Mikuni Minato and Sakai City: Retro Townscapes, Crab Cuisine, and More at an Ancient Trading Post

Mikuni Minato was a flourishing trade hub on the coast of Sakai City, Fukui Prefecture. Today, its old world townscape is a snapshot of retro Japan, while the columnar Tojinbo Cliffs and the ancient Maruoka Castle draw in lovers of nature and history. Visitors can also indulge in exquisite seafood like the highly-coveted snow crab, and enjoy exciting activities at theme parks and more. Join us on a 3-day trip to Mikuni Minato and the rest of Sakai City to uncover the appeal of this lesser-known nook of Japan!

*This article was sponsored by NTT Business Solutions.

About Mikuni Minato and Sakai City

Mikuni Minato is an old port town on the coast of Fukui Prefecture, located in central Japan. It is a part of Sakai, a small city known for its historical sites, natural landmarks, and high-quality seafood. Mikuni Minato thrived during the middle of the Edo Period (1603-1868) as a port of call on the booming Kitamaebune shipping route linking Osaka and Hokkaido, filling it with wealthy merchants and extravagant homes, warehouses, geisha lodgings, and more.

While Mikuni Minato’s prosperity was eventually snatched by the development of railways, clusters of remarkably well-preserved buildings remain intact as a testament to its former glory, granting it an evocative old world atmosphere. The surrounding Sakai City is also popular for Maruoka Castle, home to one of Japan’s few remaining truly ancient castle towers, and the dynamic cliffs of Tojinbo. Unique theme parks and activity centers can also be found throughout Sakai City, making it a prime destination for adventure-seekers and families.

Getting to Mikuni Minato

The most convenient and scenic way to reach Mikuni Minato is via the Mikuni Awara Line on the Echizen Railway, which connects Fukui Station (Fukui City) to Mikuni Minato Station.

International travelers can also get a one-day pass with unlimited rides, offering a more convenient and thrifty way to get around by train. You can purchase it online, and then pick it up at Fukui Station, which is a stop on the bullet train.

From Fukui Station, get off one stop before the end at Mikuni Station (approx. 50 minutes), and you’ll be able to walk to the old town area of Mikuni Minato in minutes. Rental bikes are also available at the station for a small fee.

・Exploring Sakai City From Mikuni Minato

While Mikuni Minato alone offers plenty to do, those wanting to venture out into the wider Sakai City area to see sights like Maruoka Castle should rent a car. Rental cars can be picked up at Awara Onsen Station, which is due to be connected to the Hokuriku Shinkansen bullet train in March 2024, offering another convenient way to reach the area from Tokyo.

Where We Stayed: Auberge Homachi Mikuniminato

For our trip to Mikuni Minato, we stayed at Auberge Homachi Mikuniminato, a network of renovated homes built in the 1800-1900s scattered about town. Reflecting the trends of their time periods, each unit flaunts its own distinct personality, tastefully spruced up to meet contemporary needs.

From the outside, our apartment blended seamlessly with the old-fashioned streetscape, hiding a chic, cozy nook within. It was a convenient base for on foot escapades into the old town, and its proximity to Mikuni Station (just a 5-minute walk) made it a breeze to reach by train.

Inside, original beams remained intact, displaying the masterful carpentry of the past, while walkways made of recycled stone and flowerpots from old fireplaces gave new life to weathered relics. Being entirely self-contained, with refrigerators, washing machines, bathrooms, and more, we could unwind in private, while the fully-equipped kitchen let us cook meals with produce from the town market, and the huge Simmons beds ensured us a good night’s sleep.

At night, we treated ourselves to dinner at Homachi's very own luxury restaurant: Tateru Yoshino Mikuni Minato. Here, we were able to mingle with guests from other apartments while relishing exquisite French cuisine prepared with local ingredients from celebrated Michelin-starred chef Tateru Yoshino.

Auberge Homachi Mikuniminato currently has just 16 rooms spread across 9 buildings, so it’s best to book well in advance. You can see more details and make reservations at the official website.

