Tsuruga, Past and Present

Tsuruga, Past and Present

Recommended Length: 2 Days

The charming port town of Tsuruga in central Fukui Prefecture has a beautiful coastline, ancient temples, and a rich history. It's easily accessible from Tokyo, Kanazawa, and Kyoto via the Hokuriku Shinkansen or the JR Thunderbird Limited Express.


Day 1: Nature and spirituality in Tsuruga

Start your journey at the 1,300-year-old Kehi Jingu Shrine, one of the most historically important shrines in the Hokuriku region. It was built by Imperial decree in 702 and enshrines several deities associated with fishing, maritime safety, and other aspects of local life.

During the Second World War, the shrine was mostly destroyed save for the striking red torii gate, first erected in 1645. At 11 meters, it is one of the largest wooden torii in Japan. Inside the grounds is the Chomeisui Spring, a sacred spring that is said to have started flowing during the construction of the shrine. Drinking the water is believed to grant longevity, and there are ladles next to the turtle-shaped font.

Kehi no Matsubara is an expansive pine tree grove on the bay that was once part of Kehi Jingu Shrine. Thousands of trees stretch more than a kilometer along the white sand beach, and a walking trail allows you to enjoy the tranquil atmosphere and beautiful views of the bay. In the eighth century, there was a guesthouse for foreign emissaries at this bayside site. Emissaries from the ancient Korean-Chinese state of Balhae arrived on the shores of Tsuruga on journeys to the capital in Nara and later Kyoto.

The seafood in Tsuruga comes straight from the ports, and Nihonkai Sakanamachi is filled with stalls selling fresh catches of Echizen crab, Wakasa flounder, shrimp, and other regional delicacies. You can also eat freshly grilled oysters and scallops, kaisendon seafood bowls, takoyaki octopus balls, and other delectable meals.

Depending on the season, you might take an excursion to Mizushima, an uninhabited 500-meter-long island in Tsuruga Bay. You can swim and snorkel in the shallow emerald waters or simply relax on its white sand beaches. A ferry provides access between the Irohama area of Tsuruga and Mizushima in July and August, with service beginning at 9:00 am and ending in mid-afternoon.

Tsuruga offers a range of accommodations, from modern hotels to traditional ryokan. Consider staying on the coast for pleasant views of the bay, or around JR Tsuruga Station for easy access to shops and restaurants.


Day 2: History and culture around town

During the Meiji period (1868–1912), Tsuruga became an even more prominent trade and transport hub between Japan and continental Asia, as well as Europe via Vladivostok.

Tsuruga’s history as a vibrant port and railway hub can be experienced in a collection of museums and historical sites near the port. The iconic Red Brick Warehouse, built as an oil storage facility in 1905, was renovated and opened to the public in 2015. Its main exhibition is a massive diorama of Tsuruga’s old cityscape, with model trains that visitors can operate. The nearby Port of Humanity Tsuruga Museum offers an insight into the city’s role as the sole port in Japan that welcomed Polish orphans fleeing from the unrest that followed the Russian Revolution in the 1920s, as well as Jewish refugees in the 1940s.

You can learn about Tsuruga’s involvement in the establishment of Japan’s first railways during the nineteenth century at the Tsuruga Railway Museum. The free museum has a collection of artifacts related to rail history, including tracks, signals, and model trains. The nearby Tsuruga Municipal Museum also has an exhibition about Tsuruga’s rail and sea transport, in addition to artworks and relics from as far back as the Yayoi period (300 BCE–300 CE).

Linking past and future is Tsuruga Symbol Road between Tsuruga Station and Kehi Jingu Shrine. It features nearly thirty bronze statues of characters from Leiji Matsumoto’s popular 1970s sci-fi series, Galaxy Express 999 and Space Battleship Yamato, both of which share themes of exploration and progress. They were installed along this route in 1999 to commemorate the centennial of Tsuruga Port. The statues reflect Tsuruga’s past and aspirations to develop further as a port and rail city of science and technology.

The Tsuruga Polt Square “otta” shopping complex next to Tsuruga Station is an ideal stop for souvenir shopping before you leave the city. It has stores selling regional products, from fine crafts to dried seafood, as well as some trendy eateries and a fancy bookstore.

Onward Travels

Tsuruga’s central location makes it a convenient transit point for other cities in the prefecture like Obama, Wakasa, Echizen, and Fukui, and destinations in Ishikawa and Kyoto Prefectures. To the south is Shiga Prefecture, known for Lake Biwa, the largest lake in Japan.