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

Why The Area On Which the Science City was Built Remained Undeveloped Until Recent Years

By Avi Landau


I was sitting on the steps in front of Tsukuba’s ARS Library, when an older woman leading along some visitors from out of town, stopped to point out the cluster of pine trees which remain half-encircled by the building’s concave facade. ‘These are AKAMATSU (red pine)’. ‘Until 30 years ago this WHOLE AREA was just one big pine forest’. The others responded with a rising heeeEEEEH, and continued to shuffle off on their way. I turned to gaze at the trees and started to think.

This part of Japan is unique. The view from Mt Tsukuba, which reveals a vast plain stretching out to the horizon, must have amazed the ancient residents of this mountainous archipelago. There is no other place like it in Japan. Flat and fertile land as far as the eye can see. With the establishment of Edo (now Tokyo) as the seat of the Tokugawa Shogunate (1600-1867), you would imagine that this area, a mere 50 kilometers away, would have been targeted for development during the Edo Period.

This was not the case, however. Forty years ago, when surveyors for the central government set out to find possible locations for a proposed science city, they didn’t have to travel very far from Tokyo. A long strip of land, which now mostly lies between what are now Higashi Ohdori and Nishi Ohdori, areas now known as Tennodai, Amakubo, Azuma, Takezono, Namiki, etc., where eventually the University of Tsukuba and all the various national research institutes were built, was a deep pine forest, inhabited very sparsely and mostly by Kaitaku-Jin (settlers), a code-word meaning  the former outcast class, who lived without electricity even after WWII. There was also, as you can imagine, plenty of small game.

Since  I have been fighting to preserve what is left of this area’s natural heritage, it now came to me that I should also consider why this area had for so long ESCAPED DEVELOPMENT.

One explanation is clear, simple and surprising. It was provided to me by Prof. Kuroda of Ibaraki University and later confirmed by other sources. The land upon which the original science city was built lacked the water resources necessary for rice cultivation (ironically as I write this there is a tremendous rain gushing down!). Though there had been villages at the outskirts of the forest since ancient times, these were all in the lowlands and or along small rivers, where irrigation was possible. The area at the foot of Mt Tsukuba with its abundance of pure spring water also supported many rice producing villages. Gakuen Toshi (the Science City) was built on what was called the Seibu-Daichi (the Western Highland). Since there is not sufficient river water and annual precipitation is less than the national average in the Kanto Area, it was only when pump technology, which enabled water to be brought from Lake Kasumigaura, was developed that large scale habitation became possible. Until then it was only the hardy Akamatsu (red pine) forest that thrived.

Though this explanation is clear cut, I still had some questions and my own hypotheses to confirm. Since this part of Kanto is so flat and near the capital, why would there have been so little development in general (not only in central Tsukuba). Ryugasaki and Moriya have also remained undeveloped until recently. It just didn’t make sense to me. Other areas around Edo (and later Tokyo) were densely settled and also benefited from Shogunate sponsored engineering projects.

In my opinion, traditional Japanese notions of space strongly contributed to this area’s preservation.
According to Japanese Fu Sui (風水), the study of the relation of the arrangement of things and its effect on human life, the North-Eastern direction (kimon、鬼門) was the most unlucky. Mt Tsukuba lies
directly in the unlucky direction when standing at Edo Castle (now the Imperial Palace). The Shoguns
invested money into Chuzenji-Temple (now Mt Tsukuba Shrine) to protect Edo from bad luck. Ueno,
in Edo’s North-East quadrant was also developed as a temple town. Thus the Edo government would not have encouraged settlement in such an unlucky place and would certainly not allot large sums for irrigation projects.

One more point that I believe affected settlement in South Ibaraki is this area’s history of violence. Ryugasaki, as I have mentioned before, remains surprisingly undeveloped to this day even though it is located conveniently near Tokyo. I feel this must be connected to the uprising which occurred about
200 years ago as a reaction to the shogunate’s demand for more horses and labor to help out the traffic between the post-towns of the old road between Edo and Mito (Ushiku sukego ikki, 牛久助郷一揆, which i will write about in more detail in another entry). In Japanese culture anything or place connected with something unfortunate is avoided (please write in and tell some stories you might have about this).

In fact, many villages which did exist near what is now central Tsukuba were burnt to the ground by the rebel warrior Taira No Masakado, who declared himself the New Emperor in the 10th century and ruled this area as his own kingdom until he was put down by imperial forces sent from Kyoto.

An interesting thing is that even after full scale development got under way around here, some areas have remained untouched. The main reason for this is ARCHAEOLOGY. Before any construction begins, an archaeological survey is always carried out. The excavations which revealed especially interesting artifacts led to postponement of building projects. As these untouched islands of green attracted wildlife refugees fleeing from the destruction of their habitats, there now remain several areas in Tsukuba which are historical and natural treasure-houses. Since electric water pumps and the demise of traditional fusui beliefs have given developers free rein to do as they please, we should do our best to protect what is remaining.


  • Dan Waldhoff says:


    We in Tsukuba can be very thankful for the lack of water resources sparing the area from development. A good river this close to Tokyo (風水 not withstanding) might easily have meant factories in stead of research institutes.


