If you are using your JR Pass to travel to the west of Honshu, Japan's main island, then why not take a little detour over to Fukui and enjoy some excellent sights. Eihei-ji Temple impresses with its size, the picturesque cliffs of Tojinbo offer a chance to see some natural beauty, and a castle floating in the clouds, are bound to make a trip to Fukui a memorable one. Here are our four top sightseeing spots:
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(image by upload.wikimedia.org)
Eihei-ji Temple was established in 1244 by the Zen teacher Dogen as a place of Zen meditation. Losing his parents at a tender age, Dogen left home at the age of 14 and headed over to China at 24. After receiving harsh training, he returned home and opened a dojo in Kyoto, but to avoid persecution from the conventional Buddhist influence at the time, he moved the dojo to what is now Fukui Prefecture. Focusing on zazen (seated Zen meditation) in his teachings, Dogen exerted the importance of incorporating that spirit into daily life. He ascertained that Zen was the truth behind things and the preparation of the workings of the human mind to respond correctly. The trainee monks at Eihei-ji, known as unsui, treat their entire lifestyle as training. They begin with morning zazen, chant sutras, have their meal, clean the temple and even consider their bathing and trips to the washroom as training so the hard work continues all day and night. At Eihei-ji, you will be able to sense the lofty spirit of the teachings of Dogen not just from the beauty of the many cultural properties but also from the well-polished corridors due to the morning cleaning by the unsui and their treatment of guests.
Within the huge 330,000㎡ grounds of the temple, a stillness flows that is surrounded by the 700-year-old cedar trees. There are 70 structures of varying size which are cultural properties which center upon the shichido-garan, or complete temple compound of 7 buildings, and consist of solemn buildings such as the Shoyoden, the grave of Dogen that has been called the holy ground of the birthplace of the Soto sect; the aforementioned hatto; and the honden main hall which is dedicated to the principal image of Shakamunibutsu. The shichido-garan refers to the specific arrangement for a Zen Buddhist temple, and to compare with a person taking part in zazen, the hatto lecture hall represents the head as the highest point of the temple, the butsuden (Buddhist hall) is the heart, the daikuin which is the kitchen preparing the meals and providing hospitality to guests is the left hand, the sodo meditation hall for the monks’ zazen, meals and sleeping is the right hand, the sanmon gate is the lower back, the bathroom is the left leg and the toilet facilities known as tousu represent the right leg; these all reflect the world view of zazen.
Admission: Adult: ¥ 500 / Child: ¥ 200
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Eihei-ji Temple
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Eihei-ji Temple
- Tours of Eihei-ji Temple
(image by 公益社団法人福井県観光連盟)
The picturesque Tōjinbō which is located within Echizen-Kaga Kaigan Quasi-National Park is a series of large and attractive columnar cliffs. Created from volcanic activity 13 million years ago, strangely-shaped rocks were carved out from the rough waves of the Sea of Japan and countless huge columns rose up to make this astounding landscape of dynamic beauty. This extremely valuable topography is one of just three examples in the world of the geological feature known as columnar joints.
Long ago, there was an extremely antisocial monk by the name of Tōjinbō who was disliked by the townspeople. One day, Tōjinbō fell in love with a princess although another monk ferociously rivaled him for her love. The other monks who could no longer tolerate Tōjinbō’s evil ways called him to the cliffs and got him drunk before tossing him into the sea. However, Tōjinbō dragged the other monks including his rival into the sea with him. This legend gave rise to the name of Tōjinbō for the cliffs.
The magnificent cliffs that spread out below aren’t just meant to be viewed but also to be climbed down so that its grandeur can also be enjoyed from the bottom. Also, there are tourist excursion ships in operation for 30-minute cruises. There’s a great chance for that wonderful view, and that special scenery as seen from a ship is lovely. In the surrounding area, you will want to visit the little island of Oshima which is to the north of Tōjinbō. A deserted island that is called “The Nation of the Gods”, there is a vermilion bridge that joins the mainland with the island so that a mysterious landscape is created. As well, on the Araiso Nature Trail which begins in Komegawaki, you can enjoy a picturesque walk along the 4 kilometers of cliffs through Tōjinbō.
