Direction the west coast of the Japanese archipelago to reach Fukui Prefecture, a territory located between Ishikawa Prefecture to the north and Kyoto Prefecture to the south. From the city of Fukui, sublimated by its gardens and its precious historical heritage, one can travel along the coast of Echizen, famous for its beautiful seascapes and countryside and its seafood, including its must-see winter crab. Between sea, mountains, soothing gardens, exceptional historical sites and remarkable gastronomy, one must take the time to criss-cross a part of Japan that definitely invites to meditation and the pleasures of the senses.
Fukui, historical sites and enchanting landscapes
During a stopover in the city of Fukui, it's hard to believe that she has had an eventful past. Destroyed by war bombings in 1945 and then by an earthquake in 1948, it was able to rise from its ashes in the image of its totem animal, the phoenix. Today, the city attracts visitors for its seaside location, its parks and gardens, its cherry trees, its temples and its exceptional heritage. A first stop can be made at the Heisenji Hakusan Shrine, which was built more than 1,300 years ago and is said to have been the starting point for pilgrims on their way to Mount Hakusan. The place exudes an extreme serenity, between its large cedars crossed by the sun's rays and the carpet of moss that leads peacefully to the haiden. Its isolated location gives it calm and discretion and it is pleasant to stroll there without finding tourists in number.
Another place with an incredible history and a must on a visit to Fukui, the ruins of the Ichijodani Asakura clan are evidence of an ancient fortified town, only 10 km southeast of Fukui city. The Asakura clan dominated the Echizen region for almost 100 years, from 1471 to 1573, during the Sengoku period, and it is understandable why the family wished to invest this place because of its remarkable location in a rural valley lined with lush vegetation. Burned down in 1573 after the victory of Oda Nobunaga over the Asakura clan, it is said that up to 10,000 people lived in this ancient cultural and military settlement. Today, one can stroll through the reconstructed streets, amidst the remains of craftsmen's houses, samurai residences, temples and shrines, plunging into the heart of the daily life of the time. Not forgetting, of course, a passage through the gardens, among the oldest in Japan. Wonderful places to discover, especially in autumn when the leaves are adorned with their most beautiful colours.
Back in downtown Fukui, a moment in the Youkoukan garden is another call to meditation, between architecture and greenery. Former villa of the lords of the Matsudaira clan who ruled over the Fukui estate during the Edo period, one first marvels at the architecture of the residence, in the Sikiya Zukuri style, before taking the paths that reveal typical Japanese landscapes composed of several small islands and artificial hills, a stone bridge, rocks and a varied flora. One does not leave the place without having taken the time to sit on the tatami of one of the rooms, simply to contemplate the trees that are reflected in the pond. The site was declared a cultural treasure in 1982 and in 2016 was ranked fifth in the American Sukiya Living Magazine's list of the most beautiful Japanese gardens.
Enjoy remarkable gastronomy
One cannot fully enjoy Fukui Prefecture without spending some time savouring some of its greatest delicacies. As a region overlooking the Sea of Japan, seafood is fished here in large numbers and is extremely renowned in the region. One can go and sit at one of the addresses in the charming country town ofEchizen, which is also famous for its heritage and for making one of Japan's best papers, Washi paper, by hand.
Back to gastronomy to say that Fukui Prefecture promotes very high quality products such as Wakasa fugu, a fish that can be deadly if badly prepared and which is only cooked in Fukui by chefs with a special license. Many Japanese people make the trip especially to enjoy this fish, which is one of the best in Japan. One can vary the pleasures by tasting Amaebi shrimps, Echizen sea urchin, other fish such as ayu, guji and Wakasa stationi. Meat lovers are not to be outdone and can try Wakasa beef, renowned for its incomparable flavour and particularly tender meat.
But if there was only one dish to remember from Fukui Prefecture, it would most likely be Echizen crab. These "snow crabs" are fished in deep water in the middle of winter, from November to March. The males are large and it is forbidden to fish them below a certain size in order to ensure reproduction. Very popular, they are sold at auction every morning, starting at 100 euros each! Fished around the coast of Echizen, the best way to taste them is just after having boiled them, although it is also possible to enjoy them grilled or in sashimi. The meat of this local crab is tender and delicate, stringy and delicately iodized. Gourmets can't help but revel in such finesse in the mouth. And as the ultimate proof that this crab is a prestigious dish, it is the only one to be presented to the Japanese royal family on New Year's Eve.
Adjacent to the fascinating Fukui Prefecture, Shiga Prefecture has tourist attractions such as Japan's largest lake and its own traditional industry. Both areas are very easy to explore one after the other
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