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

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Tsukuba’s Non-Turning Windmills-Turned Objets D’Art – Gone With The Wind

The remains of a dismantled windmill on the grounds of the Ninomiya Elementary School, Tsukuba (March 2020)

The windmills before they were dismantled.

By Avi Landau

It all started with noble enough intentions. Installing electricity-generating windmills at
elementary and junior-high schools throughout Tsukuba City in order to make them energy independent. Excess energy would be sold to power companies. Greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced. This would stimulate the local economy as well as instill in Tsukuba’s school children environmentally friendly values. It all fit in perfectly with the progressive image that the Science City has been trying to create for itself.

The city government then forked out millions of dollars to a Waseda University subsidiary company to construct and install the generators. Excitement ran high at Tsukuba’s schools as students planned to gather daily data on power production and the benefits of GREEN ENERGY.

The windmills, which when erected looked like giant eggbeaters stood upright, proved to have one, FATAL flaw- they DIDN’T MOVE! Well sometimes they did when fierce winds picked up in March. But most of the time, it was as if they had just not been made to rotate. As you can imagine, everyone was disappointed- especially the kids! Science project plans had to be scrapped. When guests came to visit, the schools, in order to cover up the embarrassing truth, used electricity (LOTS OF IT!) to artificially turn the blades!

As might be expected a political scandal ensued, with various citizens groups accusing (rightfully so!) the city government of WASTING TAXPAYERS’ MONEY. The city responded by suing Waseda University (rightfully so) for selling them useless windmills. The story was reported in the national and international press. This not only brought shame on the government of Tsukuba Science City, but also presented possible ammunition for all the enemies of alternative energy use and GREEN undertakings in general.

The strange thing is that, though completely useless as generators, the windmills were seen by some (including myself) as objets d’art, possessing enough aesthetic and symbolic value to merit letting them stay standing. Their unmoving presence was certainly an everpresent reminder to school children to THINK CAREFULLY before doing any expensive shopping!

Unfortunately, these Waseda designed disasters have proven themselves so poorly designed that they cannot even be left standing as monuments to a failed idea. On April 1, 2008, the blades on one of the windmills at Yatabe Minami Elementary School came to life in a strong wind. Just after noon, the blades, which had until then hardly moved at all, BROKE AWAY from their base and came crashing down! Luckily, there were no injuries (it was spring vacation).

Because of this incident, the city decided that it was necessary to dispose of all the windmill blades. More money to be spent!

For the politicians, making these embarrassing symbols of government incompetence (and possible graft) disappear will come as a great relief.

For those of us who believe that the windmills should stand as a strangely beautiful reminder of this long and absurd episode in Tsukuba history, there is nothing but a feeling of loss.

A few years back the court decided that Waseda had to pay back 70% of the money it received. However, even though Tsukuba City has won in court, there is still no closure. Waseda has vowed to fight on and has appealed the ruling (I cant imagine how they have the nerve to do that since not only did the windmills not work, but they broke, endangering school children!)

When this case finally ends, I hope the lawyers turn their sights to the company that sells the nets to Tsuchiura’s lotus root growers. In that case, not only are the taxpayers being bilked out of millions, but the nets are slowly killing thousands of wild birds as well, while the fields go unprotected to boot!