Walk Among the Dinosaurs in Fukui Prefecture - The Dinosaur Kingdom of Japan

Dinosaurs have always captured the public imagination, with globally-loved movies such as Jurassic Park being a testament to their appeal. Now, Japan is probably one of the last places you would expect to associate with dinosaurs, but did you know that you can get up close with various dinosaur fossils in Fukui Prefecture in the west of the country? In fact, one of Fukui’s main draws is its deep connections with dinosaurs, as it boasts numerous dinosaur-themed attractions. Perfect for people of all ages, whether you're an adult interested in paleontology or have dinosaur-crazed kids, Fukui is a great place for entertainment and education, so read on to learn more about where you can encounter the dinosaurs.

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Why Fukui Has So Many Dinosaur Attractions

Fukui has developed a unique image for itself as the “Dinosaur Kingdom” due to its strong affiliation with dinosaurs. It all started in 1982, when a crocodile fossil from the Early Cretaceous era was found in Katsuyama City, leading to subsequent investigations held by the Fukui Prefectural Museum (now the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum) in 1988. These proved fruitful, and acted as the catalyst for Fukui Prefecture’s Dinosaur Fossil Excavation Survey Project, which was started in 1989 and has unearthed multiple fossils of various dinosaurs’ teeth, bones, and even footprints! Paleontologists and scientists even uncovered three dinosaur species exclusive to the region and named them after Fukui: the Fukuisaurus, Fukuiraptor, and Fukuititan, thus further enhancing Fukui’s interest and fascination with dinosaurs!

Today, Katsuyama City has Japan’s largest excavation site, with professionals striving to achieve more dinosaur fossil discoveries. Its reputation is unparalleled, as the entire city was recognized as part of the Dinosaur Valley Fukui Katsuyama Geopark by UNESCO in October 2009. This is why locals and foreigners alike consider Fukui the land of dinosaurs in Japan and eagerly make their way there to explore the many dinosaur-themed attractions. Here are some of the best places to get up and close with these ancient creatures!

Fukui Station - Receive a Roaring Welcome

As the saying goes, “seeing is believing.” Fukui does a terrific job in immersing you in the land of the dinosaurs and getting you into the mood for some adventures, and right from the moment you arrive at Fukui Station, your prehistoric journey begins. Head to the west exit and be greeted by the sight of lifelike murals featuring dinosaurs of all shapes and sizes appearing to smash through the station walls.

After you are done admiring these exquisite murals, venture to the landscaped Dinosaur Plaza just outside the station, as here, the fun level is taken up several notches higher as three realistic animatronics - one each of the Fukuititan, Fukuiraptor, and Fukuisaurus - engage your senses with loud sounds and captivating movements.

Commanding an impressive sight at 10 meters tall, the Fukuititan holds reign, raising and lowering its neck while it appears to look out across the station. Right nearby, the Fukuiraptor and Fukuisaurus look menacingly at each other, squaring up for a fight. Comprehensive descriptions are available in both Japanese and English so that you can learn more about these three dinosaur species that are exclusive to Fukui. What’s more, you can be awed at the sight of a pair of life-sized dinosaur footprints in the vicinity of the landscaped areas. This is surely the quickest way to get a reality check in regards to how gigantic these magnificent creatures really were.

Whitesaurus - For the Perfect, Menacing Photo

Flushed with excitement after a warm welcome by dinosaurs at Fukui Station, it is time to make your way to the key dinosaur attractions concentrated in Katsuyama City. Don’t get so excited that you forget to stop and admire the sight of Whitesaurus on your way to the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum!

Stamping its presence in your mind, the Whitesaurus will take your breath away as it spans a total length of 16.9 meters, making it easily stand out from its surroundings. On a fine day, it is tastefully juxtaposed against the blue sky and green fields, evoking an even more captivating atmosphere. Get into the spirit of things by taking social media-worthy shots of yourself with the impressive dinosaur - you may even want to position yourself such that you’re being attacked by this Tyrannosaurus Rex-like sculpture!

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Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum - One of the Best Dinosaur Museums in the World

With the exterior resembling a gigantic dinosaur egg, the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum is Katsuyama City’s signature landmark - its eye-catching facade designed by world-renowned architect Kisho Kurokawa. Its extensive and informational exhibits have led to it being ranked among the top three dinosaur museums worldwide.