Day One: The Old Town of Central Mikuni Minato

Mikuni Minato Old Town

After settling into our Auberge Homachi Mikuniminato apartment, we headed out to the Mikuni Minato Old Town, which is where the remains of the Edo Period port town can be found. Along the way, we picked up a helping of fresh “sakamanju” steamed buns infused with sakeーa local specialityーat confectioners Nishisaka and Koyamaya. Their enticing aromas and rich taste served as a scrumptious pick-me-up to fuel our walk.

A few meters ahead of Nishisaka and Koyamaya was the intersection of Kitamae-dori Street, where many of Mikuni Minato’s treasures are located. Upon turning, the urban streetscape was instantly replaced by the weathered facade of the once-thriving port town.

Kitamae-dori Street is like a living gallery of Mikuni Minato’s heyday. The tightly-packed and timeworn residences paint a vivid picture of bygone days, some remodeled into trendy boutiques, others long abandoned. This poignant mood continues for around a kilometer, finishing with a bang at the stunning Mikuni Shrine.

・The Old Kishina House

Keen to see behind the town’s rustic exterior, we entered the Old Kishina House, which was the residence of a wealthy merchant family built during the late Edo Period. The two-story home is open to the public, and its gorgeous tatami-matted rooms display a trove of priceless treasures, including the ornate but solid “Mikuni tansu,” a local style of cabinetry, as well as antique kitchen tools and more.

Adjacent is the Mikuni Minato Machiya-kan, which stole our focus with its striking matte vermillion facade. On the other side is the mini-museum Machinokura, where we received an introduction into local history.

・The Former Morita Bank

Continuing down Kitamae-dori Street, the placid layout was unexpectedly interrupted by the Former Morita Bank, whose imposing brick walls and extravagant trimmings stood in spectacular contrast to the humble wooden homes that surround it.

The Former Morita Bank was built in 1920 in classical Western European design by the Morita Family, who were wealthy local merchants. Entry is free, and the interior is just as splendid. Its grand hall is split by a long curved counter of Japanese zelkova wood, beyond which lie vaults, a cozy lounge, and fancy meeting room, illustrating the region’s former financial vigor. This is all crowned by an open ceiling lavishly decorated with intricate plaster reliefs.

・Other Highlights On Kitamae-dori Street

During our visit to Mikuni Minato, we were told by our guide to look down at the ground to see if we could spot the “shakudani” rock, a kind of volcanic tuff with a subtle jade-like hue used as flooring and on the sides of streets.

Shakudani was mined for over a thousand years at nearby Mt. Asuwayama in Fukui City, and is found nowhere else. Mining has since ceased, and the rock has become a precious commodity, making its lavish use in Mikuni Minato remarkable. When wet, its characteristic greenish blue pops out, forming a brilliant spectacle on otherwise dreary days.

Other highlights on Kitamae-dori Street and beyond included Kinpoji Temple, once a hangout for haiku poets; Demura Street, a rustic former geisha district; and the exquisite Morita Family Main House. With each stop, we felt ourselves drifting further into the radiant yesteryears of Mikuni Minato’s illustrious history.

・Mikuni Minato Activities: Shamisen Classes and More

While historical strolls are a pleasant way to begin, a full immersion in Mikuni Minato requires more active participation. Filling this role are a number of facilities around Kitamae-dori Street hosting authentic yet casual encounters with the traditional Japanese arts, including bonsai and lantern-making, as well as shamisen classes and performances.

We opted for a shamisen performance held at Takeyoshi, an old townhouse with a sumptuous Kyoto-inspired design. Several old tunes popular during Mikuni Minato’s peak were played to us by a passionate master performer with over 60 years of experience. After listening, we joined her on stage to try out the shamisen and three different Japanese percussion instruments for an Edo-style jam session.

Day Two: History and Nature on the Outskirts of Mikuni Minato

Sakai City Ryusho Museum

While pottering about Mikuni Minato on day one, the silhouette of the Sakai City Ryusho Museum popped into our periphery again and again. Perched majestically upon a distant hill, its white weatherboards and wine-colored dome were yet another contrast to the humble township below, driving us to start off day two by ascending its slopes to see what fascinating stories lay within.

