Fukui Prefecture boasts nationwide brands such as Echizen crab and Echizen washi, as well as cultural and architectural treasures like Eiheiji Temple and the “floating” Echizen Ono Castle, but one of the region’s strongest international claims to fame is its wealth of prehistoric findings. Home to one of the world’s leading dinosaur museums and Japan’s largest fossil site, Katsuyama City has contributed countless valuable scientific discoveries, including five completely new dinosaur species, since the Fukui Prefecture’s Dinosaur Fossil Excavation Survey Project started in 1989. Dinosaur Valley Fukui Katsuyama Geopark — a UNESCO-recognized geopark since 2009 — encompasses the whole city and the various geosites within it. Here you can explore Japan’s own Jurassic Park — without the risk of being chased by velociraptors.
JR Fukui Station Dinosaur Plaza
Entry into Fukui’s dinosaur kingdom begins at JR Fukui Station, where the Dinosaur Plaza serves as a gateway into the prefecture’s Jurassic adventure. Three-dimensional dinosaur illustrations seem to explode out of the walls, creating excellent photo opportunities before you’ve even left the building. Outside, visitors will find towering life-size dinosaur statues representing varieties excavated in the region — watch out for the fearsome battle scene between a Fukuiraptor and a Fukuisaurus. Fossils of dinosaur footprints on the ground give a further sense of scale between us tiny humans and these giant beasts that once walked the earth.
Katsuyama Station and Beyond
The closest train station to the region’s biggest draw, the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur
Museum, is more lowkey but displays an adult Fukuisaurus with a baby opposite the taxi station. If the onslaught of giant reptiles is already too much for you, then fear not. Katsuyama isn’t just home to dinosaur fossils — it also boasts the Mimuro Jomon Ruins, a former village site with human-made artifacts dating back as far as over 10,000 years ago. A visit to Furusato Chaya Jomon no Sato offers a welcome escape into a human historic era, with traditional dishes using locally sourced ingredients. The facility also gives insight into Jomon Period life through nature walks, craft workshops and a small museum space.
Heading back in the world of dinosaurs, prepare to meet the Whitesaurus, a snow-colored Tyrannosaurus rex, on the way to Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum. Standing at almost 17 meters high, she’s hard to miss and well worth taking a selfie with before moving on.
Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum
One of the world’s leading dinosaur museums, Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum is both a scientific research center and a brilliant showcase of the prefecture’s excavation efforts. The museum spans over 4,500 square meters and exhibits over 40 complete dinosaur skeletons, including the five species discovered here in Fukui. The Dinosaur World area is composed of several sections from natural history-oriented dinosaur biology explanations to immersive dioramas with realistic animatronics stalking in a Jurassic-period forest. This world-class facility is a must-visit when in the region. Note that due to Covid-19 restrictions, advance reservations are required for museum entry.
The Dinosaur Quarry Field Station
For a hands-on dinosaur experience of your own — as well as a chance to contribute a discovery to the world of science — take the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum’s tour to the dinosaur quarry, a site where many local fossils have been excavated. The tour takes you around the quarry and teaches you how to recognize a variety of fossils in rocks including plants, clams, crocodiles and, of course, dinosaurs. You get to keep any fossils you dig up, with one caveat: if it’s deemed a valuable artifact, you have to hand it over to museum staff for further research. It’s a small price to pay for contributing to scientific advancement — and you won’t go home emptyhanded, as you’ll be given the chance to excavate something less critical.
The experience takes about two hours and is only available by reservation between late April to early November. Note that this tour is not included in the museum admission fee and must be booked and paid for separately. Come prepared by bringing a pair guntei cotton working gloves, or buy some from staff onsite.
Katsuyama Dinosaur Forest
For the younger crowd, a visit to Katsuyama Dinosaur Forest won’t go amiss. On top of being the closest thing to a real-life Jurassic Park where you can meet moving, grooving and snorting robotic dinosaurs, there is also a small amusement park with rides. After wandering through the dinosaur habitat featuring almost 25 animatronic giants, you can also chisel away at some rock to find your own fossils. As with the dinosaur quarry experience, valuable discoveries will be shared with researchers, but visitors can take home insect and plant fossils. This family-friendly dig experience is available from late March to late November and requires reservations in advance, as places are limited.