep checking out message boards at the Tsukuba info Centre. The Alien Times, Taira, Ibaragi Prefecture's newsletter, Tsukuba City monthly handout...are all good examples of publications that can give you more tips on things to do/places to go.
There are three main grocery stores. Kasumi is a nice and clean market with a great selection. They have one location near You World/Cineplex. Two others are in Takezono - one in the Takezono Shopping mall; the other near Offhouse recycle house. For more world-international foods/product selection, you may want to try out Seibu but it is definitely pricier. Kasumi is open until midnight, but so is the Jusco at Tsukuba Centre. The only difference is, Jusco is usually cheaper and they offer lots of reduced-price pre-made foods after 9pm. (after 9pm they are usually 20-30% off; after 10:30 they are usually 50% off) The one forte about Kasumi is their seafood selection - it is much more extensive and they often have the kind that you have to take out of ice bins. (Jusco seldom has such a thing) If you are into fresh veggies at a cheap price, there is a mini mini farmer's market on Sundays and Wednesdays from 7 to 9am or so. If you would like, I would be happy to show you there. It is reallly close to the Takezono shopping centre. The two ladies who sells veggies are quite kind and often give customers free bundles of veggies with a purchase, etc...their kindness more than anything keeps me going back. (Oh, the freshness quality is also quite a plus!)
Try Amazon Japan for substantially cheaper books. The selection is substantial, not to mention they deliver in record time. Actually, it takes them less time to ship it to me than it does for me to get my booty out to the Tsukuba Uni bookstore. For used books you may want to try some places like Book Off. It has also been rumored that Chicago bar has a nice selection of used paperbacks from 100-300 yen. You can also get used movies and CDs at Hard off, the recycle shop in Takezono. (though the selection is a bit shabby) Seibu has a really small English book section, which seems geared more towards children's literature. Oftentimes you can find popular paperbacks in that section. The Tsukuba University bookstore has a nice English book selection...it is perhaps the best selection in town. The only downer is the drastic markup factor.
The best place for furniture and the is the TAIRA website. Check out the sayonara sale posts. The one piece of advice is 'ACT FAST.' If you see something you want, don't hesitate to contact the seller because things go quickly! Offhouse (hard off) is another place to get furniture but they mark it up a bit more. You can get some futons at Seibu and Jusco I think. Comforter sets for the bed, etc. By Tsukuba Uni there is a 7-11...next to the convenience store is recycle shop adorned with a naked mannequin outside. We don't call it the Naked Lady recycle shop for nothing! It is a funky recycle shop with cheap goods. Dig around and you just might find something. For old goods...and interesting odds and ends, even some old yukatas or kimonos...check out the monthly sometimes weekly (?) flea market at the Tsukuba Centre pedestrian walkway...it is usually the first Sunday of the month. Lots of old jewelry, clothes, dishes, briefcases...again quite the mish mash of odds and ends! In Amakubo, there is a funky vintage clothing/shoe store across the street from a Philipino grocery store? You can locate it by looking for the IAMS pet food sign with the distinguishing paw print. It does not open until noon on most days.
Good places for coffee...include Astrolounge in across the street from Ninomiya Park. The only thing is that it only opens at 11am...so if you are an early bird you may want to hit Grain's cafe next to it. Both are great...the food at Astrolounge is more on the savory side and the breakfast set at Grain's is really hard to beat. For patisseries...and the more cake-centred cafes, you may hit Cote de Azur close to Nova English school. Or for a more comfy sit down atmosphere, try their sister store, Le Cafe Provencal... a left turn off the street in between Digix Wonder/Cole Cole and Kentucky Fried Chicken. For classical music and SUPER high quality coffee...try Nakayama one floor down from Aeon English school and next to the flower shop. The French restaurant Bistro Gakuji is a nice place to get a coffee/cake set in the afternoon. The place called Backyard cafe directly across from Doho park's parking close to Hot Stuff/Central 88/Anderson bakery/etc...is a nice place for food or coffee. Very quaint date spot. Highly recommended for food and atmosphere and nice service. There is also a European-accented coffeehouse on that street down the road where it curves a little bit...'Morgen' might be the name? It has a cozy atmosphere, good for a quiet engagement maybe. Speaking of which, if anyone has any other tips for restaurants/places to go for dates or other places good for conversation...I would love to hear about them. There is one cafe behind Kasumi next to MinMax (24 HOUR dry cleaning by 7-11/Hard Off/Sawaradee Thai resturant in Takezono) and Offhouse that I have never had the pleasure of frequenting. I forget the name but it looks cozy...I have not been but it looks nice enough for chit chat and coffee.
