21 Things to Do in Fukui, One of Japan’s Underrated Prefectures

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  • When tourists think of visiting Japan, more often than not, the first places that come to their minds would be Tokyo, Kyoto, or Osaka. Sometimes, however, others prefer not to visit the mainstream tourist spots in the country. Japan has 47 prefectures, all of which offer an abundance of tourist spots, some visited more than others.

    Tucked away on the west coast of Japan and located near the bigger metropolitan areas of Kyoto, Osaka, and Kanazawa is the beautiful but little-known prefecture of Fukui.

    About Fukui Prefecture

    Fukui Prefecture can be found in the Chubu region on Honshu Island. The prefectural capital is Fukui City. It may be one of Japan’s smallest prefectures, but this place is full of beautiful and cultural places to visit.

    The prefecture boasts tourist attractions such as Eiheiji Temple, a Zen temple nestled in the mountains. It also has a very unique museum, the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum. Aside from tourist attractions, the prefecture also possesses rich natural resources; and since it faces the Sea of Japan, there is an abundance of wakasa puffer fish, amaebi (sweet shrimp), and Echizen crab.

    Here you can truly experience the beautiful landscape of rural Japan. You can also experience some of the traditional crafts not found elsewhere in the country. This prefecture is a different lens to view Japan through, one that can alter your perceptions of this beautiful country. Fukui can offer a lovely get away from the hustle and bustle of city life for those that call Japan home, or it can be an adventure at a more relaxing pace for those only visiting the Land of the Rising Sun.

    Here are 21 things you can do in Fukui!

    1. Enjoy the view at Tojinbo Cliffs

    Designated as a national treasure, a visit to Tojinbo Cliffs is definitely a must. These iconic cliffs make up a kilometer of Fukui Prefecture’s coast in the town of Mikuni. To look down on the sea and the waves crashing onto the rocks is a magnificent sight to behold.

    You can visit Tojinbo at any time, but sunset is when the landscape is at its most beautiful. The cliffs are an eerie spot as well, given the reputation the area has as one of the more famous suicide spots in Japan. That story is slowly changing, however, as it’s estimated that over 500 lives have been saved by a volunteer team that patrols for potential jumpers to talk them out of their decision.

    Tojinbo Cliffs Website
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    2. Sign up for the Cabin Cruiser Tour around Sotomo

    Located at the tip of Uchitomi Peninsula (内外海半島), Sotomo (蘇洞門) refers to the openings at the bottom of a cliff that was created by sea erosion. The bigger opening is called “Daimon (大門)” (right on the picture above) and the smaller opening is called “Shoumon (小門)” (left on the picture above).

    Through the Cabin Cruiser Tour, you can enjoy a 50-minute cruise around the Sotomo area and appreciate the wonders that nature created. Aside from Sotomo, tourists can also enjoy the view of the magnificent cliffs and oddly shaped rocks in the sea.

    Wakasa Fisherman’s Wharf Website
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    3. Appreciate the beauty and history of Ichijodaki Waterfall (一乗滝)

    The Ichijodaki Waterfall is a 12-meter waterfall that is located in the upstream area of the Ichijoudani River that runs through the Asakura Clan Ruins (朝倉氏遺跡). Aside from its amazing natural beauty, the waterfall also has its own share of historic events. This waterfall is said to be the place where Kojiro Sasaki (佐々木小次郎) invented “Tsubamegaeshi (燕返し),” his own swordplay. Renowned Nara period monk Taicho (泰澄) also worshiped the Hakusan Daigongen (白山大権現) deity here and built the Joukyouji Temple (滝水山浄教寺).

    Ichijodaki Waterfall Website
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    4. Visit Eiheiji Temple

    eiheiji-temple

    Eiheiji Temple is just outside Fukui City, located on a mountain surrounded by cedar trees. It is a large temple complex and is an active monastery. In 1244, Dogen (道元), the scholar who introduced Soto Zen (曹洞宗) to Japan, founded this temple.

    Since it is an active monastery, there are about 250 practicing monks living in the grounds and they spend up to two years of training and studying Zen Buddhism in the temple.

    Eiheiji Temple Website
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    5. View cherry blossoms at Maruoka Castle (丸岡城)

    Chosen as one of Japan’s top 100 cherry blossom viewing sites, you must visit Maruoka Castle during spring. Surrounded by 400 Yoshino cherry trees, the flowers add a subtle elegance to the magnificent castle. Maruoka Castle was built by Katsutoyo Shibata (柴田勝豊) in 1576. It is the oldest keep (donjon) in Japan and is considered as one of the important cultural properties by the government.

