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