Weekend vanlifer/vangirl Kaori Sakai here! Have you ever been to Tsukuba, Ibaraki? Or are you one of the many who've heard of the name but have never actually been?
Tsukuba combines science and nature, and is a true city for both children and adults. It's also located in southern Ibaraki, making it conveniently an hour-drive from Tokyo or 45 minutes on Tsukuba Express. Yup, surprisingly close.
I asked Tsukuba Tourism Ambassador, Eri Sakai, about the most recommended driving destinations in Tsukuba. There are so many awesome places in this list that I’m sure will keep you busy behind the wheel next weekend♬
But before we talk about that, what exactly do Tsukuba Tourism Ambassadors do?
Tsukuba Tourism Ambassadors are basically the ones in charge of promoting Tsukuba City as a tourist attraction. They welcome visitors to Mt. Tsukuba Plum Festival in February and March (in beautiful furisode kimono), invite more tourists to come year-round, and do PR in different media outlets like TV, radio and the Internet. Eri Sakai has been working as one of the city's ambassadors for about 2 years now and even met with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2018. Here are the TOP most staggeringly beautiful sightseeing spots in Tsukuba according to the lady ambassadress herself!
Tsukuba Driving Spots (famous sightseeing sites)
First are the famous sightseeing sites! These sites are absolutely must-see for every first-timer in Tsukuba.
【1】 Mt. Tsukuba
When you say Tsukuba, people think of Mt. Tsukuba. With only an 871-meter altitude, it's considered pretty low compared to other mountains in Japan, making it a favorite mountain for many old people and those with weak legs. You could either take the ropeway or walk on the hiking trail to get to the top. But if you choose the ropeway, you'll get the added bonus of a panoramic view of the city.
Enjoy camping and barbecue overlooking the city of Tsukuba at Muku Muku
There are lots of cool spots in Tsukuba, but one place to take note of is the Carstay Station at "Mt. Tsukuba Share Space Muku Muku." Campers are all about this place because you can park your car overnight and camp in your car or a tent. Also, Tsukuba-san Shrine, which is considered a power spot, is close by.
・Where: Tsukuba 602, Tsukuba City, Ibaraki Prefecture 300-4352
【2】 Tsukuba-san Shrine
Mt. Tsukuba has been worshiped as the holy precincts of Tsukuba-san Shrine from ancient times where the male deity Izanagi and female deity Izanami are both enshrined in. The mountain is listed in Hitachi no Kuni Fudoki ("Gazetteer of Hitachi") as one of the sacred mountains of Japan that's been revered by the royal family and many samurai for ages. Even today, many couples visit for marital blessings and harmony. Check out the heart-like bell at the shrine ♡
・Where: 1 Tsukuba, Tsukuba City, Ibaraki Prefecture, 300-4352
【3】 Mt. Tsukuba Hot Spring Village
In the middle of Mt. Tsukuba you'll find Tsukuba Onsen / Tsukubasan Onsen “Futagami no Yu” with two wellsprings. It's a very popular hot spring village among women because the alkaline content in the water is said to be good for the skin. From there you could see Mt. Fuji and Tokyo Sky Tree, and at night the sparkling glow of Tokyo.
・Where: 64-9 Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture 300-4352
【4】 Tsukuba Purple Line
The two Ibaraki Prefectural Roads 236 Tsukuba Park Nagai Line of Tsukuba Skyline and Table Tsukuba Skyline are called Tsukuba Purple Line. In particular, Omote Tsukuba Skyline allows you to have an exhilarating drive while viewing the superb view of Mt. Tsukuba. Many fans of the street racing manga series "Initaial D" love this road for that very reason.
・Where: Prefectural Road 42, Ishioka City, Ibaraki Prefecture 315-0155
Tsukuba Driving Spots (Experience Tours)
Try these things for an authentic Tsukuba experience!
【5】 Nakano Mushroom Farm
This farm is a shiitake mushroom farm established 40 years ago in the southern part of Tsukuba. The founders developed new cultivation techniques while keeping the traditional log method, making it possible to harvest shiitake mushrooms all year round. Many Japanese from all over the country visit just to buy the famous mushrooms. Grilling the mushrooms that are freshly picked in the greenhouse is another delicious activity that visitors look forward to. Make sure to make your reservation ahead of time!
・Where: 169 Nakano, Tsukuba City, Ibaraki Prefecture 305-0873
【6】 Tsukuba Expo Center
This theme park was opened after Expo '85 (officially called The International Exposition) was held in Tsukuba Science City in 1985 to showcase the advancements in science and technology to everyone. The world's largest planetarium can be found here and is incredibly grand and simply stunning! They don't run out of interactive games, fun activities, and commentaries about the heavenly bodies that everyone—both children and adults—can truly enjoy. Vanlifers and other car camping enthusiasts held the "Tsukuba VAN-haku 2019" event here on March 21 and 22, 2019.