Founded as a local history museum in 1981, the Sakai City Ryusho Museum was reopened in 2023 with brand-new exhibits, widening its scope to the entire Sakai City area. Its striking design is modeled after an opulent elementary school that once stood in Mikuni Minato, and its 4th floor observation deck commands breathtaking views over Mikuni Minato in its entirety.

While the museum provided us with basic English pamphlets, multilingual information was otherwise scarce. However, even without explanations, the riveting displays of relics and replicas alone were enough to take us on a journey through the rich history of Sakai City. We were able to learn about the area’s ancient earthenware culture, “kofun” burial mounds, the kitamaebune shipping route (including a replica boat), local crafts, the lucrative fabrics industries, famous local haiku poets, and more.

One highlight was the enormous “yama” float, an 11-meter replica of those used in the Mikuni Matsuri, a famous local festival held annually on May 19-21. Standing upon its sturdy wooden carriage were fierce paper mache warrior dolls handcrafted in exquisite detail, demonstrating the original height of the floats before the installation of power lines reduced them to their current 6-meter size.

Takidan-ji Temple

Next, we walked to Takidan-ji Temple, one of Sakai City’s most illustrious ancient Buddhist structures. Leading to the temple’s Main Hall was a long, straight path layered with shakudani cobblestone and shrouded by a thick canopy of crooked camellia trees, cutting us off from the outside world. With records of visits from regional rulers like the Asakura and Shibata clans, we felt humbled following the footsteps of powerful samurai.

Upon reaching the Main Hall, the forest opened up into a blissful garden, with our autumn visit graced by radiant yellow and red maple foliage. Each segment of the spacious 45,000 m² grounds was worth a moment to admire, while the Main Hall and Kannon-do Hall echoed with centuries of spirituality, rendered through resplendent wooden architecture, ancient treasures, and elaborate altars (photography is prohibited inside).

Detailed English pamphlets are available at the front gate, so be sure to ask for one.


For many Japanese, Fukui is synonymous with Tojinbo. These dramatic kilometer-long coastal cliffs were formed 13 million years ago by magma that cooled into orderly pentagon and hexagon columns, gradually exposed over time to become one of the world’s most unique rock formations.

While buses run regularly from Mikuni Station, for this leg of the journey, we decided to rent a car and drive, taking just 7 minutes from Mikuni Minato. After viewing the cliffs from the top, we made our way down the cliffside paths to study their intricate geometric patterns up close. We felt enraptured by the relentless swell of the mighty ocean lapping against the unyielding rocks; all a testament to the Earth’s might.

・Tojinbo Cliffs Sightseeing Boats

Keen for another angle of Tojinbo, we grabbed a ticket for the Tojinbo Cliffs Sightseeing Boat. If standing by the edge of the cliffs wasn’t thrilling enough, the agile maneuvering of the boatmen as they drove the ship in and out of a narrow channel between the rocks truly got our hearts racing.

Pottering along the coastline, the 30-minute trip revealed a deluge of nooks concealed from the land. It also got up close to several other remarkable landmarks, like the slanted wave-shaped rocks of Oshima Island, just off the coast of Tojinbo, along with the stunning Oike Cove, and the photogenic Lion Rock. Before visiting Tojinbo, be sure to confirm the cruise status on the official website, as the conditions change depending on the weather.

Shibamasa World

While Sakai City’s historic sites and natural wonders provide endless intrigue, those traveling with children, or who want to break up their day with old-fashioned fun, should make room in their itinerary for Fukui’s leading theme park, Shibamasa World. Spread over rolling coastal hills, Shibamasa World is crammed with attractions for all ages, and is just a 15-minute drive from Tojinbo. In the summer, you’ll want to make a beeline for the pool, which boasts around 50 waterslides. Most famous is the roughly 30-meter-high “The Monster Slider,” which can be ridden together with up to 6 people, along with “The Monster Wing,” whose 68-degree maximum plummet is sure to have you screaming.

Further excitement can be found on the Pirates area rollercoasters, as well as at go-kart and buggy tracks in the Active area.

