Top 10 Places to Visit in Fukui

“Fukui? Eeehh! Sore wa doko?” This is the reaction I often get from Japanese people who I meet on my travels outside of Fukui.

The prefecture is almost unheard of in Japan, let alone in the world. Yet Fukui has some fantastic historic, cultural and beautiful places to visit. Here’s my top 10!

#10 Ichijodani Asakura Clan Ruins (between Echizen and Ono) 

I’m no Japanese-history buff, but at this reconstructed settlement I can really feel the history of the area and imagine what the bustling town of 10,000 people would’ve been like 500 years ago. It’s also in a gorgeous valley that would be excellent for cycling.

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One of the reconstructed streets from the samurai town that stood here 500 years ago before it was burnt down by Oda Nabunaga.

#9 Maruoka Castle 

Unlike many castles in Japan that have been reconstructed, Maruoka Castle, also known as ‘Kasumiga-jo’ (Mist Castle), has not been changed since it was built in 1576 and is Japan’s oldest castle tower. You can admire it from the outside or climb the steep stairs up to the top to get panoramic views over Maruoka town.

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#8 Ikeda waterfall and rope bridge

Ikeda offers serene vistas of rice-terraced valleys, cascading waterfalls and places to try or make delicious soba noodles. Read my post on it here.

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This 40 meter long bridge is woven with vines and is suspended 12 meters above Asuwa river and makes for a scary crossing!

#7 Echizen Washi Paper Village, Echizen 

You can also watch masters at work as they make papyrus paper and buy beautiful souvenirs made of washi (traditional Japanese paper). The thatched Okamoto Otaki shrine, one of Echizen’s gems, is a short walk away hidden on the outskirts of a forest and shouldn’t be missed.

Making a mini fan at Echizen Paper Village

A mini fan is one of the many things you can make at the Paper Village.

#6 Tojimbo Cliffs

Tojimbo cliffs are an undeniably strange tourist attraction. The fact that people have committed suicide here in the past, and there is still a nightly suicide watch, has only increased the popularity of these rectangular outcropping rocks. Japanese people don’t like to take photos here in case ghosts of the deceased appear. Despite that it is one of Fukui’s most popular tourist destinations, it’s even a popular place to take a date!

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Tanning at Tojimbo. No ghosts in sight.

#5 The mountains, rivers and lakes east of Ono 

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“The Watering Hole”, a favourite ALT camping and swimming spot near Ono.

Lake Kuzuryu is also a beautiful place to visit in autumn when the leaves are turning red.

#4 Yokokan Garden, Fukui City

A peaceful Edo Period garden in the centre of Fukui City. Come here to relax and remember you are in Japan.

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Take a book and read in the tatami-floored rooms overlooking the pond.

#3 Ski Jam, Katsuyama

Snowboarding, or skiing, are popular hobby for ALTs in Japan. It’s a great way to enjoy winter and meet up with friends on the weekend. Even if you haven’t done it before, after a couple of tries you’ll be standing! Even if you’re on your backside and can still enjoy the stunning views!

Ski Jam has great beginner and intermediate courses

Ski Jam has great beginner and intermediate courses for snowboarders and skiers.  

#2 Nishiyama Park, Sabae

Cherry blossoms in spring, sprinklers to jump through in summer, red leaves in autumn and snow-protected trees in winter. All year round this park has something to offer.

Swathes of azaleas in May

Swathes of azaleas in May.

#1  Eiheji Temple 

This is not your usual tourist destination. You have to change your shoes to enter, walk around quietly and the only souvenirs you can buy are meditation cushions and prayer beads! It lives up to its name, “The Temple of Eternal Peace”, even when there are tourists wandering around.

Founded by Zen Master Dogen Zenji in 1244, it is the largest training centre for Zen monks in Japan today. With grey-robbed monks going about their daily lives, you can witness the harsh mental and physical training regime these men go through to gain monkhood. It’s a privilege to be able to see monks continuing century-old traditions, and one you should definitely visit Fukui to see.

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Eiheiji Temple in the snow.

More resources 

More resources

Here is a beautiful video made by Fukui Shimbun about Fukui (only in Japanese). 福井県の魅力を高橋愛さんが紹介する観光プロモーションビデオの一場面

6915889_75x75Former JET Aaron Nathanson made some stunning videos while living in Fukui, check out Yukiguni: Snow Country , Sonotoki: At That Time, Sakura: Cherry Blossom in Fukui.

 

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For Fukui’s Sake is an entertaining read about Sam Baldwin’s time living as a JET in Ono.

 

Embracing winter on the slopes

Just as spring is awakening and the snowline is receding I’ve found a way to enjoy winter, by hitting the ski slopes. In early-February, when I was craving sunshine and dreaming of a beach holiday, my friend Erin suggested we go skiing with her teachers. Ok, I said, why not? 