Echizen Ōno Castle
(image by 結の故郷推進室)
Echizen Ōno Castle is located on top of the 249-meter Mt. Kameyama in the Ono Basin which is surrounded by mountains in all four directions. The Jodo Shinshu Buddhist uprising of 1575 was suppressed, and as a reward, samurai Nagachika Kanamori was given land as a reward on which he built the castle around which a town was established. In the castle’s first 290 years of history, it changed hands several times and was frequently burned down and reconstructed. The current castle keep was restored in 1968 so the interior displays documents and articles from the generations of lords of the castle. Only the stone walls and the moat have survived as the original structures, with the walls being constructed from natural rock known as nozurazumi just piled on top of each other. The castle brings vestiges of those days into the present.
The sight of Ōno Castle up above on the mountaintop by itself is beautiful. However, there is a time when the sight of the castle changes into an even more beautiful appearance. In the early morning hours from autumn to winter, radiative cooling occurs and a thick fog envelops the area which has Ōno Castle floating on top of a sea of clouds. It is a precious spectacle which can only be viewed 10 days out of the year, and it leaves a heartfelt impression that never leaves for anyone who sees it. But the conditions to catch the castle in the sky are difficult. Various conditions such as dawn at 9 a.m. between October and the end of April, high humidity due to rain on the previous day, and a large difference in temperature between the day before and the next morning have to be met if the castle in the sky is to appear, with November being the most optimal time. The prime place to view the castle in all its glory is up to 1 km west of the castle at the ruins of Inuyama Castle at 324 m altitude. The course entering the sanmon gate of Kousen-ji Temple is the simplest way, but since the mountain trail is covered with a lot of snow in the winter, the appropriate footwear and clothing are necessary in the name of safety.
Admission: ¥ 200
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Echizen Ōno Castle
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Echizen Ōno Castle
- Tours of Echizen Ōno Castle
Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum
(image by 公益社団法人福井県観光連盟)
Fukui Prefecture accounts for a majority of the dinosaur fossils excavated in Japan and is famous for being an area at the forefront of dinosaur research in Japan. In Katsuyama City, there is the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum which is the nation’s largest museum for geological features and archaeology. The displays focusing on dinosaurs are fun enough just to see, and they have garnered a good reputation for being easy to understand and for being able to be enjoyed by kids and grownups alike. Since its opening in 2000, over 700,000 visitors have come to the museum annually, and it has become a popular tourist spot representing Fukui Prefecture that has been called The Kingdom of Dinosaurs.
The exhibition area is divided into the zones of Dinosaur World, Earth Sciences and History of Life. In Dinosaur World, there are 42 full dinosaur skeletons on display in the wide space, faithfully recreated dioramas and other exhibits to fully realize a living world of dinosaurs. Also, in Earth Sciences, a cross-sectional investigation of the earth strata is introduced through “Water & Earth” and “Fire & Earth”. It is a zone that takes the appearance of the Earth into consideration via sediment, fossils, minerals, etc. And then in the History of Life, you can learn about the history of life through repeated evolution and extinction over 4.6 billion years. Elsewhere, there is the Dino Lab where you can get a hands-on experience in touching fossils and making observations through microscopes, and the Fossil Preparation Lab where excavated fossils are cleaned so that you can enjoy that unique dinosaur experience.
At the popular Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum which opened in 2014, there is the attraction of experiencing a dig for fossils where other specimens have been excavated. At these dinosaur digs, you can closely observe earth strata and fossilized footprints and even take part in digging up fossils. The work of digging as you listen to the explanations by museum researchers is a precious experience in field work.
Admission: Adult: ¥ 720 / Child: ¥ 260