Echizen, Ancient Artisanal Center

Echizen, Ancient Artisanal Center

Recommended Length: 2 Days

Echizen, in northern Fukui Prefecture, is the region’s cultural center. It flourished thanks to its abundance of natural resources and relative proximity to the ancient capitals of Nara and later Kyoto. From pottery and paper to blades and lacquerware, explore Echizen’s traditional crafts through hands-on experiences on this immersive two-day trip.

The city of Echizen is easy to reach from Kyoto or Kanazawa on JR Thunderbird Limited Express (Kyoto) and Hokuriku Shinkansen (Kanazawa) services. There is a range of accommodations in Echizen, from modern hotels, traditional ryokans, and seaside villas.


Day 1: Legendary paper and regal lacquer

Echizen washi is a type of traditional Japanese paper that dates back 1,500 years. Legends tell of a goddess teaching the townspeople of the Goka District how to make washi, taking pity on them for their lack of viable land for rice farming. Papermaking sustained the community, and the craft grew. Rather than making paper only in winter in between farming as was once typical in Japan, the papermakers of Echizen devoted the entire year to the craft. Over time, Echizen became one of the largest handmade paper-producing regions in Japan. There are over 60 paper mills operating in the area today.

The Goka District remains the center of washi production and is home to Echizen Washi Village. It is an area with souvenir shops, eateries, and washi studios, where you can immerse yourself in Echizen washi culture or simply stroll around and take in the ambiance of the rustic Goka District.

Near the entrance to the Village is the History, Paper & Culture Museum with exhibitions about the origin and history of Echizen washi. Varieties of washi from the paper mills of Echizen are on display along with artworks and installations.

The Udatsu Craft Center is a reconstructed papermaker’s house first built in 1748. Observe craftspeople making washi, from processing the pulp to drying the sheets, using traditional tools and methods. The same artisans also lead washi-making workshops. The nearby Papyrus House offers easy 20-minute courses to decorate paper with colored dye and pressed flowers.

A little north from the Goko District, Kawada Village is said to have the longest tradition of lacquerware in Japan. According to legend, this started 1,500 years ago when Emperor Keitai (d. 531), became a patron of the craft after a local lacquerer repaired his crown.

Echizen Lacquerware Hall in Kawada Village includes a museum explaining the history and manufacturing process of lacquerware; a craft studio where craftspeople host wood carving, painting, and decoration demonstrations; and a store where you can buy beautiful local lacquerwork. There are also workshops where you can lacquer a wooden bowl or saucer, or decorate a pre-lacquered work by painting designs or sprinkling metal and colored powder onto it.


Day 2: Sword-like knives, ancient pottery, and soba noodles

Echizen is also known for its blades. The story began some 700 years ago when a swordsmith from Kyoto helped local farmers forge sharper sickles using sword-making techniques. Since then, Echizen blades have been renowned for their high quality and are now a globally recognized brand.

There are facilities in Echizen where you can delve further into this world. To the south of the city is Takefu Knife Village, a shared working space where multiple companies use the facilities to craft and sell their wares. The grounds can be toured to see the craftspeople at work, and there are workshops in knife making and knife sharpening. To the west, on the other side of Echizen is Hamono no Sato that also offers factory tours and workshops. Nearby, you can buy Ryusen knives which combine traditional techniques and contemporary design.

Further west of the city, is the Echizen Pottery Village where you can discover another important regional craft. Echizen pottery was developed around the end of the Heian period (794–1192), and is known for its durability and dark reddish-brown color, the result of iron-rich clay.

Learn more at the Fukui Prefectural Pottery Museum and see ceramic sculptures on display at the Ceramic Arts Center. There are also a few art pieces installed around the central park of the Pottery Village, including a monument by Taro Okamoto. The Echizen Pottery School hosts a variety of morning and afternoon classes open to the general public, where you can make pottery or decorate pre-made pieces. There are also cafes, lodgings, and shops on the premises of the Pottery Village.

Soba noodles are one of Echizen’s gastronomic cultural assets. Buckwheat, the source of soba, was introduced in the region in the Warring States Period (1467–1568) during a time of food scarcity. Echizen Soba Village, in the center of the city, is home to the largest soba factory in Japan and produces around 50,000 meals’ worth per day. Factory tours are offered for free and there are soba-making workshops available for all ages. Try the local favorite, Oroshi soba, a dish of cold soba topped with vegetables and served with a dashi broth.

Onward Travels

Continue your craft journey south to Tsuruga to Kami-Warabe Museum, a traditional Japanese paper craft museum, with paper doll dioramas depicting scenes of daily life from the 1930s. Further south in Obama, you can visit the Wakasa Chopstick Museum to learn about traditional lacquered chopsticks and even try making your own.