Fukui is the small prefectural capital of Fukui Prefecture near the Japan Sea coast, north of Nagoya.
Fukui is an old castle town, replete with historical sites and artifacts, and with numerous cultural delights, including a renowned garden and some good museums. Modern day Fukui represents a magnificent recovery from the twin disasters of World War II bombing and a 1948 earthquake, and attracts large numbers of visitors for its sightseeing.
Fukui's big two attractions, Eiheiji and the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum, are both actually outside the city but can easily be visited in a half-day excursion.
Eiheiji Temple, a Zen training temple founded by the monk Dogen in 1244, is just 30 minutes by bus from the East Exit of Fukui Station. Eiheiji consists of around 70 buildings connected by covered, wooden walkways built over an ancient, forested hill. The Hatto or Dharma Hall at Eiheiji is the most elevated building and there are fine views from the terrace here down over the temple complex. The Hatto is used for the thrice daily services at the temple and for lectures. The Hatto at Eiheiji dates from 1843 and contains an image of Kannon and four shishi. The magnificent Sanmon (Main Gate) is the oldest structure at Eiheiji and dates from 1749.
The modern Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum was designed by Kisho Kurokawa, who was the architect of the National Art Center in Tokyo, and completed in 2000. The Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum is one of the three largest dinosaur museums in the world and is an active international center of research on dinosaurs with a team of Japanese and foreign specialists in residence. More dinosaurs have been found in the Katsuyama area of Fukui, where the museum is located, than anywhere else in Japan. To get to the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum by public transport take an Echizen Railway train from Eichizen Railway Fukui Station at the east exit of Fukui Station to the last stop at Katsuyama. From there it is a 15-20 minute ride on a community bus to the museum.
The Fukui city authorities have done an excellent job of recreating the town's Edo and Meiji Period historical heritage after the World War II destruction and the devastating earthquake of 1948. Numerous signs and maps in English and Japanese point out former places of historical interest and the town is scattered with the statues of the men and women that have left their mark on the city.
Fukui was an important castle town in the Tokugawa era and Fukui (Echizen) Domain was active in Bakumatsu politics, which saw the end of that feudal regime. There are statues and monuments to a number of historical personages throughout the city.
Among those commemorated are Sanai Hashimoto (1834 - 1859), a doctor and educator involved in politics at the end of the Edo era, who was executed in the Ansei Purge of 1859, Matsudaira Yoshinaga (1828-1890), the 16th lord of Fukui Province, whose statue sits outside the Fukui City History Museum, Keisuke Okada (1868 - 1952), an admiral, politician and Prime Minister of Japan, Tenshin Okakura (1862-1913), scholar and author of The Book of Tea, Kosei Yuri, aka Yuri Kimimasa (1829-1912), an influential Meiji-era politician, Shonan Yokoi (1809-1869), a scholar and political reformer assassinated in Kyoto, Taro Kusakabe (died 1870) who was one of the first Japanese students to study overseas at Rutgers, William Elliot Griffiths (1843-1928), Kusakabe's tutor in the US and an American educator and writer who also taught in Fukui in the 1870's and Fusakichi Omori (1868-1923), a noted Japanese seismologist. Also remembered are the Nagoya-born warlord Shibata Katsuie and his wife Oichi at the former Kita-no-sho Castle, now Shibata Shrine and Kita-no-sho Joshi Park.
The site of Fukui Castle is now the Fukui Prefectural government buildings but the impressive stone walls and moat remain. The covered, wooden Orokabashi Bridge was recreated on the castle's 400th anniversary.
Nearby is the Yokokan Garden, known as "Osensui" during the Edo Period, which was the second home of the Matsudaira clan, the ruling feudal lords. The lovely tatami-floored villa, lake and garden were located on the edge of the outer moat and were developed over time by the Matsudaira family. The villa is set on a koi-carp filled lake with gardens along the side including an artificial hill, natural stone bridges, stone lanterns, stepping stones and a small detached pavilion - Seiren. The gardens include cherry trees, plum trees, hydrangeas and peony.
Next door to Yokokan is the excellent Fukui City History Museum set in a park where the various gravel paths, stone walls, waterways and banks of the former castle were unearthed during excavations and have been restored to what they must have looked like during the Edo Period. The Toneri Gate was also reconstructed based on illustrations from the time and using traditional techniques. The Fukui City History Museum opened in 2004 and contains a permanent exhibition focused on the history of Fukui from ancient to modern times including ancient tomb mounds, Fukui as an important Edo Period castle town and then the twin disasters of the US Airforce fire-bombing of the city in 1945 and then the destruction of the city is a 1948 earthquake. There is also a section dedicated to famous people from Fukui during the last days of the Tokugawa and the early Meiji Period of Japanese history.
