The Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum (福井県立恐竜博物館) is Japan’s largest dinosaur museum, and quite possibly the biggest draw to Fukui, the least visited prefecture in the country. And do they know it.
From the moment you step outside Fukui Station, a montage of dinosaurs spanning the entire outer wall of the station building will greet you. 3D dinosaur artwork on walls will accompany you in the passageway leading out onto the street.
A small, quiet prefecture that is often skipped by foreigners, Fukui doesn’t have much to offer in its capital city in terms of attractions. Its most famous sights — the dinosaur museum, the suicide cliffs officially know as Tojinbo, the Zen Buddhist temple Eiheiji, and a town with the name of Obama, are all found in the inaka.
I visited Fukui in October 2016, and it was the 46th prefecture (second last) to cross off my list. While the cliffs and temples are noteworthy, the attraction that is uniquely theirs is, without a doubt, the dinosaur museum.
Why is there a dinosaur museum in Fukui anyway?
In short, because dinosaur fossils were discovered there. Katsuyama city is home to Japan’s largest excavation site, and for that reason it is center of dinosaur research in the country. The museum is located just a few kilometres away from the site, which can also visited as part of “Field Station” tours. But more on that later.
Entering the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum
The moment you step inside, a breathtaking dinosaur egg-shaped layout will spread out before you like a futuristic dream.
With the entrance on the third floor, you will need to take the 35 metre long escalator down into a passage in the basement. From here, walk down Dino Street, a dark atmospheric walkway flanked by fossils, to arrive at the heart of the museum.
Things to do inside the museum
The permanent exhibition area inside the museum consists of three main sections:
- Dinosaur World – 35 reconstructed dinosaur skeletons stand in this huge oval-shaped space without pillars. You can find three dinosaur skeletons in the corner showcasing dinosaurs found in Fukui.
- Earth Sciences – A section built around the themes of “water and the earth” and “fire and the earth.”
- History of Life – Displays the origin of life as told through fossils, and how vertebrates have evolved for 4.6 billion years.
Beyond the exhibits, there is also a Dino Lab, a hands-on type exhibition room with a tyrannosaurus rex in the center, and a Fossil Preparation Lab with a large window to observe technicians cleaning fossils found at Kitadani Quarry.
In the Dino Gallery, you can see drawings, lithographs and models by great artists. A computer lab located on the second floor features four video library booths and two online guides.
If you’re feeling peckish, the museum also features the restaurant DINO onsite, which serves a range of dinosaur-themed dishes.
Field Station (*separate entry cost)
The Field Station is the largest dinosaur quarry in Japan and many fossils, including five new species of dinosaurs, have been discovered there. Located approximately 30 minutes away by bus from the museum, it comprises of three areas where visitors can learn about the excavation of dinosaur fossils through a hands-on two-hour tour.
- A panoramic view of the Dinosaur Quarry, where Japanese dinosaurs, including Fukuiraptor, Fukuisaurus, Fukuititan, Koshisaurus and Fukuivenator, have been discovered.
- A lesson on how to recognize the fossils in the rocks, such as dinosaurs, crocodiles, turtles, fishes, clams and snails.
- An excavation experience trying to find the fossils of the dinosaur age.
While there are no English-speaking navigators, researchers in the fossil excavation experience space should speak some English. More details, including how to make reservations for the tour, can be found on the museum’s official website.
An adult ticket costs 730 yen, plus an extra fee for the special exhibition. The museum’s permanent exhibition is free to enter on the 3rd Sunday of every month.
If you’re planning to get to the museum via public transport, the Echizen Railways ticket set is good value-for-money. For 2,130 yen, you get a one-day pass for all train lines run by the company, a one-day pass for all buses in Katsuyama city (excluding those operated by Keifuku Bus), and entry to the museum. Buying all those tickets separately would cost you 2,870 yen, so that’s a saving of 740 yen.
Access to the Field Station costs an extra 1,220 yen per adult regardless of whether you buy the ticket set.
Getting to the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum
The museum is located a fair whack from the station, requiring a change to the local bus. From JR Fukui Station, transfer to Echizen Railway’s Katsuyama Eiheiji Line bound for Katsuyama. The journey should take around an hour. At Katsuyama Station, a community bus will take you directly to the museum in 15 minutes.
51-11 Terao, Muroko-cho, Katsuyama city, Fukui Prefecture
Opening hours are 9am – 5pm, extended to 8:30am – 6pm during the summer holidays (July 21 to August 31 for 2020).
- The museum will reopen on June 15, but visits are limited to residents of Fukui Prefecture until July 13. Visitors from outside the prefecture are asked to hold off until July 14, when the dinosaur quarry will also reopen.
- To limit the number of people inside at one time, reservations to visit the museum are now necessary. Reservations can only be made on the official website (found here); reservations via phone will not be accepted.