Five-part miniseries: Japanese cities I liked enough to visit again (Part 2: Fukui)

It didn’t do very well ratings-wise, but during the summer season a Japanese drama (Japanese dramas air along with the season) called Cheer Dan aired on the TBS network. It was set in Fukui City, and in my opinion really put Fukui on the map for a lot of young people not living in the area. It was the sequel to an eponymous movie that aired sometime in 2015/16, I think? Starred the effervescent Amami Yuuki and headlined by Hirose Suzu, so it did really well (especially with young people who also participate in cheerleading activities).

I, however, felt rather proud for already knowing a lot of Fukui lore prior to the airing of this movie/drama pair. I’d come to Japan on the JET Programme, and had three choices to put in my application regarding where I wanted to be posted. I did some research on the internet and found the page for Fukui JETs. They seemed like a really tight-knit community and I was going to be in Japan without friends or much family so I wanted a solid support system; I put Fukui as my second choice (Chiba being my first, because my host family from a previous trip is from there).

While waiting for my JET application to go through, I wrote a short story set in a town called Ikeda, in Fukui Prefecture (but a ways away from Fukui City itself). It was fiction, but the places that I used were all real. I treated it as a way to get to know Fukui better, just in case I was actually going there. I researched a lot about the town and the prefecture, and looked at a lot of pictures of Fukui. I loved how it wasn’t a bustling city, and how culturally rich it was. I’m not that crazy about nature, but I like looking at it (more so than experiencing it) so Fukui further scored points when I saw how much nature it had to offer. Sprawling fields of pre-harvest emerald, temples nestled within quiet mountains promising solace from the scorching heat of summer, mystical waterfalls shrouded amongst the trees. Picturesque. I wanted to go.

So, in the summer of 2013, I went to Ikeda.

If you cross the bridge completely you have to pay when you get to the other side, so… Like Phua Chu Kang says, “Use your brain, use your brain!”
This wasn’t a big waterfall but the way the water cascaded down the rock was really pretty.

Ikeda met my expectations completely. My short story was set there, so I had a special attachment to the place. Apart from Ikeda, I also went to visit the dinosaur museum:

It’s on a mountain, in a city called Katsuyama, and driving up you can see these big ‘life-size’ fake dinosaurs.
The interior of the museum. It’s very cool, very modern. Some real fossils.
The exterior. Some post-modern art going on there in that installation

Fukui is famous for dinosaurs because fossils were unearthed there, and somehow paleontology became a big thing in the prefecture, and the dinosaur museum isn’t just for exhibitions but for research. This is one of the most important sites for paleontology in the world. Fukui uncovered bones of the Fukuiraptor and the Fukuisaurus, which is very cool because those are (were?) legit Japanese dinosaurs. I like dinosaurs to begin with, and I like learning about history and the environment, so this museum was very appealing to me. Also, everything on the exhibits was written in both Japanese and English, and there were audio guides as well (I rented them on my first trip (2013) but not my second (2015)). I also recommend this place if you have kids.

Both times I visited Fukui, I visited in the summer. I didn’t go to Ikeda the second time round. My first stop on my 2015 trip was straight from my Kumagaya home to this wonder of a temple, Eiheiji:

This place is said to be the birthplace of Zen Buddhism
My husband walking into the temple grounds
The inside. No filter!

I couldn’t get good pictures of the main temple building itself, but one thing that struck me was how simple and connected to nature this temple was. There was nothing ostentatious about it, and the fact that the main place of worship was hidden behind the trees made it all the more special. (This also explains why I couldn’t get good photos.) I strongly recommend this place if you like to check out Japanese temples.

Fukui is also famous for spectacles and sesame tofu, but I won’t touch on those because I wasn’t very into them when I was there XD Our 2015 trip was a lot more fun, I think. We went to all the places we didn’t hit up the last time round:

This was a theme park that actually wasn’t as lame as it looks in the picture! It’s called Shibamasa World.
This was the most exciting ride. I usually don’t like roller coasters or thrills but this was very tolerable.
This is me, being dorky at Tojinbo. The view is really pretty, but the cliffs are really steep, as shown below.
Kinda morbid, but apparently people also come here to end their lives :\
You can walk down to this area. (I didn’t.) The view is truly beautiful. Fukui is generally just beautiful.
This 2015 trip, I also booked a pottery lesson because Fukui is famous for Echizen (its old province name, like how ‘Edo’ is the old name for ‘Tokyo’, more on this later) ceramic
Randy hard at work at his beer mug for our friend Josh
The very kind oneesan who taught us how to make these mugs took this picture. This is the Fukui Pottery Village, by the way, where you can experience all these crafts. After we make these, professionals fire it up in the kiln, and we get the mugs in three months, delivered to our home by courier. (Cash-on-delivery)

But it wasn’t just full of new experiences. We also went back to Fukui for its cuisine:

This is a hamburger shop called Hamburgerland that tried to look like the diner in Pulp Fiction. We ended up really loving the food, so in 2015 we knew we had to visit it again. (lol it’s a surprising choice to visit Fukui again for, since people would think, “Why not Japanese food?” but hey, we love burgers. And a good burger isn’t easy to come by in the Japanese inaka!)
They also serve pancakes. This was macadamia cream, I think? It was hella good.
The burger I had. Cheeseburger, I believe.
Okay, now, so this. This is called Sauce Katsu, and is Fukui’s pride and joy. This is one of my absolute favourite Japanese dishes, and it isn’t common outside of Fukui. I don’t know if you can tell from this picture, but the meat is gloved in this fine, almost-mossy fried batter, not the bread crumb-y kind that you normally get with cutlets. It like biting into a tasty, slightly crunchy silk? I don’t have the right words. Sauce katsu is sold all around Japan, sure, but Fukui makes it differently. And better.

I love going to places like Fukui because they’re often passed over by tourists, so it’s a lot quieter, and a splendid way to take a real break, cut yourself off from the world. For Fukui, it’s relatively easy to move around the city via public transport, but I strongly recommend a car if you’re thinking of visiting.

Oh, and I said I’d talk a little about Echizen Province. Unfortunately, I’m tired after working on this post for the past hour, so you can read more about it here. There are apparently six famous areas for Japanese ceramics and this is one of them. You can find out who the others are here.

Links:

Ikeda-cho (Japanese page)

Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum (English page available)

Eiheiji

Tojinbo

Shibamasa World (English page available)

Echizen Pottery Village (Japanese page)

Hamburgerland (Japanese page, but easy to navigate)

No links for sauce katsu because anywhere you have it is great in Fukui :Db Just google when you’re there!

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