[From June Issue 2013]
Fukui Prefecture is located in the northwest of the Chubu region. Rich in natural resources, since it faces the Japan Sea, it also has an abundance of seafood such as echizen crab, wakasa puffer fish and amaebi shrimp. Divided into two regions by the Kinome pass; to the east is Reihoku and to the west is Reinan. Reihoku – known as Echizen in the past – has deep snows in the wintertime. Because of its proximity to Kyoto, Reinan – also known as Wakasa – has been heavily influenced by the former capital’s culture.
Located in Reihoku on the Fukui Plain is Fukui City, the capital of the prefecture. Within the city beside the Asuwagawa river is Yokokan, the villa of the Matsudaira family, who formerly ruled the Fukui domain. These Edo era buildings have been reconstructed and it’s also possible to enjoy the beautiful gardens there. Visitors can see what life was like in the old days deep in the snow country at Osagoe Minka En, where five dismantled private houses from the Edo era, have been reconstructed.
In the suburbs of Fukui City are the Ichijoudani-asakurashi Ruins; a former castle town from which the Asakura family ruled over Echizen during the Warring States period. The family thrived for a century until they were overthrown by ODA Nobunaga in the War of Unification. As you stroll through the valley along the reconstructed streets, past the Asakura mansion ruins and its gardens, you almost get the sense that you have travelled back in time to that era. Also impressive is Japan’s oldest remaining castle tower, Maruoka Castle, in the neighboring city of Sakai.
Located further inland is Katsuyama City, a “dinosaur town” that attracts international attention for its excavations of dinosaurs and research into fossils. Shaped like a huge egg, Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum has an impressive collection of more than 40 dinosaur skeletons on display. There is a lot to see, what with its enormous amount of specimens on display and large scale dioramas.
If you’re interested in Zen, don’t miss out on a visit to Eiheiji temple. Built around 770 years ago by the Buddhist monk, Dogen, this majestic temple, surrounded by huge Japanese cedar trees said to be 700 years old, is the headquarters (to some 12,000 other temples) of the Soto sect. Even today about 200 unsui (monks in training) practice ascetic disciplines according to strict rules. There, it’s possible to experience Zen practices such as zazen (simply sitting single-mindedly) and sutra transcription.
Well-known throughout Japan, Tojinbo cliffs have been designated as one of Japan’s natural monuments. Created by wave erosion, these rugged, immense cliffs stretch for about a kilometer and the sight of raging waves breaking against them is breathtaking. To the north of Tojinbo is Oshima, a small island about two kilometers in circumference, where, after crossing a long vermilion-painted bridge and climbing stone steps, visitors arrive at a mysterious place. Since ancient times, the island has been revered by locals as being divine.
East of Oshima is Echizen Matsushima Aquarium. Their popular displays are not only visual, but also creative and interactive. There are also pools in which you can touch dolphins, sharks and huge octopuses, and swim with fish in summertime. It’s possible to experience the sensation of floating on the surface of the sea by lying down on the transparent acrylic floor of the “Coral Seawater Tank,” in which tropical fish swim.
If you are going to stay the night in Reihoku, we recommend staying at Awara Onsen. This spa resort has a history stretching back 130 years and has gardens, open air baths and plenty of seafood dishes to be enjoyed. Across the rotary from Awara-yu-no-machi station on the Echizen Line, is “Yukemuri Yokocho,” a street with outdoor food stalls. There you can enjoy broiled offal and ramen in an old world atmosphere.
The Echizen Coast is perfect for driving along. Created by the waves and wind from the Sea of Japan, “Kochomon” is a large natural tunnel of craggy and oddly-shaped rocks. In wintertime, echizen daffodils blossom, covering the cliffs, their yellow color contrasting impressively with the blue of the sea. You can also eat echizen crab, a winter delicacy, and other fresh seasonal seafood.
Another attraction of Fukui Prefecture is the lacquer ware of Sabae City and the washi (Japanese paper) of Echizen City. Sabae also has more than 100 years of history of producing glasses. With their advanced technology, Sabae enjoys a more than 90% domestic share of the spectacle market. At the “Glasses Museum” dioramas show how glasses were produced 100 years ago and there is a glasses shop that stocks the latest stylish models.
On the other side of the Kinome ridge, in Reinan is Tsuruga City, which was formerly a way station for cargo ships making their way between Hokkaido and Kyoto or Osaka. Not far from the port area is the “Pine Tree Field of Kehi,” one of three best pine tree forests in Japan, offering a beautiful tricolor landscape of sea, beach and pine trees. To the west of Tsuruga is Mikata Five Lakes; five lakes with different water qualities and depths. These beautiful lakes change color with the seasons and are also known as the “Five-colored Lakes.”
Further west, the city of Obama is famous for its numerous temples and has been called “Nara by the sea.” Under the cultural influence of the capital, Obama prospered as the starting point of the “Mackerel Way” – a route called “Saba Kaido” that used to run between Wakasa and Kyoto, which transported goods, like seafood, including mackerel. The charming city streets, including the red-light district (pleasure districts containing geisha), of “Sanchomachi” still remain.
The best known souvenir from Fukui is “habutae mochi.” It’s a sticky rice cake made to resemble “habutae” – a kind of silk that used to be produced in Fukui. Fukui also has many other souvenirs that go well with alcoholic drinks: mackerel sushi named after the Mackerel Way and the dried “heshiko” Wakasa mackerel. Traditional crafts like refined Japanese-style candles and Wakasa lacquered chopsticks are also popular.
To get to Fukui by plane, use Komatsu airport. It takes just over an hour from Haneda airport (Tokyo). From the airport to the urban area of Fukui City, it takes roughly one hour by bus. By train from JR Tokyo station to Maibara station on the Tokaido bullet train (shinkansen) Hikari, it takes about two hours and ten minutes. After transferring to the Shirasagi special express, you’ll arrive at Tsuruga in around 30 minutes. It takes about an hour to Fukui City.
Text: YAMAZAKI Yuriko