Finding dinosaurs in Japan at the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum

20170629 Katsuyama Dinosaurier Museum P1430827

“Oh, look, a Stegosaurus!” The Asian-American boy is excitedly jumping left and right in the local bus when we pass yet another dinosaur on our way from Katsuyama station to the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum. His little sister appears only marginally less knowledgeable. “We will see more of those,” the parents assure them.

20170629 Katsuyama Bahnhof Dinosaurier P1430789

The Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum lies in a rather remote area about 30 km away from the Japanese provincial capital of Fukui. And even Fukui itself is not exactly a major destination on Japan’s tourist trail. From there you have to travel on a local train to the small-town of Katsuyama. That’s where you then take a shuttle bus towards the mountain range. Here, in the Kitadani Valley, scientists have found a number of new dinosaur species since 2007. And more of them are still being identified.

The bus stops at a large metallic dome on a mountain slope. The museum is partly built into underground. First stop is the deepest basement floor and a corridor full of fossils and petrifications. An almost intact huge petrified Camarasaurus bonebedmarks the entrance to the huge Hall of Dinosaurs.

20170629 Katsuyama Dinosaurier Museum P1430802

A tyrannosaurus waiting for us!

Coming up the stairs, a large tyrannosaurus is roaring at the visitors. Huge screens display a scene of different dinosaurs hunting each other in a prehistoric landscape. Beyond that, dozens of life-sized dinosaur skeletons dot the 35 m high central hall. Most of them are reconstructions, but several do include substantial amounts of original bones. One reassembled skeleton of a 15 m long Camarasaurus is even almost complete.

20170629 Katsuyama Dinosaurier Museum P1430813

The running and gazing dinosaur skeletons are quite impressive. While most adults seem overwhelmed by the multitude of dinosaurs, the two American kids from the bus are not the only ones pointing out the different species as if walking through an oversized picture book. In the back, there are more recreated and animated “life-like” dinosaurs, moving in a walkable diorama.

Japanese dinosaurs in the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum

The next exhibit deals with the local research. The scientists have found five new Japanese species so far in the nearby Kitadani Stratum. One of them, Fukuivenator paradoxus, apparently had feathers, but could not fly, and was quite small. On the other hand, others such as Fukuititan nipponensis were up to 10 m long.

20170629 Katsuyama Dinosaurier Museum P1430860

Some other rooms of the museum are dealing with the aftermath of the dinosaurs. Even with the dinosaurs extinct, the animal world was nothing like we know it now. The Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum has assembled a huge display of strange creatures, in petrifications, skeletons and reconstructions: from prehistoric elks and mammoths to dinosaur-like whales and hugely oversized rats and lizards.

Before reaching the museum shop – well-equipped and surely a heaven for kids – visitors can peak into a laboratory. This is where white-robed staff are cleaning pieces of petrified bones with special tools. After all, more fossils are being found all the time, and scientists are working here on their preparation and classification.

20170629 Katsuyama Dinosaurier Fundstelle Signs P1430872

Digging for dinosaurs

In front of the museum, a small bus is leaving for the excavation site in the valley of Kitadani. Twice a day, Museum visitors can go on a tour to see the digging site. A few kilometres into a winding valley – signposted with the local dinosaur species – we stop at a small building.

In the field house, a couple of displays show dinosaur footprints and more finds from Fukui. Then, a short film describes the digging and the main Japanese finds. We then walk down to a look-out point and peer over to the Kitadani stratum. Conveniently, some large arrows are indicating the places where Fukuivenator and Koshisaurus were found. Some building machines stand next to the site, ready to rake off further layers of earth and stone.

20170629 Katsuyama Dinosaurier Fundstelle Taiken P1430890

Next to the field house, large and small rocks from the site have been piled under an open roof. A scientist gives a brief explanation of what to look for and how you go about finding fossils. The dinosaur field guide hands us a mallet and chisel each and all tourists swarm out to look for suitable rocks.