From Jusco...to Seibu...to the 100-store...you have quite the variety of choices. Many people do not know about the 100 yen store off of Minami-odori...close to the DOG training school in Nishi-odori. For other things or foreign goods, try the Foreign buyers club...online ...they deliver for a nominal charge and have just about everything under the SUN! The best place for great stuff in my opinion is yamaya...second floor of MOG underneath Gakuji and Aeon at Tsu Centre. It has tons of fruit juices and wines, hard liquor, and beer and cheap selzer mineral water (tastes like perrier but soooo much cheaper) and it has realllly cheap ramen noodles and tom yum soup mixes/cans...foreign chocolates, foreign snacks, mexican salsa, cheap peanut butter, jumbo bags of almonds, nutella knockoff that tastes exactly the same, boursin and cream cheese and parmesan cheese for less. I could go on...i will save my breath or whatever is left of it (!) and let you check it out yourself! For...facial washes etc...Jusco might be okay but if you are looking for really specific products you may want to try Cole Cole or some kind of drug mart. A good place to get shoes repaired is 6th floor (maybe...I am unsure of which floor) of Seibu...it is relatively moderate in price and the quality is quite high. (From my experience!) For you ECONOMY size frenzied fanatics, you can satiate those gluttinous desires at the Cosco in Chiba. Membership only - you can purchase one for around 3500 yen (unsure?), good for one year.
For good entertainment...you may wanna try YOU WORLD next to Cineplex. There are several movie theatres, a bowling alley, a small tiny rock climbing wall, internet cafe, a hot spa, and a batting cage practice area. Also located around that area is another 100-yen shop. THe main difference between this one and the previously cited one...is that this one is astronomically sized! Everything under the sun AND moon can be found there. Located on the same street as Cineplex is a nice rotating sushi restaurant (kai ten) There is also a newly opened kai ten which is purportedly better than the old one. If you are into Karaoke, you can check out Big Echo in the Amakubo district. It is obscenely large so you cannot miss it - I hear the facilities are wonderful. For the thrifty karaoke buffs, you can get a bare bone package at Party Party, the karaoke place that most uni students go to. The slam dunk basketball mural is a good landmark to identify the building. (the place can be hard to find, so I have been told)
There is an internet cafe next to Cineplex and another called STEP which houses both an internet cafe and a pool/billiards hall underneath it. Apparently Wednesday is ladies day at the pool hall...meaning half price games for women. Free internet access is available at the Tsukuba community centre. The main drawback is that there are only three terminals and usage is limited to one hour. The staff at the community centre is super friendly and helpful! Next to Lawson's at the bus terminal is ACCS, a place to check email for free, but I am not sure of time/usage restrictions. My co-worker always goes there to use the internet. The central Tsukuba library may have just gotten a recent addition of computers with internet access - this information may be correct but remains unverified for the time being.
If you plan on getting internet at home, try going through Yahoo BB or some of the other providers. If you are renting the line, you might want to check to make sure it is okay. My co-worker tried to get Yahoo BB but NTT had some kind of contract that prevented him from getting the service. I do not have a ground phone line, just a cellphone, so I rent a line from NTT at 4500 yen or so and they provide DSL service. Then I pay Bewonder another 2000 yen. (Dion is another company some people go through...there are many - shop around) The internet provider and the webserver provider has to be purchased seperately. (I am technologically inept...so I am unsure of the logistics, sorry)
Tsukuba has many wonderful parks: Matsumi, Doho, Ninomiya..just to name a few. Although Tsukuba is relatively safe, the streets are not well lit. It's a touchy issue - quite the battle between women fighting for safer streets VS. environmentalists against light pollution. For the most part, my students concur with the idea that Tsukuba is more dangerous than Tokyo! Although I must admit, I was really impressed when I left my camera in my bike basket for a FULL day and it was still there late at night. It was a 30,000 yen camera, almost brand-spanking new. (Not that I am encouraging you to leave expensive hardward lying around or anything!)
If you are a kind person who doesn't get sick at the sight of blood and needles, you may want to donate blood at the blood centre next to Okura hotel and joyo bank at Tsukuba Centre. They are quite nice and it takes less than one hour. You can even do it on Sundays so if you work during the week, you can still take some time to donate. The nurses cannot speak English, so if you are an English speaker please bring a translator. They ask somewhat personal questions about your recent and past bill of health, but it is definitely a LOT less extensive than the quasi-interrogation you get in North America. They seem a LOT less picky than blood donation clinics I have been to in the states and Canada. Perhaps this is due to the severity of blood shortages in Japan. Very few people donate blood but virtually EVERYONE will need blood at some point in their life. Still not convinced to donate? How about free cookies and drinks? If that doesn't do it, you might need the fortune-telling or free massages offered at some donation clinics in downtown Tokyo!
...you can try the Tsukuba university hospital one. It is not exactly your luxurious Gold's gym or anything like that, but it has the basics and is cheap. (especially the morning plan) You just might want to jog on your own on the pedestrian walks - it can be really tranquil. Some of the best moments in Tsukuba are the silent ones.
If you do not have a camera, you can purchase a generic disposable one at Jusco. It is cheap and the pictures are just as good as any name-brand disposable. Whenever I have needed to buy a disposable camera, I always got Fuji - so call me a sucker for brand loyalty! To get your camera fixed, go to the big camera shop close to the purple YAMAHA sign going north on Nishi-odori. If you have the warranty, it should not cost a penny. Developing photos - it is different in Japan. You cannot get SETS of photos. You pay by the picture. You might want to check out prices of different places. Regular sized pictures are 3x5, so if you are accustomed to 4x6, either get ready to pay a lot more for your pics or get used to 3x5! Copies of 3x5's should be around 15-30 yen. The photo shop near El Torito...on the Blue building Liquor store street...farther SOUTH is relatively cheap but the photo shop in the food court at Tsukuba Centre has good service and they can put your photos on a CD for free (if you wait 2 days for processing).