Shibamasa World also has plenty of chilled-out attractions, including mini-golf on a beautifully manicured outdoor course, archery, boat cruises, and more. Little ones will have a blast in the indoor Kids Paradise, where they can roleplay as supermarket clerks, navigate mazes, play with toys from across the world, and let loose on several massive playgrounds and rides.

Day Three: Branching Out Into Sakai City


As we discovered at the Sakai City Ryusho Museum, Fukui Prefecture once thrived on the production of textiles. This history stretches back hundreds of years, and was centered around making “habutai” silk used for the linings of high-quality kimono.

While modernization has reshaped the industry, the spirit of local textiles continues to shine at EIGHT RIBBON, a newly renovated ribbon factory on the outskirts of Sakai City, which we visited by car to kick off day three.

Beside its fast-paced modern operations, EIGHT RIBBON employs a collection of antique shuttle looms, also known as Jacquard machines, to knit together gorgeous luxury ribbons using time-honored 19th century technology.

We joined a guided tour of the retro factory floor, where the rows of shuttle looms, the largest collection in Japan, and other old wooden equipment diligently threaded away. We were left hypnotized by their rhythmic click-clacking as they stitched together ribbons “programmed” by strips of paper not unlike the punch cards of early computers, and were even able to interact with them for a deeper understanding of the genius behind their inner workings.


Next to the EIGHT RIBBON factory is the stylish RIBBON’S CAFE, where we enjoyed a breakfast of spongy crepes blended with Fukui rice and stuffed with seasonal fruits and creams.

RIBBON’S CAFE also runs workshops using colorful Jacquard ribbons from the factory, which you can use to craft your own keyholders, earrings, and more, on a sewing machine with the help of the talented staff.

Fashion accessories, camera/phone straps, and other beautiful items made by professionals are also sold, perfect as meaningful souvenirs of Fukui.

ChikuChiku BonBon

We continued our drive around Sakai City by venturing into the dense woodlands of Takeda, a rural settlement deep in the outer foothills. Standing amongst its leafy streets is ChikuChiku BonBon, an activity center and accommodation set in a freshly-renovated abandoned elementary school.

ChikuChiku BonBon hosts a wide range of exciting activities utilizing Takeda’s rich natural environment, suitable for all seasons, weather, and ages. Outdoor adventures include kayaking, tree climbing, guided walks by local hunters, and wintertime snow sledding.

And there’s just as much to do indoors, like mochi pounding, arts and crafts workshops, and soba-making using Takeda’s unique recipe and tools. All of these activities are designed around local knowledge and wisdom, granting visitors an intimate look at the way of life in countryside Fukui.

For us, the main draw of ChikuChiku BonBon was the school building itself, which uses old classrooms as guestrooms bookable for overnight stays. Some classrooms are even left intact, desks and all, letting us live out our fantasy as anime protagonists!

Maruoka Castle

Being devout history buffs, the pilgrimage to Maruoka Castle has long been on our Japan travel lists. Built in 1576, it holds the prestigious rank of being one of just 12 Japanese castles with their original towers intact from the Edo Period or before, granting an authentic window into the past that renovated or recreated castle towers fail to rival.

Even within the surviving castles of Japan, Maruoka Castle is unique. Compared to the opulent structures built in the following centuries, its somber wooden tones and rugged foundation of uneven stone gives it a stubby, rough, and primitive appearance.

However, having viewed countless Japanese castles before, we felt Maruoka Castle’s unpolished character is what sets it apart. We found plenty of appeal in its deceptively small two-story frame that actually holds three spacious floors, roof tiles adorned with shimmering shakudani stone, and the breathtaking panoramic views from its top-floor watchtower. The surrounding Kasumigajo Park also adds a splash of color, with pink cherry blossoms in early April and fiery maple leaves for our visit in late-November.

Our curious minds were also pleased by the English audio commentary playing on each floor explaining the history and functions of the castle, as well as the detailed English pamphlet at the ticket gate. We also recommend visiting at night, when the castle is lit up in a stirring projection mapping show starting at 8:00 pm and 9:00 pm.

Recommended Food in Mikuni Minato: Local Crab, Big Burgers, and Authentic Napoli Pizza

Echizen-gani Crab at Mikuni Inkyojo

The unrivaled king of Sakai City cuisine is the Echizen-gani crab. Echizen-gani is the name given to male snow crabs caught off the coasts of Fukui Prefecture, which are on the market between November and March. Coveted for its enormous size, firm meat, and rich sweetness, Echizen-gani is a luxury gourmet experience well worth its high price.

For those keen to try this ambrosia, we suggest Mikuni Inkyojo, a seafood restaurant near the waterfront of Mikuni Minato. Its sizable menu covers a wide variety of local seafood specialties, at the pinnacle of which is Echizen-gani crab. Picked fresh out of instore tanks, full portions of Echizen-gani can be eaten boiled, raw, and roasted in a selection of different dishes.

A serving of Echizen-gani will cost upwards of 10,000 yen at the cheapest, so have your credit card handy. To avoid blowing your budget on a single meal, more affordable options are also available, like the smaller, but still utterly delicious, “seiko-gani” female snow crabs, which have the added bonus of carrying scrumptious roe.

Even if crab isn’t your seafood of choice, Mikuni Inkyojo’s enormous menu promises a catch suiting all palates, together with options like soba noodles, steak, and pork cutlet. For a fuller appreciation of the bounties hauled in at local ports, we added the Mikuni Special Seafood Bowl and Grilled Blackthroat Seaperch Set to our order.

The Seafood Bowl was overflowing with choice sashimi cuts, including regional tuna, “amaebi” sweet shrimp (another Fukui delicacy), salmon roe, and more, beautifully arranged into a visual feast using scallop shells and crab claws. The Blackthroat Seaperch Set was centered around a whole Blackthroat Seaperch fish, another prized Sea of Japan specialty, roasted in salt sourced from Fukui seawaters, presenting a light, refreshing flavor pepped up by a squeeze of lime.

Burgers at Mikuni Minato-za

Mikuni Minato-za is a no-frills eatery conveniently situated in the middle of Kitamae-dori Street. Here you’ll find Mikuni Minato’s newest gourmet offering: the “Mikuni Burger.”

The Mikuni Burger features a flavorful patty of Japanese beef and pork with lettuce, tomato, and onion sat between two rice bread buns, zested up by a dollop of homemade BBQ sauce and mayonnaise. But what really sets it apart is the addition of locally grown “rakkyo” Chinese onion, used as a garlicky substitute for pickles.

The thick stack of fillings all meld together into a single action-packed hit of umami flavor, providing the energy you need for a full day of sightseeing.

Crab Pizza at Birdland

While seafood is the go-to choice for a Mikuni Minato meal, foodies shouldn’t overlook the authentic Napoli pizza served at Birdland. The owner-chef cooks each pizza in a wood-fire oven on the spot, and is a recognized master of Napoli pizza. The English menus and friendly staff also make ordering a breeze.

Plus, those visiting Birdland between mid-November and the end of December can also indulge in the limited-edition “seiko-gani” female snow crab pizza (pictured above). The warm doughy batter is crowned by a fresh snow crab and a medley of other local ingredients. Reservations are required for the crab pizza, so be sure to inquire in advance.

Immerse Yourself in Old World Japan Through History, Nature, Food, and More

With historical streetscapes, delicious delicacies, breathtaking nature, and fun and fascinating activities, Sakai City was everything we love about Japan, but without the crowds. For those seeking an engaging trip to a hidden slice of retro Japan, Mikuni Minato and the rest of Sakai City is sure to inspire your wanderlust!

Tickets for the activities and spots introduced in this article can also be booked online at the following website. Sorting out reservations in advance ensures a smooth tripーa big help when traveling to less touristy parts of Japan like Fukui! Check it out below!

Online bookings in Fukui: https://www.triplabo.jp/activity?search=fukui

Chubu Feature

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

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About the author

Steve Csorgo
Born and raised in Melbourne, Australia, Steve currently lives in Niigata City. His passions include discovering local sake, reading, and traveling to as much of Japan as possible. Hot springs, historical sites, and untouched nature are some of his favorite things about Japan. He enjoys writing about traditional crafts, offbeat yet charming towns, and interesting local stories.
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