Dark rocks, they say, are softer and easier to split, and more likely to contain carbonised material, i.e. previously organic substances. A rock containing a fossil will split along that line. If the find is relatively large and possibly important, you have to leave it there for the scientists to explore. And then, if it is really important, the actual finder will be notified and named. But smaller pieces, such as petrified mussels or ferns, are not of particular interest to the scientists. That means that the tourists can keep one find each. In our group, someone found one possibly relevant bone , but most people went home with some small fossil.

More dinosaurs everywhere

20170711 Sakurajima Dinosaurierpark N P1440953

2017 has been a dinosaur-intensive year for us. Only a few weeks after visiting the Fukui Dinosaur Museum, we had the opportunity to climb on a number of dinosaurs. When we saw the sign to the “dinosaur park” while travelling on Sakurajima in Southern Japan and we had an hour to spare before the bus left, we couldn’t refrain. It turned out to be an overgrown playground …

Tristan in Berlin

Earlier this year, however, we had already visited a famous dinosaur skeleton. This one was not reconstructed, but the almost complete fossil of “Tristan”. Tristan is 12 m long and contains about 170 original fossilised bones. Tristan Otto, a Tyrannosaurus Rex, was discovered in 2012 in Montana. The name of the skeleton is a combination of the sons of the current owners who have lent it to the Berlin Natural History Museum (Museum für Naturkunde) for research. Tristan is the current big attraction, but there’s a hall of other dinosaurs. And of course the museum has more fossils, stuffed animals, minerals, and geological displays.

And although dinosaur finds are not so common, we do also come across them in our research for various guidebooks. For instance, our Valais guidebook lists the Lac d’Émosson where dinosaur footsteps are visible in the stone. And in Egypt, we went a bit out of our way to visit the Wadi Al-Hitan. This is a desert valley where scientists have found whale dinosaurs that still had legst to walk on land!

How to travel to the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum

From Fukui (between Kyoto and Kanazawa), Echizen Tetsudô local trains take about one hour to Katsuyama. It usually connects with a bus to the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur museum (another 15 minutes). Train (blue) and bus (beige) schedules in Japanese on the homepage of The Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum.

Combination tickets sold at Fukui station are slightly cheaper than the regular price for all transport and the museum.

Tours to the Kitadani digging site

Reservation is required at The tours last about 2 hours and take place only in Japanese. Our tour guide happened to be Chinese and would have been able to give some basic information in English.

If you like off-the-beaten-path destinations in Japan, read also our post about Hiking and Tourism in the Japanese Alps. Or do you like to travel to unusual dinosaur sites? We have also been to Stevns Klint in Denmark and discovered what it has to do with the end of dinosaurs.

NB: The visit to the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum was not sponsored. As it was part of our research for the Stefan Loose Travel Guidebook Japan (of which we are authors), JNTO Germany supported us with train tickets to travel to Katsuyama.

Never miss a new post! Get notifications about new posts straight into your inbox!


  1. Wow! I love dinosaurs. That seems so cool. Some years back my family stumbled upon a dinosaur park in central Florida. It was more of a walk through experience with fake dinosaurs, not real bones.

  2. I must admit that I would never have thought of finding dinosaurs in Japan! How fun that the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum has some great examples to see. And Japanese species too. It does appear that the number are a bit overwhelming. Interesting that the museum is built partially underground. But a tour all in Japanese might be a bit tough although I would spend all my time gazing around and taking pics.

    1. Dear Linda, they also do have some written information. But I think you should be into dinosaurs somehow if you make your way out to the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum.

    1. Actually we visited the Dinosaur Museum on a research trip for a guidebook. Although we like dinosaurs we would probably not have gone out of our way just to visit this museum.

