Getting around in Japan’s countryside

Japan is famous all around the world for its fast and convenient public transportation. Countless blogs and youtube videos tell you all about the high-speed Shinkansen train, which connects most major cities of Japan, and gush over the high interval frequencies of busses, trains and metros, which make Japan a public transportation heaven. Train stations are well organized, with everything being color-coded and information is easily accessible as all timetables and stops are labeled in Japanese and English. This, however, is not the case in Japan’s countryside. If you want to travel or live in away from Japan’s metropolitan areas, you will either need to invest quite a bit of money or quite a bit of patience and planning into transportation.

Public transportation in Tsukuba

I live in the researcher town Tsukuba in Ibaraki prefecture. An express train called Tsukuba Express connects the town of 250.000 people with the mega-metropolis Tokyo in approximately 50 minutes. The express train has a high frequency and operates from early mornings to late evenings on all days of the week. This is the much mentioned public transportation heaven.

But what about getting around in Tsukuba itself? Tsukuba is rather flat and stretches quite far mostly from north to south. While there are no local trains, there are quite a few busses and a lot of them start or end at Tsukuba station. Unfortunately, the interval frequencies are not great. Busses which run every 20 minutes or less are considered frequent, but most busses run every 40 minutes to 1 hour. The expanded flat area of Tsukuba makes it hard to cover all relevant areas efficiently, which is why going anywhere usually requires changing busses. Additionally, eventhough the town is known for its university and countless research institutions and by extension its high density of foreigners, the busses all operate in Japanese only. Most stops and busses are only labelled in Japanese, most timetables are only in Japanese and all bus announcements are only in Japanese. And if you happen to travel at rush-hours, you will be packed like sardines with salarymen and/or students in the often non-ventilated, non-air-conditioned busses. In short, more often than not, public transportation is just not a great option to get around in the city. This of course leaves the question: What is the best way to get around?

When in Tsukuba, do as the Tukubans do

Arriving in Tsukuba, there were a few things, which immediately caught my eye. First of all, the city is full of parks. Secondly, the city is full of cars. Tsukuba has a few main roads which run through the city and which are constantly full of cars. These streets are never empty, they are either congested, full or a bit less full. Along those main roads you can find either bike lanes or wide sidewalks which are shared by pedestrians and bikers. Once you leave the main roads you are usually left with no sidewalk or a pretty narrow sidewalk. In theory, bikers have to use the streets, unless the sidewalk is specifically for bikers too, but nobody is actually adhering to this rule, in fact, most Japanese will tell you that it is safer to use the sidewalk even when biking because cars often pass you quite narrowly on the street. Naturally, using the sidewalk has its disadvantages: 1) speed is greatly reduces by pedestrian encounters as well as other obstacles (e.g. poles and posts) and 2)

Public transportation to Japan’s countryside



Driving a Car in Japan