 

Week 1

That first day I went, the snow was relentless but, it did result in fluffy powdery snow, perfect for the re-beginner! I spent the day remembering what I was taught ten years ago when I learnt to ski in the Italian Alps; always be in control, make sharp turns round where you’ve touched your pole in and most importantly, practice stopping! In the afternoon I followed Erin’s more experienced teachers on to the ‘Illusion course’ higher up the mountain. It was only on the ski lift when they told me they would be doing the black course! I stuck to the red course, but was out-of-my-depth and took it slow. I very quickly learnt what a ‘mogul’ was (large mounds of snow) and found it was best to go round them, not to fly over the top of them! Anyhow, at the steepest point on one run I couldn’t turn quick enough and went flying over the top of one, loosing my balance and doing a comic-like fall with skis and poles going everywhere! The scariest part of it was putting my ski back on whilst other skiers zoomed past me, going at lightening speed. I reminded myself that I was much more of a hazard to myself, than they were to me. 

Week 2

The second time I went it was a bluebird day, the snow was glistening and the whole experience was much more pleasant. I’d brought a face buff with me this time, so my face didn’t freeze! Although the sunny weather and marginally warmer temperatures had made a crust on the snow, ,making the icy conditions much harder to ski on than the previous week. I succumbed to a fear of vertigo, especially as a peered down the mogul black course, which my friend Nigel told me, “It’ll be grand”. Unsurprisingly, the next ten minutes were not at all ”grand”. Neither was it for my friend Niamh, who had just started learning snowboarding that day! We did both make it down though, and were just about in one piece…

Week 3

The third outing was another snowy day which meant foggy sunglasses but excellent beginner conditions. After I’d seen the injuries and week-long muscle pain endured by my friends who’d tried snowboarding for the first time, I had vowed never to try snowboarding. I’d stick with the easier sport of skiing. (Most people agree that skiing is much easier to pick up, whereas there is a very steep learning curve for snowboarders.) However Nigel, encouraged me to give it ago, and seeing as two other newbies were learning at the same time I thought it would be a good chance to try. So instead of two trusty skis and poles for balancing, I walked out of the rental shop with just a board under my hand. At first glance I thought my board wasn’t much more than a tea tray with shoe clips on it, how was I going to balance on this? At first, it took a while to get used to the balance of it, and we just slid gently one way, then the other another. We kept to the bunny hill this time, and each time went down with less falls than the last.

Eager to learn the next technique, I was constantly losing control and falling over. So were my comrades, Erin and Neil. If you’re in the right frame of mind and it doesn’t hurt, falling over, and watching other people fall over is the most hilarious thing! Various profanities were coming from our mouths as we flipped, faced planted and tumbled down the slopes. This is fine if you’re not in anyone’s way. Yet two times I collided with other snowboarders, one of which happened to be a child! Fortunately the snow was so powdery that nobody was hurt and we just slid down the mountain together before disentangling our boards.

By the end of the day I loving it, and was twisting and turning down the slopes. The last run I took, I decided to detour to an off piste section of the slope. I’d watched as competent snowboarders had easily cut their way through the meter deep snow, having fun carving through it on their boards. I, however, carved my own route through it and consequently got stuck! When I put my hand down to push myself up there was no end to the light fluffy snow and I just fell deeper into it! Flipping my board over I was finally able to make some headway though the snow, but came out with snow down my neck, in my boots and up my sleeves! It was a fun way to end the day, but I won’t be going off piste again soon!

That day did convert me from two skis to one board, and next year I know exactly how I’ll  be spending those snowy weekends.

Skiing in Fukui

Fukui prefecture is renown for the best ski resorts along the western coast of Japan. We do not have the Olympic style black diamond runs of Nagoya or the 6km long Hakuba courses, but we do have perfect beginner and intermediate level slopes for the casual skier or snowboarder. The best resort is named SkiJam and is in Katsuyama, an hour away from Fukui City. It boasts several courses, randomly named ‘Fantasy’ and ‘Illusion’ courses which snake down and around the mountainous terrain. Wide courses have been cut into the pine tree covered mountain and a network of ski lifts put up, so that there are no long queues, and there are a range of slopes for every skill level. There are also amazing views from top on a clear day.

Unlike in Europe, snowboarding is much more popular than skiing in Japan. It seems snowboarding is more about getting the ”golden beauty” look. Every time I went to the ladies, there were women there with more make-up on than women would wear in a Weatherspoons on a Saturday night! With their Roxy ski jackets, make-up and long hair down, it looked like their priority was not snowboarding, but looking cute!

It’s possible to rent skis or a snowboard for about £30 a day, get a ski pass for about another £30 or get a whole package with clothes included for about £70 a day. There are three restaurants on the slopes that serve a variety of food, from curry-rice, to Korean bibimba to tomato spaghetti. If you’re in the area, during January and February, give it a go!

Related articles by fellow Fukui JETs, take a look at their awesome blogs!

I’m so Fukui

Breathing Means More

Finding Myself Fukuied