As of 2008, the city has an estimated population of 207,394 and a population density of 730 persons per km². Its total area is 284.07 km². Tsukuba is sometimes considered part of the Greater Tokyo Area.
Mount Tsukuba, particularly well-known for its toad-shaped Shinto shrine, is located near the city. Also found there is the Tsukuba Circuit, a popular short racetrack which hosts the D1 Grand Prix and other motorsports events.
Beginning in the 1960s, the area was designated for development. Construction of the city centre, the University of Tsukuba and 46 public basic scientific research laboratories began in the 1970s. The city became operational in the 1980s to stimulate scientific discovery. Its constituent municipalities were administratively united in 1987. By the year 2000, the city's 60 national research institutes and two universities had been grouped into five zones: higher education and training, construction research, physical science and engineering research, biological and agricultural research, and common (public) facilities. These zones were surrounded by more than 240 private research facilities. Among the most prominent institutions are the University of Tsukuba (1973; formerly Tokyo University of Education); the High Energy Accelerator Research Organization (KEK); the Electrotechnical Laboratory; the Mechanical Engineering Laboratory; and the National Institute of Materials and Chemical Research. The city has an international flair, with about 3,000 foreign students and researchers from as many as 90 countries living in Tsukuba at any one time.
Over the past several decades, nearly half of Japan's public research and development budget has been spent in Tsukuba. Important scientific breakthroughs by its researchers include the identification and specification of the molecular structure of superconducting materials, the development of organic optical films that alter their electrical conductivity in response to changing light, and the creation of extreme high-pressure vacuum chambers. Tsukuba has become one of the world's key sites for government-industry collaborations in basic research. Earthquake safety, environmental degradation, studies of roadways, fermentation science, microbiology, and plant genetics are some of the broad research topics having close public-private partnerships.
Key reference: James W. Dearing (1995). Growing a Japanese Science City: Communication in Scientific Research. London: Routledge.
On August 24, 2005, a rail service called the Tsukuba Express, or simply "TX", opened. Operated by the Metropolitan Intercity Railway Company, it provides Tsukuba with a rapid connection to Akihabara Station in Tokyo. It takes 45 minutes to travel between Tsukuba Station and Akihabara Station.
The bus center, in the same area as the TX, offers intracity transport as well as travel to stations in nearby towns and to major stations throughout Kantō.
The closest major airport is Narita International Airport; Tokyo International Airport is also accessible from the city via a bus that carries people daily from the airport to the city's center. A new domestic airport is being built in nearby Omitama, Ibaraki which will connect with Sapporo, Hokkaido, Naha, Okinawa, Osaka, Osaka, and Fukuoka, Fukuoka.