Whether it's a festival, a sightseeing spot, or a speciality dish, many prefectures have one thing that sets them apart from the rest. Fukui, an often forgotten gem in the Hokuriku region, is famous for something especially unique: dinosaurs. The largest dinosaur excavation site in Japan is in the town of Katsuyama, and many remains have been found there. It's a fact Katsuyama and Fukui as a whole are quite proud of. There's no shortage of dinosaurs in the area, from the signs welcoming you into the town to the giant dinosaurs that greet you from the road up to the museum. There are even animatronic dinosaurs outside Fukui station, and a dinosaur in a lab coat waiting for you right inside the station. The Fukui excavation sites are not just important in Japan, but worldwide; Katsuyama is noteworthy because since 1989, five dinosaur species have been discovered there: the Fukuiraptor, the Fukuisaurus, the Fukuititan, the Fukuivenator, and the Koshisaurus.
If you want to learn more about dinosaurs, you can head to the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum. The museum is considered one of the top three dinosaur museums in the world, and it is one of the largest. Despite growing up going to natural history museums, the scale was like nothing I had seen before, and you can easily spend half a day here. There are over 40 complete skeletons on display as well as partial skeletons and replicas. It's a great place to not only see dinosaur bones but to learn more about them. One of the first sections as you enter is an excellent series of displays on the lifestyle and biology of dinosaurs both in English and Japanese. There are models showing their growth as well as displays on their nesting and breeding habits, complete with cute baby dinosaurs. You can compare different skulls to learn about how scientists have determined their diet and feeding habits through their jaws. You can hear what they believe some dinosaurs sounded like and learn about how those sounds are produced. You can see footprints and feet bones, and read about how dinosaurs moved. In short, everything you have every wanted to know about dinosaurs is explained in this museum. To make things more exciting, there are scale dioramas of various dinosaurs in their natural habitat as well as animatronic ones that move and roar. The most impressive of these is the giant T-Rex that greets you as you enter the dinosaur hall, which is awe inspiring even as an adult. Even more unique is the animatronic Fukuiraptor, which you are unlikely to find anywhere else.
Of course the real highlight is the skeletons themselves, and I was astounded by the variety and number. There were far more than I could have ever imagined, and it was almost overwhelming; fortunately the displays are just so impressive that I was mostly just delighted and giddy with excitement. Even as an adult, seeing the massive remains of dinosaurs towering above you is magical, especially when you are surrounded by so many. Each is accompanied by a sign that introduces the dinosaur, and many also have small models that show what the dinosaur really looked like, an especially helpful touch. The museum also chronicles the history of paleontology in Japan, and you can see real skeletons of dinosaurs discovered in Fukui in a section devoted to dinosaurs in Asia. I found this particularly fascinating as I had never even heard of dinosaurs like the Fukuiraptor or Fukuisaurus so it was great to be able to learn more about them.
If that's not enough, there is also a hands-on section where you can touch real fossils. In the Dino Lab, a T-Rex skeleton stands in the center and you can observe it from all angles and heights or test your knowledge with the surrounding quiz boxes. If you want to see the pros at work, you can watch scientists clean fossils that have been brought here from the nearby excavation site. There is also a gallery with various dinosaur related art. One particularly fun inclusion are the original sculptures that were used as models for the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. Fans of the film should also keep at eye out for the Crichtonsaurus, a dinosaur found in China and was named after the Jurassic Park author, Michael Crichton. The museum also functions as a natural history museum, and you can also find skeletons of mammals like the mammoth and sabertooth tiger, whales and other sea creatures, and early primates in the History of Life section. Here you can also learn about evolution and ancient plant life, and there is also a fascination section on the relationship between dinosaurs and birds. The Earth Science exhibit includes some beautiful gemstones and minerals and explanations on meteorites, volcanos, and earthquakes. Of course no museum is complete without a gift shop or two, and you can also find a cafe where you can find some dinosaur themed food and desserts.
The museums remains one of the best museums I've been to in my life, and anyone with even a passing interest in dinosaurs is sure to be amazed. Stepping into the museum, I instantly felt like a kid again, a feeling that stayed with me over the entire visit. If you're anywhere near Fukui or the Hokuriku region, the museum is not to be missed. The museum is open from 9-5 and costs 770 yen. It's about 45 minutes from Fukui station by car, and parking is free. You can also take a twenty minute bus from Katsuyama station (54 minutes, 770 yen from Fukui) to Kyoryu Hakubutsukan Mae.