Make your way to the basement and be treated to the gorgeous sight of 44 reconstructed life-sized dinosaur skeletons, ten of which were made from real dinosaur bones. Compete with your travel companions to see who can spot the Fukuisaurus, Fukuiraptor, and Fukuititan first! You can learn from both English and Japanese explanations about how plant-eating dinosaurs like the Triceratops and Stegosaurus defended themselves against predators like the Tyrannosaurus Rex via large dioramas. Plus, the museum makes use of dynamic animatronics, with dinosaur calls and roars reverberating across the walls to give you a fun-filled fright.

Other highlights of the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum include the chance to observe scientists at work as they clean fossils and engage in their research from behind glass windows. Also not to be missed is a visit to the souvenir store outside the museum, selling all kinds of dinosaur-related goods such as figurines and yummy, dinosaur-shaped snacks. Before you leave the museum, don’t forget to say hi to “Dr. Dinosaur,” a smart-looking dinosaur dressed in a laboratory coat and looking thoughtfully at a dinosaur fossil. He is the perfect companion to snap a commemorative shot with!


Katsuyama Dino Park - Run Into Dinosaurs While Exploring

After visiting the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum, head over to Katsuyama Dino Park, which is within walking distance from the museum. Also located within Katsuyama Dinosaur Forest Park, here you can not only admire the 44 life-sized dinosaur exhibits, but also imagine what it must have been like for them to live on Earth in the Jurassic and Cretaceous eras. 

Strolling leisurely in the Katsuyama Dino Park is certainly an appealing way to spend the day, as you can enjoy the time exploring to find the impressive dinosaur statues standing around the park. Since it is Japan’s largest walk-through dinosaur park, there are other attractions in the park’s GaoGao Playground that can entertain the children and get them off their feet. The GaoGao Train is led by a Triceratops, chugging around a track that passes by several commanding dinosaurs, and the GaoGao Boat allows children to paddle around a pool under the watchful eye of a Spinosaurus. They can even hop on the GaoGao Ride to try riding on the back of an animatronic dinosaur!

Dokidoki Kyoryu Hakkutsu Land - Excavate Your Own Fossils

Dokidoki Kyoryu Hakkutsu Land is also located inside Katsuyama Dinosaur Forest Park and offers you and your travel companions a nice contrast to the passive viewing of dinosaur fossils and exhibits at other attractions. Appealing to your kinesthetic sensibilities, here you can dig for fossils, affording you the same experience real-life paleontologists receive from their jobs. You will even be entrusted with the same kind of hammer and chisel they use in their archaeological excavations. Have fun putting on your paleontology hat and cracking rocks from the Cretaceous period!

To enrich your experience, friendly instructors are on hand to guide your “expedition.” Should you be lucky enough to find a fossil buried inside the rock you are given, you can ask them to explain to you the characteristics of the creature it came from, and you are allowed to take up to one fossil home should you discover any! However, as Katsuyama City is still passionately conducting paleontological research, dinosaur or other fossils that may aid in the research will be collected for study at the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum.

Angel Land Fukui - For an Educational and Interactive Experience

After thoroughly exploring all the dinosaur-themed attractions in Katsuyama City, you may want to undertake an excursion to the neighboring Sakai City, which boasts a magnificent facility that aims to boost your scientific knowledge. Also known as the Fukui Prefectural Science Museum for Children, Angel Land Fukui is ideal for inquisitive travelers looking for interactive learning experiences.

Featuring the Hokuriku region’s largest planetarium and space theater, Angel Land Fukui allows you and your travel buddies to learn about the galaxy, and if your children are ready to blow off some steam, take them over to the dinosaur-shaped "Playsaurus" play area or Horihori Dinosaur play pit for more dinosaur fun. Your children are sure to thank you for letting them play to their heart's content.

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Immerse Yourself In The Jurassic Park Of Japan

From stunning exhibits to hands-on learning, Fukui provides myriad opportunities for you to partake in a different kind of experience most travelers won’t attain. Not only can you experience an often overlooked or unknown side of Japan as you have fun at the dinosaur attractions, but you can also marvel at the locals’ determination to preserve this important slice of prehistoric times. Be sure to enjoy yourself thoroughly in the wonders of Japan’s Dinosaur Kingdom!

Title image credit: kazukiatuko / PIXTA

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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

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About the author

Kai Le
Kai Le took part in the Japan Exchange Teaching programme as an Assistant Language Teacher and had the best two years of his life. Even though he has since returned to Singapore, he remains passionate about all things Japanese, not least because he married a capable Japanese lady and has two wonderful bicultural children. Besides writing and Japan, he is passionate about reading, Netflix, and cryptocurrency.
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