Some great things to do in the spring include...picking strawberries at the end of the season, seeing cherry blossoms, going to the Izu islands for Golden Week. Spring foods include bamboo, fiddleheads and oranges/grapefruits. Summer foods include eel for stamina, watermelon. Autumn foods include chestnuts, persimmons, squash, apples, pizzamon at combinis. Winter foods include strawberries, fugu, hotpot (nabe) and mikan tangerine-mandarin oranges. In March you can go to Mito City's Kairakuen to see plum blossoms, which are, in my estimation much more fragrant and colourful! In April (usually the first week) you should hit up Ueno zoo and even Yoyogi in Tokyo for a glimpse of the cherry blossoms - although the Imperial palace at Tokyo Station also looks great at this time. During Obon, going to Shikine jima can be a dream come true...a real life oasis only hours away! In the summer one can also make trips up to Daigo to see the waterfalls, or hang around Ibaraki to make fresh soba noodles. Mito is a nice place to check out if you want to see the home of natto-mania. In the fall, go to several orchard to pick pears, apples, persimmons, grapes, and more! The foliage and fulgent abscission of leaves can be viewed from the apex of Mt. Tsukuba. The hangglider's takeoff area is particularly scenic. The autumn season is a good time to hike around paths, as it is no longer as hot and huuumid! Wintertime? HIDE HIDE HIDE. Eat nabe or sukiyaki with your friends. Go to Gran Deco for skiing/boarding...or Nikko to bathe in hot springs in the middle of snowy hills. Cross country skiing and downhill is possible in Nikko too - the microbrew beer is some of the BEST I have ever had. If you know and love Canadian Moosehead...believe it or not, you will love this even MORE. Drinking it cold in a hot onsen makes it all the more enjoyable. Mount Tsukuba and Nikko are nice during the autumn season but the traffic is as pleasant as having angioplasty.
Also there are some museums in Tsukuba...you may want to check them out. The planetarium, I hear is a nice place to go on a weekend with friends...or on a date. (warning: it is all in Japanese) Outside the planetarium, is a train ride for children which, as far as I know, operates during the day...lots of mothers bring their children for a spin in the afternoon. For alcoholic beverages and bars you may want to try out...there are oodles of bars in the Amakubo district. Foreign bars include Frontier, Gold rush, Chicago, and Hot Stuff. Personally I liked hot stuff for the nice atmosphere and well-mixed cocktails.
As for people's driving...I have completely LOST FAITH in TSukuba drivers. A few weeks ago I got hit by a car while I was riding my bike. The car had run a light as it just turned red...and slam...straight into my right side. I do not know if the woman reported it to the police but I sure hope she did. In any case, I escaped with relatively minor injuries (sore body...a bruise or two...and a worsened sprained ankle that i sustained a few days earlier...but the most severe part was the mental SHOCK) Cars are VERY quick to pull out of driveways and parking lots so BEWARE. Esp for people biking/walking...it is a mad mad world of mad mad drivers. Many of my students have gotten into traffic accidents. Two students have gotten their cars smashed into WHILE their car was PARKED. Others have gotten into severe in-car collisions with others. (hospitalization was required) These days I get off my bike at intersections...play it safe and take NOTHING for granted. I assume all drivers are complete idiots...just for the extra ummmph of precaution. PLEASEEEE be safe out there, and for all you drivers out there, please TAKE IT EAAAASY. Now the real question you are probably wondering...is what did I do/say to her? Did I yell at her? No. Maybe I should have, but I think she felt bad enough for almost killing someone. At least it made for one heck of an interesting story for others to tell their friends. I can just imagine people saying 'whoa, I saw this girl get hit by a car and launched into the air'. Note to bicyclists...when possible, use the pedestrian walks! Sorry for the LONG story, but it was quite tramatic and I hope it will prevent others from GETTING HURT or HURTING OTHERS!!!
...hmm first check out Offhouse for golf/tennis/etc gear...then if unsatisfied check out the mountain sporting goods store on higashi odori....umezono area i think??? There is another sporting goods store next to that big Vic sign going out of Tsukuba. A nice tennis shop, Dr. Tennis, is located near the farmer's market and Takezono area. It is behind the Jomo gas station...on a road that curves around. Sorry for the vague directions, but considering the labryinth-like address/road system in Japan...landmarks are probably the easiest way to get around.
That is about all I that I know (or can think of) about shopping, doing in Tsukuba. Best of luck in finding places to buy stuff or places to go and hang out. I have been here for less than a year, so I still have a lot to explore around. If I find any extraordinary places, I will let everyone know. If you find a nice place that you would like to share with everyone, why not join T.Insight and let us in on the fun?
I hope others can offer their knowledge and input - we would love to hear of more interesting places and things! Cheers and best of luck adapting to (or continuing to enjoy) Tsukuba, everyone.
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