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Fukui Prefecture is located on the Sea of Japan in central Honshū and bounded by Ishikawa Prefecture on the north, Gifu Prefecture on the east, Shiga and Kyōto prefectures on the south, and the Sea of Japan on the west. It is geographically divided into the northern districts, corresponding to the southern part of the former province of Echizen (越前国 Echizen-no-kuni), and the southern districts, formerly Wakasa (若狭国 Wakasa-no-kuni).

The northern district consists mostly of mountain ranges, with coastal plains and river valleys, and includes most of the land area and population. The southern part is largely the rocky coastline of Wakasa Bay, separated from Kyōto and Shiga by the Nosaka mountain range (野坂山地). The climate is typical for the Sea of Japan: humid, cloudy, with heavy precipitation, particularly in the north.

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The cliffs of Tōjinbō (東尋坊)

History:

Due to its strategic location between the capital Kyōto and the Sea of Japan, Echizen had always been a province of great importance. It was a centre of washi paper production and ceramics. In the early Muromachi Period, the province was under the direct control of the ruling Ashikaga clan. Later, the Shiba clan served as shugo (military governors) but were defeated by the Asakura clan in the 1470s. The Asakura managed to get to terms with the Ikkō-ikki and brought a century of relative peace to the region. In 1570, Oda Nobunaga destroyed the Asakura and divided Echizen between his generals. Maeda Toshiie received the northern part which would later become Kaga Domain, Shibata Katsuie (柴田勝家, 1522-1583) was given the southern region. In 1575, he built Kitanoshō Castle and developed a castle town that would later become Fukui City. After the Battle of Sekigahara, Tokugawa Ieyasu awarded Echizen to his second son Yūki Hideyasu (結城秀康, 1574-1607), the first daimyō of Fukui Domain, who, in 1604, was granted permission to use the family name of Matsudaira. The Yūki-Matsudaira ruled parts of Fukui until the end of the Tokugawa shogunate (large chunks of the domain were split up into smaller domains or turned into tenryō [天領], territory that was directly under the shogunate's control).

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Maruoka Castle in Sakai

Wakasa was occupied by the Asakura family when the ruling Takeda clan and the kanrei (shogunal deputies) from the Hosokawa family were annihilated in the course of a succession conflict that eventually resulted to the outbreak of the Ōnin War (1467-77). The Asakura were swept away by Nobunaga, and in the early 17th century the region came under the rule of the Sakai clan, the daimyō of Obama Domain.

Although both, the Matsudaira and the Sakai, were fudai daimyō (譜代大名), hereditary vassals of the Tokugawa, they switched to the victorious imperial side in the Boshin War. In 1871, Fukui Domain became Fukui Prefecture. Obama Domain was first integrated into Tsuruga Prefecture, then in 1876 became part of Shiga Prefecture, and was finally merged into Fukui Prefecture in 1881. The city of Fukui was ravaged twice, once on the night of July 12, 1945, when 133 B-29 bombers obliterated most of the city with incendiary bombs and in 1948 by a magnitude 7.2 earthquake.

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Eihei-ji (永平寺) temple

Economy:

The agricultural sector still plays a significant role in Fukui; rice is the principal crop. Textile factories developed in the Meiji Period are no longer a dominant industry, the remaining textile production specialises in synthetic fibres. The city of Sabae is one of the largest manufacturing centres of eyeglass frames in Japan, producing 90% of Japan's domestically-made glasses.

Fukui is of vital importance to the nuclear industry. Two nuclear power plants are located along the Sea of Japan: the Ōi Nuclear Power Plant in the city of Ōi and the Mihama Nuclear Power Plant, both managed by the Kansai Electric Power Company. The reactors No. 1 and 2 in Ōi will be decommissioned due to their age, the reactors No. 3 and 4 were restarted in March and May 2018 after they had been taken offline in September 2013. Mihama's reactors No. 1 and 2 were decommissioned in 2015, the life of reactor No. 3 has been extended to 2036. There is a strong local opposition against keeping the three remaining nuclear reactors online.

