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Giants Roam Fukui at Prefectural Dinosaur Museum

Julian Ryall [Profile]

[2018.02.23]

Fukui Prefecture, on the Japan Sea coast, is home to Japan’s leading museum focused on dinosaurs. Some 80% of the dinosaur fossils discovered in Japan come from Fukui, and this prefectural facility has attracted national—and even global—attention since opening in 2000. With millions of satisfied visitors to date, the museum offers a full day’s worth of fun to dino-loving kids and adults alike.

At least three unique species of dinosaur have been discovered in Fukui Prefecture, on the northern coast of central Japan, making this the ideal place for the nation’s biggest museum dedicated to the massive creatures that once roamed the planet.

The museum is housed in a huge silver sphere, making it an unmissable landmark amid the paddy fields and hills of the prefecture. The interior exhibits are no less impressive.

Arranged over four floors, the museum cleverly uses animatronic dinosaurs—including a tyrannosaurus (T-rex) that is sufficiently realistic to make small children cling tightly to their parents—alongside static displays that show the skeletal remains of all the most famous dinosaurs. These are showcased in surroundings that re-create the environment in which they existed millions of years ago.

The T-rex is an obvious draw to visitors, with new arrivals greeted by a fearsome looking specimen that moves in a remarkably lifelike way. Other eye-catching discoveries in the Dinosaur World section include the horned head of a triceratops, the long-necked brachiosaurus, and the heavily armored ankylosaurus.

And while the skeletons are kept out of reach, visitors are encouraged to run their hands over scale replicas cast in metal to get a better sense of these majestic beasts.

The T-rex dominates the main display hall in the museum, which doubles as an internationally renowned research facility.

The dinosaur hall has 44 skeletons on display in all, including numerous examples of less well-known, but equally fascinating animals. The displays and their accompanying explanations provide insight into the biology and evolution of the “terrible lizards” from Earth’s past.

The museum’s Dinosaur World section features 44 complete skeletons, placed among the Dino Theater’s 200-inch screen, a diorama introducing Chinese dinosaur finds, and exhibits on the creatures of Japan and the rest of Asia.

Fukui: Japan’s Land of Dinosaurs

Of particular interest are the species that have been found within a short distance of the museum. Those discoveries include prehistoric crocodiles, turtles and plants—but it is the dinosaurs that are unique to Fukui that catch the imagination. The Fukuiraptor kitadaniensis was a carnivore that grew to more than 4 meters long and was apparently related to the more famous allosaurus.

The Fukuisaurus tetoriensis was a slightly larger herbivore. Meanwhile, the Fukuititan nipponensis, another herbivore that grew as large as 10 meters from snout to the tip of its tail, is the latest local addition to dinosaur knowledge, having only been discovered in 1989.

The Dinosaurs in Fukui area showcases fossils, reconstructed skeletons, and models of fukuisaurus and other locally discovered species.

Experts are also working on identifying yet another dinosaur that may turn out to be a world-first discovery, a small, feathered theropod.

A complete reconstructed skeleton of the carnivorous fukuisaurus stands above a miniature model of the creature as it looked when alive. Actual fossils are on display to the right.

Billions of Years of Natural History

Moving on from Dinosaur World, visitors are given an explanation of the history of the planet and how that relates to life. The Earth Sciences section examines rocks and the fossils that they sometimes contain, as well as the geological phenomena beneath our feet.

The Earth Sciences area presents the history and the ongoing processes of our living planet.

The next level of the museum focuses on the history of life and how the inhabitants of the planet evolved from microscopic life forms through simple seaborne organisms that became fish, followed by reptiles and land-dwelling mammals. Over eons of time, some branches of life became birds, while others gradually became human.

This area of the museum uses diorama displays to show the different life forms that were present during different historic periods, while the skeletons morph from dinosaurs to the far more recognizable fish and birds of the present age. Saber-tooth tigers become the big cats of today; woolly mammoths change into elephants.

The evolution of humans is equally astonishing, from small bipedal versions of mankind with limited mental capacity and a gait that was more reminiscent of apes to the tall, upright creature that populates the planet today.

Outside the museum, Dr. Dinosaur sits waiting for visitors to take commemorative photos with him. 

The museum is extremely child-friendly, including a section where youngsters can get hands-on with specimens in order to learn more about them. Visitors can also watch technicians carefully extracting dinosaur specimens from blocks of stone that have been excavated from the nearby dig sites.

Visitors are also able to tour the field station, where new samples are being found on a regular basis. At the Dinosaur Quarry, anyone with an interest in becoming a dinosaur hunter in the future is able to grab a chisel and mallet and, under supervision, excavate replica fossils.

From left: JR Fukui Station also gets into the dinosaur act with its murals; the futuristic exterior of the Dinosaur Museum; the museum’s spacious interior.

Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum

  • Address: Terao 51-11, Muroko, Katsuyama, Fukui Prefecture, 911-8601
  • Tel.: 0779-88-0001
  • Web: https://www.dinosaur.pref.fukui.jp/en/
  • Open: 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, every day of the week except the second and fourth Wednesday of every month; closed December 29 to January 2 for New Year holidays
  • Admission: ¥260 for primary and secondary school students, ¥410 for high school and college students, and ¥720 for adults; group rates and annual passes also available

(Originally written in English. Banner photo: An animatronic T-rex welcomes visitors to the museum.)

  • [2018.02.23]

Japan and Korea correspondent for London's Daily Telegraph. Completed a postgraduate course at the University of Central Lancashire. First arrived in Japan in 1992 and currently resides in Yokohama.

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