      1. The Fukui Prefectoral Dinosaur museum is such an exciting place for both kids and adults! The huge dinosaur skeletons in the hallway take us back to the prehistoric times.I remember seeing a dinosaur skeleton at the Royal Ontario museum along with other prehistoric exhibits.And it’s even exciting that you get to actually visit the Dinosaur digging excavation site at Kitadani valley guided tour with scientists telling you how to look for fossils. Nice to know about five new Japanese species and it’s interesting how the T-Rex Tristan Otto displayed in Berlin Natural History Museum is named after the sons of current owners.

  3. What a cool place to visit and learn about Japanese species. I admit, I didn’t realise there were Japanese dinosaurs, which is silly! Definitely a place I’d like to see.

  4. I have to admit I have never heard about dinosaurs in Japan. Probably I missed the news since they found it recently, back in 2007. My husband and son will be thrilled to visit this place.

  5. What a great story! I didn’t expect to find dinosaurs in Japan. The Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum seems to be a perfect idea for a trip. It appears to be a pretty impressive museum and offers so many activities and fun for everyone!

  6. Wow this is a total Jurassic Park experience. The digging for dinos will be so cool. I absolutely love dinosaurs and I would love to see these gigantic huge dinosaurs someday. Another place to add for my next visit to Japan.

  7. My brother would die to visit here! He loves Dinosaurs and the Jurassic park movies. I have never been to a dinosaur park that actually had real bones to dig up this is a really great opportunity to have. Will have to be sharing this article with my brother!

    1. Dear Sophie, the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum is a treat for dinosaur lovers. I think the possibility to dig for dinosaur fossils is really unique.

  8. This looks like so much fun! I have been to similar experiences, but nothing quite this extensive. It would also be cool to visit the excavation site and I would hope to find something!

  9. This looks like such a fun place to visit. I know it sounds silly but I never thought there were Japanese dinosaurs! So it would be interesting to learn more about them at this museum. Hopefully we can visit if we get there this year.

    1. Dear Lisa, most people do not associate Japan with dinosaurs, but the museum in Fukui is actually quite good and a lot of fun, if you are interested in dinosaurs.

  10. I have traveled through Japan and never heard of this dinosaur museum! Of course, it is in a remote area far from where tourists usually go, closest being Kyoto. I must admit I cannot distinguish from Stegosaurus to tyrannosaurus or other types of dinosaurs. I would love to visit this museum with my grandchildren. Climbing on one and taking pictures would be fun. It is interesting they take you in a bus to the Kitadani digging site. The basement floor full of full of fossils and petrification is also interesting. 🙂

  11. My love for exploring various museums is unwavering. I recently learned about the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum, and I think it’s absolutely fascinating. I was in wonderment over the dinosaur skeletons. This has now been added to my bucket list, I am confident that, should I ever travel to Japan, I will pay this location a visit.

  12. Wow this is fascinating to read and see something I had no idea of. It surely looks a place right for explorers. The museum certainly looks a must visit and so nice to get a feel of history of the species. But the place looks a bit far off for someone like me with limited time when we visit Japan.

  13. Me and my daughter visit every Dino museum & exhibition anywhere we go, she’s such a fan! Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum looks like the perfect spot that my daughter shouldn’t miss. Good to know that there’s a shuttle bus to visit here, even though it’s remote. “One of them, Fukuivenator paradoxus, apparently had feathers, but could not fly” – this reminds me to Ross’ dialogue in Friends!!! Haha. Going to visit the excavation site is absolutely fun, we’ve been to one in Germany and my gal loved it.

  14. Wow! This is exciting. My son just loves dinosaurs and I am sure that he’ll love it here. I understand it’s not really a major part of the tourist trail but this is definitely worth the trip. We’d love to join the tour to see the digging site. Thank you for sharing this. Will keep this in mind once we have a chance to visit Japan again.

  15. What an amazing place to visit! How incredible that they have an almost complete skeleton of a Camarasaurus, and it’s 15 meters long. That must be quite a sight to see. I like that the museum is interactive and you can do your own digging as well, supervised by a guide. Imagine if you would actually find an important fossil and scientists would have to analyse it. Maybe even name it after you, who found it 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *