Closed school transformed into cycling facility, museum

Old & New video

By Ryuzo Suzuki / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior Photographer
An exhibition race is held on the BMX track at Cycle Park Tsukuba, part of the Mt. Tsukuba Gate Park established on the grounds of the now-closed Tsukuba Higashi Junior High School, in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, on Feb. 24.

TSUKUBA, Ibaraki — A complex called the Mt. Tsukuba Gate Park opened near the foot of that mountain in the city of Tsukuba in November 2023. The facility makes use of the grounds and buildings of the former Tsukuba Higashi Junior High School, which closed in 2018, and consists of Cycle Park Tsukuba and Tsukuba Geo Museum. Mt. Tsukuba Gate Park is becoming a hub that has given the local community a shot in the arm.

The cycle park has a BMX race track on the old school playground. This track is about 380 meters long and has a 5-meter-high start ramp, meeting one of the conditions for hosting international competitions.

An event at which people could try out the park’s facilities was held on Feb. 24. Among the participants were a 44-year-old part-time worker who graduated from the junior high school 29 years ago and still lives in Tsukuba, and her 7-year-old daughter.

“I’m glad the school I attended is being used as a base for all sorts of activities, rather than just sitting idle,” the woman said. “My daughter likes bicycles for some reason, and coming today was her idea. It’s great that my old school has been turned into this fantastic facility.”

By Ryuzo Suzuki / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior Photographer
Children participate in a cycling tour that goes around sites of geological interest near the cycle park in Tsukuba.
By Ryuzo Suzuki / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior Photographer
A boy gives BMX riding a try on the course.

The Tsukuba-Kasumigaura Ring-Ring Road, a cycling course that links locations such as Mt. Tsukuba and the Lake Kasumigaura area, passes near the park. The road has a total length of about 180 kilometers and includes a loop around the lake and a section built along the route of the former Tsukuba Railway line.

Cycle Park Tsukuba users can rent a bicycle and go for a ride along the Ring-Ring Road, and cyclists are able to use the park as a place to take a breather.

By Ryuzo Suzuki / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior Photographer
A statue from the now-closed Tsukuba Higashi Junior High School still stands in the grounds of what is now Mt. Tsukuba Gate Park.

Tsukuba Geo Museum is a facility that introduces the geopark that stretches from Mt. Tsukuba to the Kasumigaura area. Models depicting the mountain, Kasumigaura and other places have been set up in what had been the school staffroom. Displays provide information about daily life in the region, how the land was formed and the industries that are connected to the area’s geographical features.

By Ryuzo Suzuki / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior Photographer
The starting point of the BMX racing track at Cycle Park Tsukuba.

BMX racing has been an official Olympic sport since the 2008 Beijing Games. A race features a maximum of eight riders competing to traverse the dirt track, which includes undulations of varying sizes and sharp corners.

In addition to those with racing experience and those have attended a training school at a BMX club, the Cycle Park Tsukuba track can be used by anybody — including children from about the age of 5 — who passes a skill check conducted by facility staff. A rest area and showers have been built in what formerly were classrooms. About 60 bicycles — including those for riding on the BMX track and those for use on regular roads — are available to rent.

By Ryuzo Suzuki / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior Photographer
People look at exhibits in the Tsukuba Geo Museum.