Unforgettable Japan Part 2: Fukui

I am sure my son is not the only dino crazy three and a half-year old. It is the same with most of my friends’ sons. A few of them even had dinosaur themed birthday parties!

When my son told me he wanted to see dinosaur fossils, I honestly didn’t think I would end up in Japan. More than fifteen years ago, I saw some fossils in a Museum of Natural History in the UK but had no idea where is the best place to see them now. However, while researching the internet for his sake, I stumbled upon the Fukui Prefecture Dinosaur Museum.

Besides being the only dedicated dinosaur museum in all of Japan, this museum is one of the “World’s Three Great Dinosaur Museums” along with the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Canada and the Zigong Dinosaur Museum in China.

So if your kids want to learn more about pre-historical creatures and you are visiting Kansai. Do not miss this museum. It might be off the beaten track but it is worth the trip. Besides a TV crew filming there and a handful of other visitors, my family basically had the museum all to ourselves. I am only posting a few photos here but at the museum you get to see at least 20 to 30 fossils.

I can’t recommend this museum enough. This could very well be THE place to see that many dinosaur fossils and even those of pre-historic creatures such as the mammoth.

Most information are available in Japanese and English. Digital animation and robotic dinosaurs were extremely well presented and kept visitors amazed. My kids loved them!

Fukui city is around two and a half hours train ride from Osaka or Kyoto. It is approximately 3 hours from Kansai International Airport. Katsuyama, where the museum is located, is another hour from Fukui city.

The dinosaur museum is in the shape of a dinosaur egg at the foot of the Japanese alps. We were at Katsuyama on 13 April and the sakura trees were in full bloom! In Kansai, Sakura season had already ended but in Fukui and Katsuyama, spring had just began.

It wasn’t easy looking for accommodation in Fukui. Most of its hotels didn’t have an English site. It is still a place with few foreign tourists. I had to email one of the hotels (Hotel Riverge Akebono) which had a partial English site to enquire and fortunately I received a reply after a few days. We managed to reserve a Japanese styled room. When traveling with children it is always better to reserve the room via email as we managed to get a much better rate than offered by the internet system which only asked for the total number of people regardless of age.

While majority of the people we met in Fukui didn’t speak English, they were one of the friendliest and most helpful. We arrived too early to check into the hotel but when the manager saw us with an infant, he immediately asked the reception to contact the cleaning team so that we could have the room earlier. We arrived at 1.30pm and were handed the room keys at 2pm instead of 3pm which was great. The river just behind the hotel was lined with beautiful Sakura trees.

Being a rural town, the local train had many unmanned stations. To facilitate ticketing, there is a train ticketing lady on every train. Besides collecting payment and assisting senior citizens to their seats, these ladies are extremely warm and helpful. On discovering that we were tourists visiting the dinosaur museum, the lady not only gave us a brochure of the museum but also the train and bus schedule to and from the museum! They are the true ambassadors of tourism.

The Tojinbo, a rugged cliff formation by the sea is situated on the Echizen coast, 45 minutes on a local train from Fukui city. You can tell the ticketing office at the train station that you are going to Tojinbo and they will provide the train and bus schedule.

The scenery is nice, the waves amazing, the wind super strong and you can get a taste of Echizen crabs and seafood at the many eateries around Tojinbo. We found that the nearer the cliff, the more expensive they seem to be.  I had a delicious BBQ Squid but didn’t dare try the creature in the shell, whatever it is. My prince enjoyed a yummy seafood fried rice.

After lunch, I would recommend taking the same bus you alighted from to the Echizen Matsushima Aquarium since you are in the vicinity. It is a pretty old aquarium and not very impressive with the exception of these.

A glass tank full of tropical fish which you can walk on or even zzz on:) Remember to remove your footwear before going down the stairs.

The experience is simply tranquil and relaxing! It’s dreamland material:) Roll over and on one side you can admire the sharks, rays and hammerheads in the next tank.

The aquarium also had the friendliest dolphins that swam over and greeted my prince thrice. Off course, he was super thrilled!

