Fukui is a special place for dinosaurs: roughly 80% of all dinosaur fossils discovered nationwide have come from Fukui. These many discoveries include fossils that are unusually complete, and rare firsts for Japan: many species were discovered here, as well as Japan’s first fossilized footprints of a walking dinosaur, and first whole claw from a meat-eating dinosaur. In a sense, local history goes back not just centuries, but hundreds of millions of years.
Today, some 700,000 people visit Fukui’s dinosaur museum each year, and the prefecture has become a paradise for dinosaur lovers. Travelers arriving at Fukui Station are greeted by moving dinosaurs out front, and the prefecture’s mascot is a friendly green dinosaur named Juratic. There are dinosaur-themed restaurants and even hotel rooms to be found in Fukui, to round out a fun trip for dinosaur fans of all ages.
Why Is Fukui Famous for Dinosaurs?
Fukui’s importance in dinosaur research is clear from the names given to these creatures. Of the nine species of dinosaurs that have been discovered in Japan, six were found in Katsuyama: the Fukuisaurus, Fukuiraptor, Fukuititan, Fukuivenator, Koshisaurus katsuyama, and Fukuipteryx are all named for the place where they were discovered, dug up where they lived 120 million years ago.
However, Fukui’s fame for ancient fossils began relatively recently: in the 1980s, fossils from an ancient crocodile and teeth from meat-eating dinosaurs were found in Katsuyama. These discoveries led to full-scale digs from 1989 to 1999, which uncovered many more teeth, bones, and fossilized footprints.
A World-Class Dinosaur Museum
The Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum in Katsuyama is one of the largest museums in the world dedicated to dinosaurs, and likewise famous for its award-winning architecture. This museum’s signature silvery egg-shaped dome is designed to look half-buried in the ground—step inside, and the experience begins with an escalator ride down three floors, to the vast, 4,500-square-meter exhibition space. Over a thousand items are on display here, including 44 dinosaur skeletons and wall-sized fossilized footprints. There are also moving dinosaur dioramas and giant video screens, to give visitors a sense of the scale of these ancient animals. In addition to dinosaurs, the museum includes exhibits that focus on the history of life in general, and even the planet Earth itself.
For a closer look at the work that goes into finding dinosaur fossils, field station tours are available throughout most of the year, and a shuttle bus takes tour participants there from the museum. These two-hour guided tours show Japan’s largest dinosaur discovery site, where five new dinosaur species have been found, as well as a collection of real fossils unearthed there.
Unique Ways to Experience Dinosaurs Firsthand
Educational Fun for the Whole Family
The museum is located inside Katsuyama Dinosaur Forest Park, which combines lush greenery with a dinosaur theme. In addition to play equipment for kids and a walking trail lined with life-size dinosaurs, the park offers a unique hands-on experience for visitors of all ages: use a hammer and chisel to try to find real fossils. Staff members demonstrate how to split open the rocks, so anyone can try to make their own discovery.
When visitors find particularly valuable fossils from dinosaurs or other animals with bones, they become part of the museum’s permanent collection, to share with everyone. Park visitors have discovered Japan’s first fossil showing the surface of skin, and a mammal skeleton from the age of dinosaurs—the first of its kind found in Japan, and only the second one found anywhere in the world. On the other hand, when visitors discover other types of fossils, such as insects or plants, they get to take home their own one-of-a-kind, 120-million-year-old souvenir.
The Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum’s gift shop has an extensive lineup of dinosaur-themed souvenirs, including toys, everyday items such as dinosaur-shaped tea infusers, and even socks, neckties, and other apparel with dinosaur designs. The museum’s Dino Café serves fun dinosaur-inspired dishes like burgers on claw-shaped buns, as well as local favorites like Sauce Katsu-don rice bowls and Echizen Oroshi Soba noodles. Other nearby restaurants feature dinosaur-inspired items, too: Saurus Kitchen, at Katsuyama Dinosaur Forest Park, offers a menu with “dinosaur fang” pork cutlets, and Japanese-style curry served with a boiled egg, reminiscent of the museum itself.
The dinosaur theme even extends to accommodations. The Katsuyama New Hotel, located near Skijam Katsuyama, offers special guest rooms featuring dinosaur-themed wallpaper and ceiling decorations, as well as plush seating shaped like a dinosaur tail or a giant dinosaur foot. These rooms include two beds and a treehouse-style loft with a futon, for a fun overnight stay for dinosaur lovers—kids and adults alike.