Japan Today
Dinosaurs will be just one of highlights on your next trip to Fukui Prefecture.
Dinosaurs will be just one of highlights on your next trip to Fukui Prefecture. Image: kazukiatuko/Pixta

Visit Fukui Prefecture for fossils, fish and fantastic views

By Elizabeth Sok

Boasting nearly 80% of Japan’s dinosaur fossils, one of the last dozen remaining original Japanese castles and a prime location off the Sea of Japan, Fukui Prefecture is a great destination for history buffs, foodies and nature lovers alike.

Also, getting to Fukui from Central Japan has never been easier. In March 2024, the Hokuriku Shinkansen Line was extended to the city of Tsuruga in Fukui Prefecture, making the trip from Tokyo in just over three hours. Or, from Ishikawa Prefecture’s Komatsu Airport, take a shuttle bus to JR Fukui station in about an hour.

As overtourism in Japan has been making the headlines at major sightseeing spots, why not head to lesser-traveled Fukui for your next vacation? Not only will you be able to soak in the prefecture’s long history, cultural traditions and natural bounties, you can also help Fukui restore its tourism economy devastated by the 2024 Noto Earthquake.

Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum

Take a walk through Fukui’s Cretaceous period. Image: Asturio Cantabrio/Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0

Fukui Prefecture is the dinosaur capital of Japan. The entire city of Katsuyama — where the museum is located — has been designated a geopark by UNESCO for its significance to the study of dinosaurs.

Come face-to-face with a T-Rex at Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum. Image: DannyWithLove/Wikimedia Commons-CC BY-SA 4.0

Tucked in the northeastern corner of the prefecture, the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum proudly showcases the flora and fauna that once called the region home. Covering 4,500 square meters across four floors, the museum houses more than a thousand findings including over 40 skeletons.

As a geopark, the area around the museum has lots of activities. At the Fossil Dig Experience, children can try their hand at excavating and maybe be lucky enough to find a fossil themselves. Book a two-hour guided tour of the Dinosaur Fossil Excavation Site, the largest of its kind in Japan. Also, a nature trail takes you around the grounds and to Meoto-Daki Waterfalls for a pleasant break.

Fukui’s cultural side

Connect with nature at Eiheiji, a Zen Buddhist temple. Image: 663highland/Wikimedia Commons-CC BY 2.5

Two key sites in Fukui are notable in the history of Zen Buddhism and Japanese castle architecture.

Eiheiji Temple

Just to the east of Fukui City, Eiheiji is one of the head temples of the Soto sect with the other, Sojiji, located in Yokohama. Practitioners of Japanese Zen Buddhism largely fall into one of two large sects: Rinzai and Soto.

In contrast to Rinzai, which is typically associated with Kyoto, the Soto school prioritizes seated meditation. Although the complex was founded by the revered monk Dogen in the mid-13th century, most of the structures have been rebuilt over the last few centuries. The oldest among them, the Great Sanmon Gate, was restored in 1749. Its aged wooden architecture gives Eiheiji a spiritual strength that resonates throughout the grounds and the valley that surrounds it.

Maruoka Castle

Maruoka Castle, one of 12 remaining original castles in Japan. Image: baku13/Wikimedia Commons-CC BY-SA 2.1 jp

Constructed at the end of the 16th century, the city of Sakai’s Maruoka Castle was commissioned to provide a defensive edge against a rebel group challenging Oda Nobunaga’s rule. Although the castle changed hands several times over the ensuing three centuries, the site would remain the stronghold of the Maruoka Domain’s feudal lords until the end of the Edo period.

Maruoka Castle is one of 12 remaining castles in Japan that still has its original keep intact. Despite being mostly destroyed in 1948 by an earthquake, it was rebuilt using original materials in 1955. Today, visitors can climb the keep’s steep stairs and get a panoramic view from the top. To learn more about the castle and the old Maruoka Domain, stop by the Maruoka Museum of History and Folklore located on the castle grounds.

Taking in the Sea of Japan

A specialty of Fukui, Echizen snow crab has been gifted to the Imperial House of Japan for over 90 years. Image: Kayoko Hayashi/iStock

Fukui Prefecture’s cuisine and scenery benefit from its prime location off the Sea of Japan.

Seasonal catches

Fukui Prefecture is home to three large fish markets that supply the bounties of the nearby sea: Nihonkai Sakanamichi (Tsuruga City), Wakasa Obama Fish Center (Obama City) and Umikara (Takahama Town). With the harsh currents of the Sea of Japan and the plankton-rich ecosystem in Wakasa Bay, the prefecture has access to a variety of delicious, fatty fish throughout the year.

From November to March, one of the most popular catches is Echizen gani, also known as Fukui snow crab. Males are highly prized for their sweet meat and come to market with a high price tag. These are best savored as hot pots or grilled. If you’re more into white fish, many search out tilefish from Wakasa Bay. Grilled with their skins on, these fish offer a delicate balance between crispy and melt-in-your-mouth buttery.

Rainbow Line Summit Park

Mountains and lakes as far as the eye can see at the summit of of Mount Baijodake in Rainbow Line Summit Park. Image: まちゃー/Pixta

Situated in the southern part of the prefecture, the Five Lakes of Mitaka are distinct for their varying depths and saltwater content which make each body of water’s color slightly different. Although you can visit all five lakes for an amazing weekend getaway, you can also see them all from the spectacular vantage point at Rainbow Line Summit Park.

Easily accessible via cable car from the park’s parking lot, which is a whole other sight in itself, visitors will look out from one of five terraces at the top of Mount Baijodake. Although the views are more than enough to make the trip, stick around for other attractions, such as a rose garden, foot baths and the hammocks for taking in the area.

Keep exploring!

Learn about an overlooked chapter in World War II at the Port of Humanity Tsuruga Museum. Image: DannyWithLove/Wikimedia Commons-CC BY SA 4.0

From the bottom of the Dinosaur Fossil Excavation Site to the top of Mount Baijodake, there’s lots of fun waiting for visitors to Fukui Prefecture. With this list in hand, you should be able to hit the ground running upon arrival.

For those who have some extra time to spare, however, or are eager to see even more, here are a few bonus sites to consider:

  • Echizen Pottery Village: learn about Echizen pottery at the Fukui Prefectural Museum of Ceramics and explore the ceramic sculptures in the park
  • Oshima Island: once believed to be the home of Japan’s sea deities, this small island housing a shrine, lighthouse and dense forest can be reached by a old-fashioned bridge
  • The Port of Humanity Tsuruga Museum: a museum detailing the history of thousands of Jewish refugees secretly resettled throughout Japan in the 1940s
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And 13 nuclear reactors divided among 4 locations, along with the Monju plant.

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Don't forget the Tojinbo Cliffs. They're gorgeous.

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