And a room full of octopus, tiny sharks and fishes you can touch, if you dare…

How can I end off without mentioning the word fabric. If you are walking from the hotel to the train station (20 minutes walk), there is a fabric & craft store near Seibu (in front of JR Fukui station) but I didn’t get a chance to visit due to the rain. Nonetheless, the fabric store in Osaka had a lot more selection and there were many more items I wanted to buy on the trip back to Kansai now that the baby food have been consumed and I have more room in my luggage:)

Unforgettable Japan Part 1: Osaka

My three and a half-year old prince is totally hooked on the most enormous and fearsome creatures. He is especially nuts about dinosaurs and sharks. And to him the bigger they are, the better! With him around, even my one year old princess can recognize these creatures and utter the words dinosaur and shark. Last month, our family of four visited Japan. Not only did we meet the friendly whale sharks, had a Jaws Adventure, laid above a fish tank while admiring sharks swimming next to us, we came face to face with dinosaurs and prehistoric fossils!

Osaka

Japan is a great place to travel with kids. If you stay in a minshuku or ryokan, you get to sleep on a futon mattress on the tatami floor. This means you do not need to get a connecting room for kids (which can be costly) and absolutely no worries of them falling off the bed in the middle of the night.

Sweet Dreams

Unlike a hotel, kids usually pay a lower rate when staying in ryokans and for a kid or infant sharing a futon with a parent, there is usually no charge (though some ryokans charge a small fee). Travel on Japan Rail is also free for kids under the age of six!

We stayed at a minshuku 5 minutes away from the Osakako Station. For a big city in Japan, the Osakako area is considered a quiet area to stay. It is also convenient as the Kansai Airport Limo stops at the Tenpozan at Osakako. What’s at the Tenpozan? The enormous tanks of the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan, IMAX, Suntory Museum, numerous F&B outlets and the Tenpozan Ferris Wheel.

I highly recommend the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan.

An encounter with the whale sharks (there were two of them!) is an awesome experience and simply unforgettable!

Knowing that he was going to meet these enormous creatures, my prince happily packed his toy whale shark ‘Spot’ so that it could meet its mummy and daddy at the aquarium!  He still talks about them on a regular basis!

While  the two whale sharks are the stars of the Kaiyukan, kids will also love the other exhibits such as dolphins, rays, seals, penguins, crabs, otters, porpoises and not forgetting the magnificent jellyfishes.

Giant Crabs

Magnificent Jellyfishes…


More Jellyfishes…

Hammerhead shark

There is even an area to the front of tanks set aside for young children and people with disability to see the creatures in the enclosure easily.

Happy Feet!

Rays

Nicely tugged in a corner behind the Tenpozan food court is an area housing small but famous restaurants which used to exist in a certain district of Osaka. I highly recommend that you try the omurice (butter rice served in an omelette) with katsu (deep-fried pork) and brown sauce. It was yummy and kids would love it! Food choices at Tenpozan are nothing short of the abundant!

My princess using her toy excavator on my omurice! Oishi!

In the evening, bring the kids for a ride on the Tenpozan Ferris Wheel! The view of the harbour,  Universal Studios Japan in the bay opposite and bridges is breathtaking!

Universal Studios Japan is another fun stop for kids and the kid in us!

With my prince and princess’ interest in sharks, how could we miss the Jaws ride. Kids enjoyed the ride while parents had fun too! I am not sure if there is an age limit for this ride as my princess was only one.

Which little girl can resist the charm of Hello Kitty?

My princess was entertained by her favourite ‘Kitty’ and Sesame Street characters. She kept repeating ‘Elmo! Elmo!’ that I chased after the bus till it entered a private zone! Which bus? Here it is:)

My husband and prince enjoyed the Spiderman amusement ride and my son loved the shop in Jurassic Park! Here’s his treat of the day, a Spinosaurus- the biggest land predator ever!

The famous covered shopping street in Osaka Namba area is a popular tourist hunt.

For any crafter, I reckon that this is the most convenient place to visit for fabric shopping. Afterall, it combines sightseeing and fabric shopping hence less room for husbands to nag:) It is also a stone’s throw from Den Den Town where you get to check out the latest electronic gadgets. Best of all, it is a covered shopping street so your shopping experience is less likely to be affected by weather conditions.

Even though there is only one fabric store at Ebisibashi, The Sew Convert is certain that you will find something you’d love especially if you are a Japanese fabric fan. I did and I only managed to browse through level one of Toraya. If you see any item you like, tell the helpful store attendants how many meters you’d like to buy. They will send instructions upstairs through some air pipe system for your fabric to be cut and give you a receipt. Wait for around 5 minutes and your fabric should be at the cashier.

Don’t miss the remnants section at the side of the store. Most of these are in one meter rolls. Lots of lovely fabric selling at a fraction of the price! Oh..and remember to bring cash as I didn’t see any credit card service at the cashier!

Next Sat: Unforgettable Japan Part 2: Fukui