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Thatched house in Natashō (名田庄); photo credit: Petr Meissner / CC BY

Fukui Prefecture Facts:
  • Area: 4,190.49 square kilometres
  • Population: 774,407 inhabitants (April 2018)
  • Population density: 185 inhabitants per square kilometre

Sights of Fukui:
  • Tōjinbō (東尋坊): a scenic spot of rugged cliffs in the city of Sakai along the Sea of Japan; the pentagonal and hexagonal columns stretch over one kilometre of coastline and are part of the Echizen-Kaga Kaigan Quasi-National Park (越前加賀海岸国定公園 Echizen-Kaga Kaigan Kokutei Kōen). The 55-metre tall Tōjinbō Tower allows for a panoramic view over the northern Echizen coast. Close to Tōjinbō lies the Echizen Bamboo Doll Village where visitors can learn how to create bamboo dolls and enjoy craftsmanship.
  • Maruoka Castle (丸岡城 Maruoka-jō) was constructed by Shibata Katsuie in 1576 and is one of only twelve castles throughout Japan with their original wooden donjon. It is located in the Maruoka District of Sakai City.
  • Eihei-ji (永平寺): one of the two main temples of the Sōtō school of Zen Buddhism (the other one being Sōji-ji (總持寺) in Yokohama). The temple was founded in the 13th century by Dōgen Zenji (道元禅師,1200-1253) and is a monastery where at any time some 200 monks are being trained. The whole temple complex consists of 70 buildings, some of which are open to visitors.
  • Ōno Castle (大野城 Ōno-jō): a small castle town that grew around Ōno Castle built in 1575 by Kanamori Nagachika (金森長近, 1524-1608); in the Edo Period (1603-1867), Ōno Domain was ruled by the Matsudaira and the Doi families. The donjon housing a history museum has been reconstructed in 1968; some ramparts and parts of the original jōkamachi (城下町, "castle town") have been preserved.
  • Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum (福井県立恐竜博物館 Fukui Ken-Ritsu Kyōryū Hakubutsukan), one of the foremost dinosaur museums in Asia, exhibits some specimens on geology and palaeontology, such as dinosaurs, invertebrate fossils, minerals, and rocks. The area around Katsuyama is part of the 'Dinosaur Valley Fukui Katsuyama Geopark' (恐竜渓谷ふくい勝山ジオパーク), lots of local dinosaur specimen have been found in the region (named fukuiraptors and fukuisaurus). The field station of the museum can be visited upon reservation.
  • Hakusan National Park (白山国立公園 Hakusan Kokuritsu Kōen) stretches across Fukui, Gifu, Ishikawa, and Toyama prefectures and has been designated a UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Reserve. Mount Haku (白山 Haku-san, "White Mountain") is a dormant volcano that is 2,702 metres tall. The park is known for its unique fauna and flora as well as its dinosaur fossils. There are several hiking paths and mountain trails.
  • Fukui City (福井市): sights to see include the grounds of the Fukui Castle (福井城) ruins which now house the prefectural office; Yokokan Garden (養浩館庭園), a traditional Japanese garden that once belonged to the Matsudaira family; the Ichijodani Historic Site (一乗谷朝倉氏遺跡) with the Ichijodani Asakura Family Museum (一乗谷朝倉氏遺跡資料館), and the Fukui Prefecture Fine Arts Museum.
  • Obama City (小浜市): famous for its countless temples and the name it shares with the former US president Barack Obama. The main sights are the ruins of Obama Castle which burned down in 1871, and Myotsuji Temple (明通寺), a temple of the Shingon sect of Buddhism dating back to the 9th century.
  • Tsuruga City (敦賀市): important port city at the Sea of Japan; local sights include Kanegasaki Shrine (金崎宮 Kanegasaki-gū), Kehi Shrine (氣比神宮 Kehi jingū), the Tsuruga Red Brick Warehouse (敦賀赤レンガ倉庫 Tsuruga Aka-Renga Sōkō), the Kanegasaki Castle site, and the Port of Humanity Tsuruga Museum (人道の港 敦賀ムゼウム) that commemorates Sugihara Chiune, the Japanese consul in Lithuania who saved the lives of over 5,500 Jewish refugees in World War II.
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Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum (photo credit: kennejima / CC BY)

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Statue of Barack Obama in Obama (photo credit: sprklg / CC BY)

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