Out towards Fukui University are two other museums: the Fukui Prefectural Museum of Cultural History and the Fukui Fine Arts Museum. The Fukui Prefectural Museum of Cultural History has artefacts from many periods of Japanese history including a "Showa Zone" recreating typical Showa era scenes from 1960's and 1970's Japan.
The Fukui Fine Arts Museum has a collection of Japanese art by artist friends of Tenshin Okakura including Gaho Hashimoto, Hogai Kano, Shunso Hishida and Taikan Yokoyama. There are also works by the so-called Echizen-soga School including paintings by Matabei Iwasa, Chikuma Suzuki and Makoto Mukami. There is also European art from William Blake, Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall and Francisco Goya.
Across the Asuwa River is the Fukui City Arts Museum or Art Labo Fukui which displays the work of sculptor Hiroatsu Takata (1900-1987), who spent much of his early life in Fukui. The museum is also designed by Kisho Kurokawa and set in attractive parkland.
Harmony Hall Fukui is a large concert hall opposite the Harmony Hall tram stop on the Fukubu Line. It is known for a large German-built pipe organ.
The banks of the Asuwa River are known for their rows of cherry trees in hanami season with over 600 trees covering around 2km. The Asuwa riverbanks is included in the best 100 cherry blossom-viewing spots in Japan.
It is worth crossing the river to visit Asuwayama Park, which contains Asuwa Shrine, which enshrines the legendary 6th century Emperor Keitai, and includes a large, ancient weeping cherry tree. There is a large statue of Emperor Keitai on a burial mound or kofun next to the Fukui City Museum of Natural History in the park.
Fukui is famous for its Shakudani stones which were quarried on the 116m-high Mt. Asuwa and a good place to see these blue-green stones, which become more vivid when wet, is at Atagozaka, a 165m long staircase of 145 steps. At the beginning of the steps are two museums: the Fukui City Atagozaka Tea Ceremony Museum and opposite is the Fukui City Akemi Tachibana Literature Memorial Museum dedicated to the poet The Waterworks Memorial Hall is close by too.
At the foot of the hill are some small temples including Anyoji, Unshoji and Shingetsuji. The interior of the park is crossed by Hydrangea (Ajisai) Road with 14,000 hydrangeas. Asuwayama also has over 3,500 cherry trees which are a wonderful sight in full bloom in spring. Asawayama Yuenchi is a mini zoo and an adventure playground for kids.
Hotels in Fukui
Many of Fukui's business hotels are gathered within easy walking distance of Fukui Station. These include the Toyoko Inn Fukui Ekimae, the Route Inn Fukui Ekimae right next door, the Hotel Econo Fukui Ekimae and the Terminal Hotel Fukui. All offer fairly similar facilities and are similarly priced. Fukui's best hotel is the Hotel Fujita Fukui near Chuo Koen (Central Park) and Fukui and Sakaenoyashiro shrines.
Food in Fukui
Fukui Prefecture is known for its excellent cuisine including seafood from the Japan Sea such as Echizengani (crabs), sea urchins and sashimi. Echizen oroshi soba noodles are another speciality along with Fukui sake, miso and the local beef.
Some recommended places to eat include Europpa-ken (Tel: 0776 21 4681), a restaurant dating from 1913 serving katsudon (pork cutlets on rice), Sakae-tei (Tel: 0776 21 0533) for Echizen soba and Nihei Sushi (Tel: 0776 22 1888) serving seafood kaiseki and hot pots since 1938. For French food try Bonheur (Tel: 0776 25 3200) on the third floor of Yours Hotel.
Tourist Information Center
The Fukui Tourist Information Center is inside Fukui Station and the staff enthusiastically receive foreign visitors.
There is also another information center just outside the station but they refer visitors back to the Tourist Information Center inside the station which has more brochures etc in foreign languages. You can hire bicycles here, however.
Access To Fukui - how to get to Fukui
Fukui Station is on the JR Hokuriku Line from Maibara Station in Shiga Prefecture to Naoetsu Station in Niigata Prefecture.
From Kyoto there are Thunderbird Express trains taking about 80 minutes to Fukui.
Getting Around Fukui
Fukui's main sights are easily accessed on foot or by bicycle. There are two community buses (100 yen), the North Route Smile Bus and the West Route Smile Bus and the infrequent tram runs north up to Tawaramachi Station on the Echizen Railway Mikuni Awara Line and south to Harmony Hall.
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