Fukui: Will Shinkansen Extension Help Fukui Tourism?

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A W7-series Hokuriku Shinkansen train conducts a test run near JR Fukui Station in Fukui City on Sept. 26.

FUKUI — With the Hokuriku Shinkansen line extension set to open on March 16, 2024, the Fukui prefectural government has been scrambling to think of ways to attract tourists.

The Shinkansen now connects Tokyo and Kanazawa, but after the extension, it will connect Tokyo and Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture. The local governments in the prefecture have been looking forward to the opening of four Shinkansen stations in the prefecture, but they fear that travelers will just ride on through.

The prefecture has many onsen hot springs and is known for various delicacies, including crabs, but the same is true of nearby Ishikawa and Toyama prefectures, which already have Shinkansen stations. In order to make Fukui Prefecture a travel destination, the government has had to think of what is unique to the prefecture and put those ideas into motion.

One attraction that makes the prefecture stand out is its dinosaurs. Numerous dinosaur fossils have been discovered in the prefecture and many of them are exhibited at the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A model of a Tyranosaurus stands in front of JR Fukui Station.

The government is currently rushing to set up 18 dinosaur creations including an about 10-meter-long Tyrannosaurus in front of Fukui Station, which is considered to be a gateway to the museum and will be a Shinkansen station. So far, 12 of them have been installed, but the government is hoping to have them all in place in time for the opening of the extension.

Fukui Prefecture has many other tourist attractions, including Eiheiji temple, one of the two head temples of the Soto Zen Buddhism sect; Tojinbo, a series of picturesque cliffs facing the Sea of Japan; and the Ichijodani Asakura Family Site, which is the ruins of a castle town from 16th century.

However, the problem is that the major tourist attractions are located far apart from each other and in suburban areas, which are also far from Shinkansen stations.

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Dinosaur footprints decorate JR Awaraonsen Station in Awara, Fukui Prefecture.

For example, the Asakura Family Site is located in Fukui City, while the Dinosaur Museum is in Katsuyama, about 25 kilometers east of Fukui Station. It takes about an hour to get there by train and bus. Eiheiji temple in Eiheiji and Tojinbo in Sakai are both about 10 kilometers from the nearest Shinkansen station.

Next summer, the prefectural government — in cooperation with West Japan Railway Co. (JR West) — will start providing bus services to help tourists travel from one location to another.

Focus on Kansai tourists

Moving the Shinkansen terminal from Kanazawa to Tsuruga will also benefit Ishikawa and Toyama prefectures, as it shortens the travel time from the Kansai region.

Fukui Prefecture is a popular destination for tourists from the Kansai region. However, the prefectural government is concerned that with the Shinkansen line extension, those same tourists might bypass the prefecture to go further east to Ishikawa and Toyama prefectures.

Even the terminal station has the same concerns.

After the extension opens, the Thunderbird and other limited express trains will terminate at Tsuruga. Travelers from the Osaka area riding on those express trains will transfer to the Hokuriku Shinkansen at the station.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A new building, which was completed on Sept. 14, at Tsuruga Station in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture

The new station building at Tsuruga Station was completed on Sept. 14. The Shinkansen platforms are located on the third floor while the limited express train platforms are on the first, allowing passengers to easily transfer between lines.

It takes about eight minutes to transfer, and 19 ticket gates will be installed at the transfer gate on the second floor.

According to the Tsuruga municipal government’s estimates, the number of passengers transferring at the station after the extended section opens is expected to reach 27,000 per day, which is more than five times the number of passengers who used the station in fiscal 2021.

Yomiuri Shimbun file photos
From top: Tojinbo cliffs, Ichijodani Asakura Family Site and Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum

No matter how many passengers transfer at the station, it is meaningless if they do not get out the station.

To encourage more people to explore the city, a hotel has opened in front of the station, and plans are underway to build restaurants and lodgings near Tsuruga Port.

Hokuriku Shinkansen

The Hokuriku Shinkansen will connect Tokyo and Shin-Osaka stations with a total length of about 700 kilometers, much of it along the Sea of Japan. The Tokyo to Nagano section opened in 1997, and the extension to Kanazawa became operational in 2015. After the Kanazawa to Tsuruga section opens in March 2024, the remaining section between Tsuruga and Shin-Osaka stations is expected to open in 2046. The route will travel through Obama, Fukui Prefecture, and Kyoto.

The Yomiuri Shimbun