    Maruoka Tourist Association Website *Japanese only
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    6. Take a stroll around Yokokan Garden (養浩館庭園)

    Yokokan Garden is a circuit-style Japanese garden with a pond at the center. This garden was the second residence of the Matsudairas (松平家), the domain lord of Fukui in the Edo period. It is a garden that was considered a representation of the mid-Edo period.

    Unfortunately, the traditional buildings were all burnt down during an air raid in 1945. Extensive restoration was made possible in 1982 when the government recognized the garden as a place of natural scenic beauty.

    Yokokan Garden Website
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    7. See how bamboo dolls are made at the Echizen Bamboo Doll Village (越前竹人形の里)

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    In the Echizen Bamboo Doll Village, locally called as “Echizen take-ningyo no sato,” tourists can view displays that contain bamboo dolls and other handicrafts that were made from different Japanese bamboo. The subjects of these dolls do not only come from local teachings and stories but also from Kabuki, Noh, Kyogen, etc. The museum also has a workshop where you can observe the artisans while they are making the bamboo dolls.

    Echizen Bamboo Doll Village Website *Japanese only
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    8. Appreciate artworks at the Kanaz Forest of Creation (金津創作の森)

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    The Kanaz Forest of Creation, locally called as “Kanazu sousaku no mori,” is a place where artists can display their art to share with other people and to express themselves. The main facility called Art Core is aimed at art exhibition and creative activities. What makes this place unique is that the artworks are exhibited in a natural setting, which adds an air of serenity to the exhibit.

    Kanaz Forest of Creation Website *Japanese only
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    9. Eat Wakasaji Gozen (若狭路ご膳) lunch

    After hours of traveling, a tourist has to take a break and replenish lost energy! The Wakasaji Gozen lunch is a special lunch served in the western part of Fukui Prefecture, in the Wakasa region. It consists of fresh seafood collected from the sea of the said region and fresh ingredients gathered from the mountains.

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    10. Visit the wildlife at Echizen Matsushima Aquarium

    This aquarium is located in front of Echizen Matsushima (越前松島水族館), a rock formation similar to Tojinbo Cliffs but smaller. There are about 400 species of marine life in the aquarium, from penguins to dolphins and sharks. The aquarium is not that big so one can take their time and enjoy their interaction with the animals.

    Echizen Matsushima Aquarium Website *Japanese only
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    11. Explore Yukemuri Yokocho (湯けむり横丁)

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    Also called the “Hot Spring Steam Alley,” this place is filled with lots of restaurants. It is located in front of the Echizen Railway Awarayunomachi Station (あわら湯のまち駅). When you pass through, you will see that the restaurants are decorated with red paper lanterns.

    Here, you can eat a variety of food from soba, oden (stewed ingredients in a soy sauce-based soup), gyoza, to horumonyaki (skewered pig innards seasoned with salt and pepper).

    Yukemuri Yokocho Website *Japanese only
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    12. Stay at the Awara Onsen (あわら温泉)

    awara-onsen

    After a long day of traveling, tourists can stay at the Awara Onsen. Built in 1883, it is considered as a representative onsen (hot spring) resort in Fukui. Aside from its relaxing ambiance, its elegant architecture has made it known as “a romantic hot spring resort town.” Tourists can take it slow and take a dip at the hot springs to get rid of the day’s fatigue.

    Check out more information on rooms, rates, and facilities here!
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    13. Visit Heisenji Temple Hakusan Shrine

    Founded 1,300 years ago, one of the most influential temples in Fukui Prefecture can be found in Katsuyama City. Heisenji Temple Hakusan Shrine is one of the most famous kokedera, or moss temples, in Japan. It’s hard to feel anything other than peaceful here, surrounded by a quiet forest of cedar trees. However, Heisenji’s history is not as peaceful. The temple was burned down in 1574 and had to be rebuilt. The current grounds are not as expansive as they once were, but it remains a sight to behold.

    Heisenji Temple Hakusan Shrine Website
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    14. Learn about dinosaurs at the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum

    Fukui Prefecture loves its status as the “Land of Dinosaurs,” going so far as to paint some on the side of Fukui City’s JR station, as well as stick three animatronic dinos in front of it.

    The prefecture is home to the only museum in Japan dedicated to dinosaurs, located in Katsuyama City. Why Fukui? Many fossils have been in the Hokuriku region of Japan, including in Fukui. The museum itself is shaped like a dinosaur egg and features an exhibit on fossils found exclusively in Fukui Prefecture.

    Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum Website
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    15. Enjoy Fukui’s local specialties

    The food in Fukui is extremely delicious. There are a few must-try offerings for visitors of the prefecture. Echizen oroshi soba is a dish featuring buckwheat noodles and broth topped with radish and bonito flakes. Eaten cold, it’s a tangy and refreshing summer meal.

    Fukui is also famous for its seafood, the most well-known being Echizen Kani, or crab. It’s so good, festivals are held in its honor. Rounding out the list of Fukui delicacies is sauce katsudon. A bowl of rice, fried pork cutlet, and a Worcestershire-like sauce are combined for a simple but delicious lunch or dinner. You won’t go hungry while in Fukui.

    16. Explore the Megane Museum

    If you live in Japan and wear glasses, there’s a good chance they were made in Sabae. The city has produced glasses for over 100 years, and around 90% of glasses made in Japan come from there. The designs and quality of these frames are absolutely stunning. You can visit the Megane (eyeglass) Museum for more information on the history of the craft as well as make your own keychain.

    Megane Museum Website *Automatic translation available
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    17. Witness spring by the Asuwa River

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    There are many great hanami (cherry blossom viewing) spots in Japan, but probably one of the most beautiful is the riverbanks of the Asuwa River in Fukui City. There are about 600 cherry trees along the banks of the river and they are gorgeous when in full bloom. The trees usually bloom during the first half of April and are lit up at night, accompanied by the sights and sounds of food and game tents lined up under them.

    Asuwa River Website
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    18. Make your own knife at Takefu Knife Village

    Author’s photo

    Takefu Knife Village, located in Echizen, Fukui, has a long history of making high-quality knives. For over 700 years, great kitchen cutlery has been produced here. The “village” itself is a factory and museum where you can learn about the history of knife making in the area. You can even arrange a tour of the factory and have an expert help you make your own, personalized kitchen knife.

    Takefu Knife Village Website *Automatic translation available
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    19. Have some winter fun at SKIJAM Katsuyama

    The winters in Fukui can be a little bleak, with lots of snowfall and days of nothing but gray skies. Thankfully, there’s one big way you can still have fun, even during Fukui’s coldest days: SKIJAM Katsuyama. The ski resort is the largest on the Sea of Japan, featuring 12 courses of various difficulties. The slopes are open from December to April, so you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy making your way down the mountain. Skijam’s facilities are open during the summer for activities like picnics and barbeques, so the fun isn’t restricted to winter only.

    SKIJAM Katsuyama Website *Japanese only
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    20. Soak in history at the Ichijodani Asakura Clan Ruins

    The Ichijodani Asakura Clan Ruins, like the name suggests, are the ruins of the Asakura clan’s castle town, a family that ruled the area of Fukui for 103 years. The town was burned to the ground after the clan was defeated by Oda Nobunaga, but since then numerous buildings and gardens have been restored. You can spend the day walking around the restored samurai residences and merchant homes, as well as the hilltop ruins of Ichijodani Castle. From there, you can see a beautiful view of Fukui and soak in the history of the area.

    Ichijodani Asakura Clan Ruins Website
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    21. Join the Fukui Phoenix Festival

    Twice in the span of three years, the city of Fukui was forced to rebuild – once after the Allied bombing during World War II and once after a devastating earthquake in 1948. The city subsequently chose the mystical phoenix as its mascot the will of its citizens to rise again. The Phoenix Festival, named after the mascot of the city, features fireworks, yosakoi (a unique Japanese dance), live music, and hundreds of food and drink vendors – Fukui City’s center city area becomes one big attraction. For three days, you can experience some of the best entertainment Fukui Prefecture has to offer.

    Fukui Phoenix Festival Website *Japanese only

    Access and How to Get There

    The Fukui tourism website lists several ways on how you can get to Fukui. They suggest to either travel by train, plane, or bus.

    If you will be coming from Tokyo, then the easiest way to get to Fukui would be through riding a train. You have two options: the JR Tokaido Shinkansen or the Hokuriku Shinkansen.

    On the other hand, if you will be coming from Osaka, you would want to ride the JR Thunderbird. If you opt to travel by bus, you will have to ride the Wakasa Liner from Itami (伊丹) to Fukui.

    For further information, you can visit Fukui Tourism Guide’s “How to get to Fukui” page here.

    Fukui Tourism Website
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    Fukui Prefecture is a wonderful place to both visit and live. The rural setting can be quite a shock and the biggest city here only has a population of about 265,000, but bigger isn’t always better. If you’re looking to slow down a bit and enjoy some truly exceptional locales, then Fukui is the place to be.