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.

 

Beppu to Mt. Aso

The more you travel in Japan, the more you realise how much this country has to offer, and Kyushu has a lot to offer. Japan does tourism in its own way; lots of omiyage souvenir shops, clearly marked photo opportunities and a cute character yuru-kyara for just about everything. Every town, island and prefecture has a unique food speciality and a top ‘100’ thing to do or place to see. Japanese people don’t get much time to travel at all, most people don’t use their nenkyu holiday days, so when they are free on the 15 national holidays a year, everywhere is busy, and so many people choose not to brave the crowds and stay at home. I find this consequence from the work-culture frustratingly sad. In fact, travel-keen ALTs who live and travel in Japan for two years will probably see more of Japan, than their Japanese co-workers will ever see. That’s why, after every trip I do a fun slideshow of where I’ve been and tell Japanese students about their own country, a little ironic, hey! My father and I were definitely doing tourism our own way. From Khaosan Spa Hostel, we rode our bikes up to see the pools of ‘hell’. You know you’re getting close to the hot springs when you see steam rising from drain pipes and chimneys coming from allotment plots! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Beppu Jigoku ‘hells’ the most popular thing to see in Beppu, and there are eight of them. We only saw Umi Jigoku, the turquoise coloured ‘sea hell’ that have been bubbling away for thousands of years. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA   We skipped seeing the other hells, but cycled down the road of hot springs and tried some jigoku-mushi steamed food and a public foot bath. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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You can tell by my face how hot it was!

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This one was a little more relaxing.

After cycling up the hill to the hells, we were both glad we changed our plan to cycle up to Mt. Aso. Instead we boarded the Trans-Kyushu Limited Express, a rustic two-carriage red train that chugs its way up to the volcanic crater in the centre of Kyushu through wooden valleys and over raging rivers. As we climbed higher and higher, and the rain got heavier and heavier. Until there were no views, and it was raining sideways but the time we reached Aso Station. IMG_2681 The weather was a good excuse to relax, something the pair of us aren’t very good at. Dad experienced a sento bath for the first time, and came out glowing and without any complaints (of nudity, not knowing what to do or being spoken to by random Japanese men). I’d say he passed the ‘culture shock’ test right then and there. Feeling refreshed, we enjoyed some beers and good company at Aso Base Hostel, one of the cleanest, most well-equipped, beautifully decorated hostels I’ve ever been to. Seriously, they have a coffee maker, sell craft beers and have a kotatsu! Win, win, win. IMG_2733IMG_2735 IMG_2734 IMG_2732

Miyajima, the Shrine Island

I’d been recommended to visit this island by many people but I’d never really known why. Even when I was on the ferry to the island I was thinking, ‘Why is this place so special?’ Just because someone built a red torii gate on a sandy beach doesn’t mean it should be on the ‘Must See’ list of Japan.

At first, it appeared to be another Nara, heaving with tourists and tame deer only this time they sold fish-cakes on a stick. In other places of the world, when a place becomes so popular and overcrowded it loses its popularity and another place becomes the ‘must-see’ of the moment. However here in Japan it seems people flock to the same historic tourist sights, all at the specific times of year and the crowds do little to deter visitors. Miyajima, as one of the three most beautiful sights in Japan is definitely in the ‘over-visited’ category.

Yet when I discovered the significance of the island for Japanese people, I understood why it was so popular. The main reason is because the island is thought to be sacred because of Itsukushima Shrine. There have been shrines on the island since the 6th century where Noh performances have been used to pay honour to the gods and act out the myths of Shinto beliefs. The toori is a feature of the Itsukushima shrine and there has been a torri gate there since 1168. The 2000 people who live on the island must still follow the rules of the sacred shrine so that no deaths or births happen on the island. So pregnant women about to deliver or very elderly people who may imminently die to have to retreat to the mainland.

Despite it’s religious significance it was still too crowded for me to visit the shrine, so I decided to get away from the crowds by climbing the 530m high mountain on the island. Still dressed for a city, minus the heels, I started the climb the steep, paved path. The path was empty apart from tourists coming down who were wishing me ”Good luck!”. I had a moment of uncertainty about my climbing abilities, but then I thought ”Come on, I’d climbed Mount Fuji, this is going to be a walk in the park!”

Walking alone up this tropical mountain, with the threat of hungry monkeys and other animals lurking in the forest, made me think of another mountain I’d climbed, Mount Emei in Sichuan province, China. For two days my fellow traveller and I walked, step after step, to the top of the mountain in hope of seeing the sunrise at the top. Looking back, I don’t know how we endured it. The endless monotonous of the steps makes it more a mental than a physical challenge! But thankfully, this climb was over in just an hour and I’d thoroughly recommend it. The path can be managed by most people if they took it at their own pace and had a sturdy pair of shoes. If you do climb it, or cheat and take the cable car, there are beautiful panoramic views across the Inland Sea and of Hiroshima city.

One of my family’s traditions is to call someone at the top of anywhere high, so using Skype on my magical iPhone I was successfully able to wake my parents up and share with them the good news, ‘I’ve just climbed a mountain’ (not revealing it was only 500m high). They did well to cover their morning voices and act excited that I’d called. Then my friend Julia, a UK JET living on Shikoku, arrived at the top of the mountain. We’d arranged to meet here so it wasn’t just a lucky coincidence! It was great to see Julia and we walked down together sharing stories of our first five months in Japan.

It was dusk when we reached the town and the sea had receded from the torii. Another charm of Miyajima was walking under the gate and putting a coin in the cracks if the wooden legs to receive good luck. It was still too damp under foot to do that but we took photos and enjoyed the view. I admit the place did feel special at this time of night and with fewer tourists I can imagine how this scene became so celebrated in the first place.

If you really wanted to experience the best of this island, I’d suggest you stay overnight here. The only hostel on the island looks great and they hire kayaks that you can use to paddle through the torii gate, without the crowds.