  • Prima Cabina says:


    Actuall, the land of current Tsukuba Science City was not “undeveloped” area.
    The red pine forest was artificially formed. The land was not good for cultivation because of geological reason. So in Edo era, the lords of Mito clan had encouraged farmers to plant red pines in this area. The area became a great supplying center of fuelwoods to Edo city (present Tokyo). During the period of WW2, pine oil refined from red pines was using for fuel. After that, because of reduced demand of fuelwoods by the energy revolution, the area had been desolated. That was the timing when the new city plan was established.

    And in my opinion, there is another reason why this area was left behind development. There is Kakioka Magnetic Observatory in Yasato behind Mt. Tsukuba. Since 1913, the geomagnetic and geoelectric observations has continued here. In order to avoid causing effects on longstanding data recording, it is prohibited to operate DC motor trains within 35km from the observatory by a ministerial order. DC motor trains are good for short distance transport and major in urban area. On the other hand, AC motor trains are good for long distance transport and major in country area. In order to operate a train line directly from the center of Tokyo to Tsukuba, the trains must mount an AC-DC dual motor system as now Tsukuba Express line does. It is very costly.

    By the way, did you know Tsukuba Science City is also protected by Fu Sui (Feng Sui) theory as same as Edo? You may have seen 6 blue pillars on Tsuchiura-Gakuen line in Takezono. Actually, there are black pillars on Higashi-odori Ave. near KEK, white pillars on Prefectural Route 123 near JARI, red pillars on Route 408 near FFPRI. The colors mean north(=black), east(=blue), west(=white) and south(=red) in Fu Sui (Feng Sui) theory. According to the theory, a mountain should be located to the north of the city, water shuold be located to the south. Tsukuba Science City has Mt. Tsukuba to the north and Tone River to the south. The city is located in the perfect place from the view of Fu Sui(Feng Sui).


  • Avi says:

    Thats VERY interesting! One of my friends has told me that his mother had to make that fuel out of pine tar during the war.

    Please tell me more about the magnetic observatory in Yasato.
    Ive never heard of it.

    I also feel reassured now that know that this city meets all the fusui requirements.

    Thanks a lot!

  • Prima Cabina says:

    Kakioka Magnetic Observatory is one of the oldest and important magnetic observation stations in the world. Here’s their website:

    I have driven once but it was a little hard to find because there are few sign boards and the observatory was very small. Anyway, it is located in the rice field near Kakioka town center in Yasato (now Yasato town was merged with Ishioka city, so it is called Kakioka area in Ishioka city).

  • Shaney says:

    VERY interesting post and comments! I had never heard of the Kakioka Magnetic Observatory. I knew about the AC/DC problem, but I thought it had something to do with KEK not, this other place in Ishioka. Also, I always wondered about those poles. I love it when TsukuBlog teaches me something about Tsukuba that I have been wondering about for a long time!

  • Avi says:

    Thanks alot, Prima Cabina. EXTREMELY INTERSTING! And the
    observatory`s building looks beautiful !
    Could you point me towards any source materials which would
    help me learn more about the RED PINE forests?
    First I would like to confirm which clan or authority ordered or recommended their plantation. Second, I would be interested in how , and along what route the wood was transported to Edo.
    Thanks alot for your knowledge!

  • Prima Cabina says:


    > First I would like to confirm which clan or authority ordered
    > or recommended their plantation.

    It was Mito clan. I googled it but couldn’t find it online.
    If my memory is correct, I saw an article at Ibaraki Prefectual Museum of History in Mito:
    or at the Science Museum of Map and Survey in Tsukuba:

    Another source for the history after Edo era is here:

    > Second, I would be interested in how , and along what
    > route the wood was transported to Edo.

    During Edo era, the major distribution system was not ground transport but water transport in this area through Kokai river, Tone river, Kasumigaura Lake and Edo river.

    If you want to learn about water transport system in Edo era, there is a museum at the diverging point between Tone river and Edo river:

    During Edo era, it was prohibited to built oceangoing crafts because of the national isolation policy, but on the other hand, water transport system by mid-size or small cargo boats were well developed domestically.

  • Avi says:

    Hi,again! Thanks! Something elsoe interesting in relation to the observatory. Friends told me that in order to avoid interference with that facilities measurements the lights in the cars of the Joban line trains go off between the Fujishiro amd Toride stations! And I thought it was just poor wiring!

  • Prima Cabina says:

    JR Joban line has AC-DC dual motor system trains. There is a “dead section” between Toride and Fujishiro. They are switching DC to AC at that section. Actually, Tsukuba Express has the same kind of dead section at just north of Moriya, but TX trains have a battery so passengers don’t experience turning down of room lights in case of TX. TX has two types of trains. Trains which have number TX-1XXX is DC only which can run between Akihabara and Moriya. Trains which have number TX-2XXX mount AC-DC dual motor system which can run the whole line to Tsukuba. That is why numbers of operations between Akihabara and Moriya are so large but small to Tsukuba. On the other hand, in case of Joso line. they couldn’t renovate their train systems so they are still using diesel cars.