・Where: 2-9 Azuma, Azuma, Tsukuba, Ibaraki 305-0031
【7】 Tsukuba Wan-Wan Land (“Woof Woof Land”)
This is a theme park that's unbearable for animal lovers with a collection of more than 500 dogs of 90 popular and rare breeds! A high wooden statue of a dog called "Mokkun" symbolizes the park. This is highly recommended if you want to pet lots of adorably kawaii pooches and take pictures and selfies with them! ♬
・Where: 579 Numata, Tsukuba City, Ibaraki Prefecture 300-4353
【8】 Forest Adventure Tsukuba
"Forest Adventure" is a forest outdoor park in Tsukuba that's home to all kinds of flora found all over Japan. The 100-meter long zipline is particularly popular because you'll feel like a bird gliding in air. You can also see Mt. Fuji from here when the weather is clear. It's a perfect place to spend time with your family and friends outdoors. (Thumbnail picture shows Eri nervously laughing to hide her acrophobia! LOL)
・Where: 1688 Numata, Tsukuba City, Ibaraki Prefecture 300-4353
Tsukuba Driving Spots (Food Trips)
If you're hitting many places on your road trip, sooner or later your stomach will start growling. And that's why Eri gave us a list of some of the area's best eats below!
【9】 Tsukuba Ramen Onimonogatari (Ramen shop)
This ramen shop is very proud for using Kumamoto's "Amakusa Daio" chicken (the famed "phantom chicken") stock for their soup. In addition, guests can taste a variety of generational foods including cuttlefish, liver, sea urchin, sea bream, and duck to name a few. Not only is this ramen shop popular for its glorious ramen, their croquettes cannot be matched too. ♬
・Where: 685-5 Shido, Tsukuba City, Ibaraki Prefecture 305-0853
【10】 Blackboard (Café)
Blackboard is a "lifestyle"-concept café that showcases the symmetry of clothes, food, and living. They sell miscellaneous merchandise, hold gallery workshops, and exhibit vintage furniture from England and Denmark...as well as provide a dine-in café experience with fancy (and locally-sourced) meals, wine, and coffee.
・Where: 291-3 Teshirogi, Tsukuba City, Ibaraki Prefecture 305-0834
Tsukuba Driving Spots (Souvenir Shops)
Finally, if you want to take home fun memories of Tsukuba with you, don’t be shy to visit the following shops!
【11】 Numataya Confectionary Shop (Karinto Manju Sweets)
A long-established shop at the foot of Mt. Tsukuba with a history spanning over 100 years. You can watch how they make sweets through the glass window and buy them freshly made as well. Their best sellers are the karinto manju sweets, which are deep-fried buns made with special brown sugar, filled with exquisite Hokkaido soybean paste. Soft on the inside and crunchy on the outside. ♬
・Where: 1400 Numata, Tsukuba City, Ibaraki Prefecture 300-4353
【12】 Inaba & Urazato Sake Brewery (Japanese Sake)
For those who like to refresh with authentic Japanese rice wine, we highly recommend "Minano Gawa" and "Sutera" from Inaba Sake Brewery, and "Kiri Tsukuba" from Urazato Sake Brewery. "Minano Gawa" is traditional sake made from rice and water from Tsukuba, and “Sutera” is rare sake made by female chief brewers from Kuramoto. On the other hand, "Kiri Tsukuba" is Tsukuba's pride...it's very own several-times award-winning liquor.
・Inaba Sake Brewery: 1485 Numata, Tsukuba City, Ibaraki Prefecture 300-4353
・Urazato Sake Brewery: 982 Yoshinuma, Tsukuba City, Ibaraki Prefecture 300-2617
And here is an unmissable events for Tsukuba lovers like you!
Matsuri Tsukuba is an annual cultural/science event hosted in late August. It draws a large crowd of 440,000 visitors every year and holds a massive parade to highlights the entire festival. "Expo floats" are paraded to commemorate the world fair, and others such as "New Nebuta," "Big Nebuta," and "Manto Mikoshi" are created for Matsuri Tsukuba itself. There are so many things to do, like ride Segway, take your children to the science corner to do some experiments, visit local shops, and of course chow down some mouth-watering gourmet food. Stop, look, eat, and experience! You know you can't miss Matsuri Tsukuba!
Finally, the last words from Tsukuba Tourism Ambassador Eri!
What do you think?
Tsukuba is just a stone's throw away from Tokyo, making it a perfect place for a change of pace! Not only is the city wonderful, the journey itself is extremely relaxing with views of Mt. Fuji and calming nature—and space rockets! You can also easily pull over on your way there and take a break at a nice hot spring. I hope you can come here soon. We're looking forward to seeing you! ♪