Sakai City, Fukui Pref./福井県坂井市
Fukui Prefecture /福井県
(A coastal region along the Sea of Japan, north of Shiga Prefecture.
A two-hour-special-express-train ride from JR Osaka station.)
In the space of a month I ended up going to Fukui twice-the first time with a friend, the second with my mother.
Our first trip to Fukui would have been totally ruined had it not been for the people we came across, especially the gentleman in Mikuni Town in Sakai City.
It was on the 22nd of October that we went there, which coincided with the landfall of a category 4 typhoon. For better or worse the trains were still moving, so we decided to push our luck, and in fact the typhoon proved we weren’t that lucky. It dumped buckets of rain and blew a gale.
Since Fukui is famous for two places, Tojinbo Cliffs and Eiheiji Temple, we ventured out to Mikuni Town, not too distant from the cliffs, after checking in to our inn. We were forced to take a cab because we couldn’t even walk to the nearby bus stop due to the storm.
As we were strolling around the small town, or rather staggering in the blows, we encountered this man, who happened to be the owner of a 280-year old Japanese confectionary shop/a former city council chairman/a central figure of tourism promotion/everybody’s friend. As we were going out of a building that shows a video on the history of Mikuni, he kindly offered us a ride back to our hotel. We only gave an evasive nod to his offer since we were a little suspicious. We told him we were going to see the sights of Mikuni. If we could,that is.
And just as we were marveling at the 120-year old classic Morita Bank building, there he was again!! He reappeared in front of us, this time in a van. Now we realized he meant what he said and was not necessarily a kidnapper.
What we thought would be a simple lift back to our accommodation turned into a drive to the famous Tojinbo Cliffs and ended up totaling a free two-hour tour of Sakai City.Our random guide explained the plight of the region whilst driving.
Long ago it thrived as a shipping town, one of the logistics hubs for cargo ships known as Kitamaebune, or north-bound ships. However, the advent of the railways drove the town into decline. Our guide passionately told us that it was important to let more people know about the rich history of Mikuni. We found ourselves fortunate to be having this impromptu tour from a local who holds his hometown so dear.
The other person we came across was a bus driver. He waited for us to board the bus, delaying the departure by 3 minutes. It never happens in a country where the public transport authorities are obsessive about punctuality. He said there were no other passengers anyway (who on earth wants to go to Eiheiji Temple on such a cold rainy day?!), so he could wait. That was when we decided that people in Fukui are kind and flexible.
One month later, I went to the areas I had only briefly visited before in order to pick up what I had left off. With my mom I went to the cliff and Mikuni Town again.
So here are some pointers for those who are interested in going there.
At Tojinbo Cliffs don’t miss the Tojinbo Tower observatory, which looks much more dilapidated than Kyoto Tower, though the two were built around the same year. As the elevator door opens, what jumps out at your eyes is the panoramic view of the ocean and cliffs. The elevator, however, is not for claustrophobics: not only is it small, but it moves very slowly-so slowly that I doubted it was moving at all.
Another place you do not want to miss is Oshima Island, a 40 minute walk from Tojinbo Cliffs. Crossing the vivid red bridge leading to the island, feeling the breeze from the ocean-it is just so refreshing. The taxi driver told us that the island used to be part of the mainland. You can still see that from the differences in the depth of the ocean: the water to the right of the bridge is very shallow and the water to left deep. The waves coming from the right abruptly stop under the bridge due to the shallowness.
Last but not least, a cruise around the cliffs – I am sure it would be a highlight of your visit there. Unfortunately I could not take it this time due to the strong current.
Tojinbo Cliffs are well known as the‘suicide cliffs’. Every year it is said on average 24 people jump off the cliffs. There are preventative measures in place in order to discourage people from committing suicide. One is telephone booths. A councilor on the other side of the line would listen to the caller’s distress and attempt to stop them from killing themselves. When I heard of it, I wondered if anyone who was about to jump off the cliffs would have some loose change on them to make a telephone call. Fortunately,right beside the phone are some 10-yen coins left by visitors and locals.
Another measure is a guard with binoculars. He is a retired police officer who patrols around the area trying to find anyone who looks suicidal. He was featured in a documentary film.( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g3JquVfYzEk) Some people there seem to wish, though, there was no such stigma as a suicide spot. It is only natural that no one should want to promote their hometown as the perfect place to kill oneself.
The next spot is Mikuni Town. This quaint riverside town offers the feel of an old Japanese town, like you might find in Nara. To be honest, there is not much to see except two major structures, one a residence, the other a former bank.
There used to be a Morita family, who thrived through the shipping business. A guide at the residence (it belonged to a different family) told us that the Moritas owned around 10 cargo ships. They made a whopping 100 million yen in profit from one cargo transport between Hokkaidō and Osaka alone. When the town started to see the end of its prime, the family established the bank, abandoning the shipping business, which prevented them from bankruptcy. Some of the family members still live in Mikuni and other parts of Japan.
Although Fukui has little to offer compared to Kyoto, (just as any other out-of-the-way areas), the region has been coming up with ideas to attract tourists-Japanese paper crafts, spas, dinosaurs, spectacle frames, to name a few. And during both trips, I am glad to say, I saw quite a few tourists. If you want to step away from the touristy sites, you could do worse than visit Fukui.