Arts & Crafts in Fukui, Japan

Fukui prefecture is full of little known crafts, scenic nature spots, historical sites and regional delicacies. While much quieter than some of the more well-known tourist spots like Kyoto and Osaka, Fukui has a lot to offer in the way of a unique, genuine Japanese experience. One major draw is the number of crafts and arts workshops available for tourists. You can get both an experience of a lifetime and a one-of-a-kind souvenir to remember your trip to Japan by.

Read on to see five traditional Japanese crafts you can try for yourself in Fukui.

Photo from the Bamboo Doll Village’s blog (Japanese only)

Bamboo Dolls

Called “takeningyo” in Japanese, the bamboo dolls made in the Echizen Bamboo Doll Village are each a work of art unto themselves. In the combined shop and display room, you can see a wide range of types from small, affordable pieces to larger, more elaborate carvings.

One hallmark of the Echizen bamboo doll is its hair. Made of extremely thin wood shaved to less than 0.2 mm thick, it’s very delicate and time-consuming to make. You can go on a tour of the workshop area and watch the experts at work to see the process firsthand.

But why not go a step further and make your own bamboo doll? Making the hair is best left to the experts, but as a visitor you can choose from a wide range of sets even a newbie can put together themselves. See the video below for a more in-depth look at the workshop space.

The Bamboo Doll Village is not far from two other local tourist sites: Maruoka Castle and Eiheiji Temple. You can easily fill a day with a workshop and some sightseeing.

From Fukui City:

By car: About 30 minutes by local roads.

By train: Get on the Echizen Railway and get off at Eiheiji-eki. Take the Keifuku bus towards Awashi Onsen and get off at Echizen Takeningyo no Sato.

Takefu Knives

Try your hand at making kitchen knives

Echizen knives and sickles have long been a prolific regional craft, the blades being sold both throughout Japan and around the world. At the Takefu Knife Village, local masters of the craft continue the art of knifemaking in a large shared workshop space.

Visitors can visit the attached shop and observe the craftsmen at work for free, but the more ambitious visitor has another option: taking part in one of the many courses offered. They range from the forty-minute keychain course to the six-hour long kitchen knife course.

While the most expensive with regards to both time and money, the kitchen knife course is a truly unique experience. It’s a rare chance to work alongside an expert using the same tools and machinery they use every day. And as far as souvenirs go, you can’t beat a kitchen knife you’ve made yourself.

Regardless of which one you choose, each option offers an experience that can be found in few places in Japan.

Cost: Ranges from 4000 yen (keychain course) to 15000 yen (kitchen knifemaking course). Please see the website for the full range of classes available.

Reservation required: Yes. The kitchen knife course is only available to three people per day and tends to fill up quickly, so be sure to make reservations at least a week ahead of time.

Echizen Handmade Paper

There’s a local legend (Go Central japan always loves a good ‘local legend’) which says the people of the Echizen area once struggled to get by. They were without the bountiful rice fields found in other parts of the prefecture, and so had little to offer in the way of trade. One day, a woman no one had ever seen before came down from the mountains. She knew the plight of the people and told them she had the solution to their problem: papermaking.

She taught them the craft of making what is now known as Echizen washi, all of it possible with local plants and materials. Then, just as mysteriously as she appeared, the woman vanished into the forest again. She is now deified as the goddess of papermaking at a local shrine, and her gift has continued to benefit the area for over 1500 years. Echizen now has one of the largest handmade papermaking industries in Japan.

Visitors to Echizen’s papermaking village can go on a tour in a local workshop to see how Echizen washi is made, from the gathering of raw materials to the final product, and learn about the entire process. But if you want something more hands-on, you’re in luck.

There’s a building in the village called the Papyrus House where you can make your own Echizen washi and decorate it with things like seasonal flowers, leaves, and even dinosaur shapes (the latter celebrating one of Fukui’s most famous tourist attractions, the Dinosaur Museum in Katsuyama). There are several options available including post cards, coasters, and a lamp set.

