Japan’s Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum

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Godzilla this ain’t. This is the real deal.

fukui museum

Okay, guys. I’m honestly going to geek out hardcore with this post, because it deals with two things I love: Japan, and fossils.

Specifically, this post waxes philosophical about dinosaur fossils in Japan.

Dinosaurs in Japan? Heck yes!

Japan is chock full of dinosaur specimens, and one rural museum pulls out all the stops to display the country’s latest research. I knew as soon as I learned that this museum existed that I would find a way there someday. As it turns out, two friends of mine, Lisa and Paul Benson, had been spending the better part of two years teaching  English as a Second Language in the countryside of Japan through the JET Program; so, in 2008, my partner-in-crime David Freedman and I decided to pay them a visit.

Fukui Prefecture, situated on the west coast and along the Sea of Japan, is known for its rice fields, its beautiful mountain towns, and for fugu, the infamous pufferfish sushi that can be deadly if it isn’t prepared properly. (I chickened out on the fugu, even though Fukui is reportedly the safest and best place in the world to try the stuff!)

Fukui is also home to a world class dinosaur museum, one of the top science museums in Japan, and a fantastic place to visit. It’s a three hour drive from the major city of Osaka, and you get to tour the incredibly highways and byways of Japan, away from the bustling cities and their endless glow.

Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum

As you drive along the cliff-lined rice fields of Fukui prefecture, the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum suddenly appears around a bend, its shiny silver dome nestled against the rocky formations.

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Before you even enter the museum, the parking lot gives you a glimpse of the artistic wizardry of local artists who were inspired by the dinosaur fossils in their home prefecture of Fukui.

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pterosaur sculpture

 

Much to the delight (or terror) of visiting children, there is a unique slide that deposits fun seekers into the gaping maw of a model Tyrannosaurus rex.

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Inside, the museum takes you through a geologic journey through time, inviting you to walk along the wall mounted slabs of gorgeous tan and cream sandstone and limestone, a smattering of fossil footprints, invertebrates, and other specimens greeting you before you enter the main dinosaur hall.

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Dinosaur World

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The variety and diversity of specimens, both replica and composite–that is, made partially with actual bone–is really staggering inside the main hall at the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum. Titled “Dinosaur World”, the scale of its ecological displays really gives you a sense of the myriad array of fossil ecosystems and animal interactions from across the Age of Dinosaurs, the Mesozoic Era.

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A school of fish that died en masse, preserved for all time.
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Xiphactinus, an enormous, carnivorous fish from the Late Cretaceous–the end of the Age of Dinosaurs.
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A marvelous specimen of Tyrannosaurus rex from the Western United States.
This replica of the dinosaur Sinosauropteryx is famous for its feather impressions. The original was found in China.
This replica of the dinosaur Sinosauropteryx is famous for its feather impressions. The original was found in China.
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Oh my gosh. A replica of one of the most famous deadly duels in fossil history: A Protoceratops fighting a Velociraptor to the death. The original specimen is from Mongolia. The foot of the Velociraptor is lodged in the herbivorous Protoceratops’s gut cavity, and the Protoceratops is biting the Velociraptor’s arm. The animals are thought to have died in a freak sandstorm, mid-battle.
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A replica of a Oviraptor skeleton. This beaked, carnivorous dinosaur from China and Mongolia was found preserved, sitting on a nest of its eggs, protecting the eggs with outstretched arms–just like modern birds.
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Allosaurus fragilis, from the Jurassic Period.
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The partially mummified body of a duck-billed dinosaur.

 

Fukuiraptor, meet Fukuisaurus. Guess where they came from?

Not only is the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum a great place to see fossil displays, especially dinosaurs, from around the globe; it is also home to several native Japanese dinosaur specimens, some of which were excavated within mere miles of the museum, in the Lower Cretaceous rocks that are exposed in the local cliffs. Given that age, these dinosaurs were from the earlier part of the Cretaceous period,

 

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Fukuiraptor kitadensis, a carnivore from Fukui prefecture.

 

Fukuisaurus, an ornithopod herbivore from Fukui prefecture.
Fukuisaurus, an ornithopod herbivore from Fukui prefecture.

Not just dinosaurs at the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum

Some of the wildest specimens at the Fukui museum include mammals of all shapes and sizes. One particular favorite is Archaeotherium, the beastly hell pig (or terminator pig, or demon hog, pick your flavor!) that sported gnarly fangs, ate meat with a side salad of roughage, and roamed ancient Wyoming between 25 and 38 million years ago. This Eocene-aged creature was not a true pig, but a distant cousin in the entelodont family. In spite of the piggy appearance, it was a top predator in its day.

The bizarre and creepy "demon hog", Archaeotherium, from after the Age of Dinosaurs.
The bizarre and creepy “demon hog”, Archaeotherium, which lived long after the Age of Dinosaurs.

The Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum is a fantastic place to visit, and at a short distance from major Japanese cities, it’s one of many reasons to escape the urban meccas of Japan and visit the lush and beautiful countryside.

Have you visited Japan? What strikes you most about science museums? What do you want to see when you visit a museum of science? Let us know in the comments below!

Weekend Wanderlust, hosted by Outbound Adventurer

 

 


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  • Oh wow! Just, wow! I’ve been to Japan many times but have never heard of this! I am definitely adding this to the top of my list for my next trip!! Love the pictures and a huge fan of your blog, keep up the amazing work!!

    • Thanks, Michael! We’re a huge fan of your blog, as well! This museum is just pure awesomeness. We should keep in touch about Japan and all it has to offer!

  • I guess Fukui gets added to the ever growing list for a future trip Japan. For a small country it has some much to see, not sure I’ll ever exhaust my wish list no matter how many times we go.

    • I know, isn’t Japan such a fantastic place? Can’t wait to return! Thanks for reading 🙂