A Local Perspective on Life in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan.

Coffee Hour: International Relations in Tsukuba

I didn’t mention this earlier (because giving speeches makes me nervous!), but I am giving at talk about “International Relations in Tsukuba” at the January Coffee Hour today from 2pm at the Tsukuba Information Center.

I am going to talk about whether Tsukuba really is an “international” city. I think that it hasn’t reached that goal yet. I am going to give some suggestions for making Tsukuba a more welcoming place for foreign people.

First of all, as I mentioned in an earlier post, I think that we should offer an orientation program or seminar session two times a year (April and October) for people who arrive in Tsukuba. Also, we should develop a welcome package of information that can be given to foreign people when they register at city hall. And, ideally, we should offer a homestay/buddy program to help newcomers make connections with Japanese people and foreign people in the city as soon as they arrive.

Second, I think the Ibaraki International Association needs to offer more activities that allow for true interaction between foreign people and Japanese people. Ikebana and tea ceremony lessons put Japanese people above foreigners, and coffee hour speeches put foreigners above Japanese people. We need to have more events where people can interact on an equal footing, such as sporting events or classes in something that is not necessarily related to Japanese culture (so we can learn about it together, as equals).

Third, I think that the international community in Tsukuba lacks a focus. I think that Tsukuba Information Center could serve a greater purpose in the lives of foreigners as a focal point to the community. As it is now, I think a few people make use of the center, but it is not living up to its potential. The facilities are incredible, the location is prime, but the programs that it offers are somewhat uninspired. We need to shake things up and make it more of an entity that plays a part in the lives of foreigners here in Tsukuba.

Finally, I think the city and the prefecture should put their resources together to hire a full-time, foreign “Co-ordinator for International Relations” (CIR). Right now, there are one or two foreigners working in the city hall, but they are not full-time and, in my opinion, the pay that they receive is not commensurate with their abilities, so there is no incentive for them to stay for very long or for them to want to implement new and exciting programs. Also, working within the framework of city hall is very restrictive. The prefecture’s international association might be able to offer a better working environment. I think that Tsukuba desperately needs some qualified, innovative, and enthusiastic foreign people working to improve international relations in the city. Without that input or stimulus, the city just seems to recycle the same old ideas over and over again.

So, in case you miss it, that is what I am planning on saying. The speech will be in Japanese mainly, but the slides are bilingual and I am including a discussion session in the middle of the speech to try to stimulate conversation about this topic. If you are interested in these ideas, please feel free to come by and voice your opinion.


  • Anonymous says:


    Thank you very much for your constant and lots of effort to help foreign residents here.
    Sorry that I couldn’t join your noon presentation(coffee hour) today though I do like to join.

    I have been living here for more than 5 years, my understanding about this town is simply one phrase: ” a closed domestic village” Most Japanese residents here cannot speak English and have fear to make foreign friends.(or they really don’t know how to make, want to avoid trouble or there is no benefits)

    It’s not a big city like Tokyo, or Osaka. The atmosphere in this Kanto Area is unluckily not so freindly as Kansei area even among Japanese. Moreover, Japanese culture is not open to the foreign new things. ( Believe me, it’s really very different from Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, or even China where I ever experienced…No comparison with Canada and America’s West/East coast cities either..)

    It’s really not easy to change the local people here. Maybe language exchange program can be a start to attract them to have motivation to contact with the foreigners.


  • MHS says:

    This sounds like a really well thought out speech. Good luck! I hope it goes well.

  • Shaney says:

    Thank you for taking the time to leave comments. I really appreciate it.

    Actually, Japanese people in Tsukuba often complain that even though there are many foreigners in Tsukuba, it is really hard to meet them and befriend them. (This opinion was echoed by the largely Japanese audience that I spoke to yesterday.) So, I don’t think that the fault for “the great divide” can be blamed on Japanese people. I think it has more to do with the lack of opportunities for people to meet up with each other in a meaningful way here in Tsukuba. This is probably related to the size of the city and the lack of a true “downtown core” where people can kind of bump into each other on a regular basis.

    As I mentioned in the blog article, the Tsukuba Information Center provides opportunities for people to try ikebana and tea ceremony, but such classes only appeal to a very small fraction of the population — and they are clearly best suited to people who have just arrived. Those of us who have been here longer than a few months crave the kind of activity that would let us interact with Japanese people “normally” not as two separate teams of “us” vs. “them”.

    I am quite lucky because I work with Japanese people on a regular basis and I am also a member of a really casual volleyball club (they don’t care that I am the worst player they have ever set their eyes on), so I have lots of opportunities to interact with Japanese people. But, I have also experienced living in a very small town in Japan (where I was forced to figure out how to act in order to become friends with Japanese people) and I can speak Japanese, so I have a few advantages over people who have just arrived.

    I enjoyed giving the speech yesterday, but I feel like it will take a long time for my ideas to come into being (if they ever do). The main reason for that is that the people who have the power implement the kinds of programs that I mentioned are not aware of the problem. I do my best to try to make people at city hall and other organizations aware of the issues, but I am only one, small voice in a small foreign crowd, so I fear that I cannot get the changes made on my own. The problem is that the foreign population — and, in fact, the Japanese population — in Tsukuba is very transient, so it is hard to get people to speak up and try to effect change in the community.

    Well, these are my thoughts, anyway. I hope that my speech was able to get some people thinking about the problem as that is always the first step towards finding a solution.

  • María José says:

    Hi. It has been great to find this blog.. very soon I will be joining all of you as a “foreigner” in Tsukuba. I’m going to the university on a scholarship to get my masters, i’m from El Salvador,i got back after living 4 years in the U.S. when i was getting my B.A.
    I think this problem of “us v.s them” is quite common, perhaps you have all experienced it if you have lived abroad elsewhere. as a latino, we had the same issue in the u.s… there were many students from Central and South America and although we were all “westerners” the Latin Americans would only hang out with other latin americans, and the u.s. students would be found only with Americans.

    I think the key element is to remember that we are all indeed different and we cannot expect to become “them” or want them to be more like “us”. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote an essay called “color blind” where he argued that true integration of the races involved the recognition and appreciation of the differences. It was a mistake to approach colored people just on the basis of being “human”, as ignoring their color would be ignoring their identity. In this same way I feel that cultural integration requires us to acknowledge and appreciate differences. There will always be an Us and a Them. The genius would be to not let that fact separate us.

    It will be interesting for me to join this eclectic community at Tsukuba. I’ve never been to japan, and i dont speak the language yet but hopefully I will learn about the culture.
    I would love to be in contact with some of you guys if you can help give me some “tips” about Tsukuba before I leave. I look forward to contributing to the community as much as I can.

    If any of you want to write to me my email is

    Thank you for having this blog! I did not realize how “international” this city was, it seems like it is a “global village”.

  • Shaney says:

    Hi María José,

    Thank you for your comment. If you would like to make contact with some of the foreigners in Tsukuba, you can try participating in the mailing list that many of us belong to.

    The list is called TAIRA and it stands for Tsukuba Area International Residents Association (http://eve.bk.tsukuba.ac.jp/). I am not sure what the current statistics are, but my guess is that there are probably more than 500 people subscribed to the list.

    TAIRA is not a discussion list. It is mainly used for requests for information or help, or to buy or sell things, so people usually just post something and then the replies go directly to the person (not to the list).

    If you are interested in making contact with people here, you could join the list and then post a request for people to contact you if they are willing to help a (soon-to-be) newcomer. If you have specific questions, it would be good to include them as that will give people the motivation to respond.

    Have a safe journey!