There’s also a newly added, more intensive workshop available at the local Udatsu Museum. This workshop is more intensive and allows you to work directly with one of the local artisans.

While you’re in the area, it’s worth spending some time in the local Echizen washi gift shop (also located in the Papyrus House) and Okamoto Otoki Shrine, the very same shrine built to honor the paper goddess.

Cost: 500 yen and up for the Papyrus House workshops, 5000 yen for the Udatsu Museum workshop. Please see their website for the full range of options available.

Reservation required: Not for the Papyrus House. Large groups wanting to try the Udatsu workshop should make a reservation at least two weeks ahead.

From Fukui City:

By car: 30 minutes by toll road, 40 minutes by local roads.

By train: Up to 20 minutes by train to Takefu Station, followed by a ride on a Fuku-Tetsu bus for 20 minutes. Get off at Washi-no-Sato stop.

Wakasa Lacquered Chopsticks

Chopsticks or ‘ohashi’ — a perfect handmade gift

Wakasa, in the southern part of Fukui prefecture, is known locally for its beautiful beaches and exciting summer festivals. But its nationwide claim to fame lies in its handicrafts. Arguably the most prolific of them all is Wakasa lacquerware, particularly Wakasa lacquered chopsticks.

The proof lies in the numbers: Obama City in the Wakasa area produces more than 80% of all the lacquered chopsticks in the whole of Japan. And they’re famous for good reason: each pair is beautifully made with a combination of lacquer, eggshells, seashells, and other materials taken straight from nature.

The process of making lacquerware takes a long time from start to finish, but you can still get a little personal experience with the craft by visiting Hashi no Furusato Kan. The shop inside offers a wide range of locally made chopsticks in various colors and designs.

Visitors can also visit the polishing corner to create their own unique design. By polishing off the lacquered layers of the chopsticks to reveal the shells and ornamentation inside, visitors can create a truly unique and useful souvenir.

Cost: 324 yen

Reservation required: Only for groups of 10 people or more

From Fukui City:

By car: An hour and a half via toll roads.

By train: Two hours to Obama Station. Take the Ai AI Bus from the station to the Fukutani stop.

Echizen Pottery

Image: pottery museum’s website

In ancient Japan, there were six different styles of pottery that were produced in different parts of the country. One of these “Six Old Kilns” of Japan was in the Echizen area- what is now known as Fukui prefecture.

Echizen pottery has been made there since the Heian period, and it lives on in modern Fukui in places like the Fukui Pottery Village, also home to the Fukui Prefectural Pottery Museum. It’s there that you can see both ancient works of pottery as well as contemporary pieces made by local craftspeople.

Of course this wouldn’t be on the list unless you could also give it a try! There are two main pottery-related courses you can do: the handmade course, where you’re given 1kg of clay to make your own creation; and the painting course, where the focus is on decorating a premade bowl or cup.

There are also seasonal events you can participate in depending on the season, like the bamboo shoot digging experience in late April/early May and the Echizen pottery festival held twice a year in May and October.

Cost: 1200 yen for the handmade course, 500–800 yen for the painting course.

Reservation Required: Yes

From Fukui City:

By car: 50 minutes by local roads.

By train: 20 minutes to Takefu Station, followed by a 30-minute bus ride on the Echizen-Kaigan line. Get off at the Togeimuraguchi stop.

Accommodation

Fukui City offers a wide range of accommodations, from business hotels to smaller, locally owned hostels. Some options include:

Fukui Phoenix Hotel

Hotel Fukui Castle

Sammie’s Guesthouse

Travel Time from Major Airports to Fukui City

Kansai International Airport: 172 min

Komatsu: 50–90 min

Haneda: 200–260 min

Narita: 300–340 min

GCJ would like to thank Angela Hinck for writing this excellent blog.

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